A frequent question I receive in the fall is: “When can I take my hummingbird feeders down?” I answered this a blog post in October 2014 by saying that most of our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are gone by early October, however you should keep the feeders up later than that because it is October and November that we see western vagrants showing up in Maine. October 2016 we put this to the test.
On October 14 I was called about a hummingbird visiting a feeder in Cape Elizabeth — JACKPOT! or so I thought. The homeowners allowed me to visit their backyard to identify and photograph the hummer. It was large, pale chested with a greenish back: definitely an Archilochus hummingbird. This is the genus that our Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) belongs to, but this time of the year we need to check that it is not the similar looking but western-ranging Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri).
In Viet and Peterson’s Birds of Massachusetts they discuss the single record of Black-chinned Hummingbird from their state and claim “…in Louisiana in winter [Black-chinned] outnumbers [Ruby-throated] by a margin of 10 to 1, thus suggesting that an November records of Archilochus hummingbirds could possibly pertain to [Black-chinned].”
Unfortunately it was only October 14, not far out of the window we might expect to find a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. This Cape Elizabeth bird showed a fairly short, straight bill and narrow, rounded outer primaries, which (among other features) made this identifiable as a late Ruby-throated Hummingbird:
On the 16th, I shared this sighting/photo on the MAINE Birds Facebook Group with an encouraging note that everyone should keep their feeders up and eyes open for any other hummingbirds. One member, Carole G. Jean, read that post and put her feeder back up on the 19th. On the 20th, she had a hummingbird visiting!
Thanks to her diligent observations, good note taking, and photos (taken with her phone!) we could see that this was one of the western Selasphorus hummingbirds. Many thanks to Carole for letting me come to her house (in the Rosemont neighborhood of Portland, for those interested) to document this rarity:
The bird’s tail pattern was most essential in identifying this bird to species level. Hummingbirds have 10 tail feathers, five on each side that are typically labelled from R1 (the first rectrix being the inner-most tail feather) to R5 (the outer-most tail feather). The narrow and tapered R1, with a black tip, was good for eliminating Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Rufous and Allen’s can be very difficult to separate and sometimes require a bander to have the bird take in-the-hand measurements. A photo of the spread tail was not clear enough to be positive the bird has a notched R2 (as in Rufous) but the width of R5 was wider than an Allen’s of the age/sex would show.
This is one of several vagrant hummingbirds in the northeast this fall: at least three Rufous Hummingbirds have been in Massachusetts, one Rufous in Connecticut, and a Calliope in Nova Scotia. And we are just getting into rarity season. Anything could be out there!
Just look at the Tufted Duck, Gray Kingbird, Bell’s Vireo, or Harris’s Sparrow in Massachusetts. Or the Sprague’s Pipit in Connecticut. Even the Western Kingbird in New Hampshire. Not to mention our northern neighbors with Bell’s Vireo in Nova Scotia and Black-headed Grosbeak in Quebec.
Or just check out the craziness of this checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S32232708. Maine is on-the-board for rarities with this hummingbird and a pair of Barnacle Geese in Aroostook County.
You can keep up-to-date with the rarity sightings here: http://ebird.org/ebird/alert/summary?sid=SN35688