In August of 2005, we had a completely unexpected guest. Not only was this guest unexpected at our house, it’s exceeding rare anywhere in the entire United States. This story has been written up in several places, but maybe you haven’t heard it. If you have, please feel free to check out one of my other posts. The rest of y’all…here goes.
On the afternoon of 18 August 2005, I was checking feeders – both seed and nectar – in our front yard. As I passed one of the nectar feeders, I noticed a very unusual hummingbird. It immediately struck me that this gave all appearances of a White-eared Hummingbird.
We had made trips to Southeast Arizonato observe non-Ruby-throated hummingbirds. Even there, we had not seen a White-eared Hummingbird, so I thought I was seeing things when one was right in front of me, at a feeder in my yard. I ran into the house and told Jim that I thought there was a White-eared Hummingbird at our feeder. Of course, he was certain that I’d lost my mind. We grabbed our binoculars and walked out the front door to our porch.
Very soon thereafter, the bird returned to the feeder which was no more than 10 feet away. The bird perched on the feeder and fed leisurely. At this point, Jim was also sure that this was absolutely not a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. We called a close friend and avid birder (John) who lives within a few minute drive. We also called Allen Chartier. (You may remember his name from an earlier post about banding. He’s the local bander and true hummingbird expert.) John arrived quite quickly and was also fairly certain that the bird was, indeed, a White-eared Hummingbird. John had his camera and video equipment, so he started taking photos and filming the bird. We got Allen on the telephone and described fieldmarks and behaviors. Not being in the yard to see the bird, Allen was, understandably, reluctant to rule out other possibilities. John also put out calls to several other birders who would be interested in seeing this unusual bird.
At this point, a couple of other local birders were watching the bird as we put out a rapid email on listservs that we had an unusual bird in our yard and that all birders who wished to come were welcome.
The bird remained and actively fed until nightfall. Everyone left with promises to return early the next morning. John went home and sent quicktime video and downloaded photos to Allen. After watching the video and seeing the photographs, Allen was also convinced that the bird was a White-eared Hummingbird. The news quickly got out to birders and the next day (August 19), we hosted close to 200 birders at varying times. Many had cameras and video equipment. The bird started feeding just at dawn and remained in the vicinity all day. Every individual who came to see the bird on the 19th was lucky enough to get some very good looks.
On the morning of Saturday, August 20, a few very early birders were able to see the bird at dawn when it fed very actively. Unfortunately, a large thunder/rain storm rolled into the area which lasted for a couple of hours. The White-eared did not reappear after the storm even though many people waited for several hours in hopes that it would reappear.
It was a wonderful experience hosting such a rare bird. It seemed like great irony that we had attempted to see White-eared in Arizona – to no avail – only to have one grace our yard in Michigan. We found out later that there had only been one confirmed sighting east of the Mississippi River which was in Biloxi, MS after a hurricane. The furthest north one had ever been confirmed was in Colorado. We’ll never know how on earth this one bird got so lost. Even more remarkable to me was that she (it’s thought that it was a female) showed up in a place where she would be recognized.
We had a wonderful time meeting so many really wonderful people who came to see the bird from all over the country. There were people from as far away as New York state and Minnesota. We tried to have everyone sign a guest list. Everyone was respectful of the neighbors (parking so as not to block any access), our property, and the boundaries set to avoid frightening the bird away. Our neighbor children even set up a lemonade stand! It was a true party atmosphere in a hushed kind of way. I brought out lawn chairs so that those who might not be able to stand for long periods of time could see this wrong-way bird.
I doubt we’ll ever have another rarity. If we do, you can bet your boots I’ll make the same calls and get the word out. It’s the kind of “party” I love to host.
Up Next: Howell Farmers’ Market
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