A little over a week ago, Jacob, Jeff, and I met at Battelle Darby Metro Park in Galloway, OH to visit a home in the area that was hosting a “first state record” bird species. It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning and even though it turned rainy, we were thrilled with the views we had and the friends we were able to say hello too. But this isn’t our story. This is Jen’s story – and only she can tell it. Be sure to let Jen know what you think in the comments. #BirdOn
Rare Bird Found in Ohio: The Wayward Hummingbird
- Jennifer Allen
Seeing Hummingbirds in Ohio during the months of October, November, and even occasionally December is rare, but not uncommon. The usual late arrivals are usually Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) (RUHU) and in 2017 a Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope) (CAHU). These two species can tolerate colder temperatures due to their northwestern North America breeding range, aptitude for habituating higher elevations, and temperature swings in their range. The Rufous Hummingbird’s breeding range extends through the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains into the southernmost part of Alaska, with its Autumn Migration bringing them occasionally through Ohio. The Calliope breeds throughout the Rocky Mountains into British Columbia, with its Autumn Migration bringing them across southern Kentucky, and seldomly, as seen in 2018, into Ohio.
On the morning of Saturday, 14 November 2020, Cheryl Bater of Galloway, Ohio had posted on the Facebook page Ohio Wildlife and Nature that when she looked out at her feeders in her backyard and noticed a Hummingbird feeding on her feeder at around 7:30. She took cell phone pictures and video from her home. There were some commenters on the post suggesting for her to bring in the feeder and others trying to figure out who this was at the feeder, being November and all. I suggested it could be a Rufous or a Calliope Hummingbird that was making a visit. I made the decision to send Cheryl a private message and asked her for the chance to visit her home to photograph the little visitor in order to assist with identification on the late visitor.
On that Saturday I arrived around 2:30 to see what I could capture in photos to help with identifying the little bird. Unfortunately, the lighting was not ideal, but I gave it my best shot. When I looked at what I had captured, I had no idea what I needed to look for the make a definitive identification.
A little help from my friends
I enlisted the help of Alex Eberts and Jim McCormac to aid in figuring the puzzle out. Alex told me that it was definitely in the genus Archilochus, meaning it would be either an Ohio native Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) (RTHU) that was running behind in its migration, or a Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) (BCHU) that would be pretty far out of its range, even for Autumn migration. So, Alex’s suggestion was a late migrating Ruby-throated. Jim McCormac could not determine the species from the photos either and offered the same answer that Alex did as to the genus. His suggestion was that I should contact Hummingbird Researcher Allen Chartier out of Michigan.
I sent an email with the best pictures I had taken to Allen Chartier and waited for an answer. Allen made the same determination that Alex had, and said that the poor lighting conditions were not allowing him to see the key identification features that he need to see to make a definitive ID. I asked him what exactly he needed to see in order to make a strong determination as to species. He told me the outermost primary feathers, and a shot of the gorget feathers, if there were any, would be a big help for ID. I felt a little defeated, and I knew that the weather conditions were not going to be good for that Sunday to try for more pictures.
I woke up Sunday to a steady rain, and figured it was not going to worth anyone’s time to go out to attempt any photos. However, another birder that lived closer to Ms. Bater visited the bird that morning and took some photos to hopefully assist in the identification, but again, the lighting was far from ideal, and sadly the pictures were of no help. I noticed about ten that morning that the sky was getting brighter, and there might be a chance to get the photos that I needed, so I sent a message to Cheryl to see if I could make a return trip to try again. I arrived at her home at approximately 11:45, just as a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for the area, due to approaching storms that were producing winds up to 60 miles per hour. I really began to feel defeated at this point. I thought my chances of identifying this wayward visitor was not going to happen.
I waited at her dining table to see if the little bird was going to return to feed. As the rain began to subside at 12:10, the bird showed up at the feeder. I slowly opened the sliding door and took as many shots as I could while it was feeding and fighting the wind. I noticed that the sky was trying to clear up even more, with the sun breaking through, so I took one attempt while he was perching elsewhere to stand at the back of the house to try and get him in the sunlight. The poor little guy was having a heck of a time getting a chance at perching on the feeder because the wind was not only moving the feeder around, but the wind was also pushing him around as well. I took as many shots as possible that I could during this feeding visit.
I went back into the house and looked through the photos I had taken and there was a photo that I was sure was going to be the one that told the story. The shutter snapped and the bird was in the right position for the sun to reflect off one gorget feather on the little bird’s chest. Unfortunately, the picture was not in focus, but it proved to be the right photo. The color was purple! I took a picture with my phone of this picture from the back of my camera and sent it right to Allen. In his response to the email, he was very excited that I caught that picture, and could not wait to see the rest of the pictures that I was able to get that day. He said that it looked like I had a Black-chinned Hummingbird.
I left for home to process the photos I had taken so I could send them off to Allen. Going through the photos, I did not realize how much better the sunlight accented the key identification points on this little bird. I processed the photos and picked out the best ones with identifying features and sent them on to Mr. Chartier. In his response, he told me that he was 90% sure that it was a Black-chinned and requested Cheryl’s information so he could come to the area to band the tiny little bird. I immediately informed Alex Eberts about the identification, and he told me that this was Ohio’s First Record of a BCHU. At about 8:30 that night, Cheryl called me and told me that Allen Chartier would be arriving at about 9:00 AM to band our special hummingbird.
Banding and release
Alex Eberts, Leslie Sours and I arrived at Cheryl’s house just before nine to await the arrival of Mr. Chartier and get some looks at the Black-chinned Hummingbird that we named “Cole,” for the name of the road that Cheryl lives on. Allen arrived, and began setting up his gear to band this once in a lifetime find. Now here comes the question that I am sure everyone is starting to think, “How does one catch such a tiny and fast bird?” Mr. Chartier created a trap that aids him in capturing birds for banding and research. Picture a “cage” built in the shape of a large hat box. On each side is two small doors kept closed with Velcro. In the front is a door that resembles a small garage door on a remote release to shut this door when the bird enters the trap. Inside, there is a typical hummingbird feeder with two of the feeding ports plugged and the perches removed. The remaining two are kept as is. This forces the bird to feed at the back of the trap, thus giving the bander ample time to get the trap door closed.
Allen told us that sometimes it takes half an hour or more for the bird to enter the trap. So, we were all prepared for a wait. However, our friend only took about 20 seconds to enter the trap. Allen pressed the remote, and nothing happened. He had tested it twice and it triggered just fine. Since it did not trigger, he ran to the trap, and triggered the trap manually.
Allen removed the bird from the trap and placed him in a small mesh bag to await the diagnostics that he was about to perform. Mr. Chartier still had a couple of items to set up since the bird ended up being so cooperative entering the trap. The tiny BCHU went through all the diagnostics. Wing Chord measurements, tail length, bill length, number of ridges on the bill, formal check of the gorget feathers, weight, pictures and receiving his piece of tiny jewelry. Now it was 100% confirmed that our little friend was an immature hatch year male, Black-chinned Hummingbird, that was a long way out of range. When everything was completed, Allen gave Cheryl the honor of releasing “Cole” from the palm of her hand. He did not stay but a mere millisecond in her hand to head off to his perching location. Less than five minutes later, he returned to his normal routine feeding at the feeder. The group discussed visitation for visitors and set it up over Facebook.
“Cole” is a funny and skittish little guy. When there were few visitors, he would feed like normal, and give everyone the chance to get photos. But when the crowd grew bigger, he stopped going to the feeder. For two days he chose to stay put, and not be the center of attention. Another feeder was added closer to his perching area, and he gave a performance about every 20 or so minutes. On Sunday, 22 November 2020, he proved us right about being shy. With the rain, and the arrival of a Snowy Owl to Central Ohio, the crowd was almost non-existent. I peeked around the corner of the house from Cheryl’s garage, and our tiny friend was feeding at the closer feeder.
Finding Ohio’s first recorded Black-chinned Hummingbird has been an amazing experience for me. Getting to meet wonderful people and see people I have not seen in almost a year. I feel accomplished and proud to be a part of such a wonderful community of people. I want to thank Cheryl Bater for giving me the opportunity to try and succeed at getting an identification of the wayward hummingbird. Alex Eberts for steering me to the correct genus, and I am very happy with myself for not taking his species suggestion as my final answer. Jim McCormac for giving me the information to contact Allen Chartier. Finally, Allen Chartier for coming to Ohio to band and give 100% identification to this sweet little bird. It was an honor to observe the banding process of a hummingbird and be a part of an Ohio first.