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Rufous Hummingbird and vagrancy

Posted on Nov 18, 2014

This past weekend I was able to briefly visit and photograph a vagrant hummingbird from the west at an undisclosed location in Connecticut. I was told of the sighting by two experts who had documented the bird a couple hours earlier, confirming via observations and photos that this was a Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), and not the very easy to confuse Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) which would have been even more rare. The bird pictured below is an immature female.

Rufous Hummingbird immature female yard November Stratford-0163

She paused only briefly in the tree being otherwise occupied and somewhat anxious, zipping back and forth, calling and flitting about perhaps looking for some natural food. She went right back to the feeder for a couple of minutes and departed back out of sight. Apparently she repeated this process regularly though once she left I did as well, not wanting to overstay my welcome in any regard.

Rufous Hummingbird immature female feeder November Stratford-0182

Western hummingbirds have been found at eastern feeders in the fall and winter seasons more frequently over the past couple of decades. What is driving this widespread occurrence across a multitude of species is still unclear – are they being misdirected entirely? Is it an intentional attempt to see if they can survive in some of these areas thanks to climate change? Are they a vanguard being deployed to search for more hospitable wintering grounds as other habitat in their native range is being degraded or destroyed?

If you have hummingbird feeders please try to keep them up (unfrozen and clean of course) as long as you can. You may find a wary and worn visitor who desperately needs the refueling you provide. Keep in mind that without these feeders the birds would likely die immediately and many likely do without our knowledge. They do not “hold” birds to them, or we would all have dozens of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds “stuck” until feeders were taken inside, and they obviously do not attract them from literally thousands of miles away in the west. It astounds me how a very tiny bird like this one can find such a feeder in our enormous landscape, under an overhang in a small suburban yard in a developed area, and successfully keep itself going after such a journey. Good luck to her!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator