By Charles Kennedy
Where do you suppose you should go in
wintertime to look for a Hummingbird? Central or South America might do
nicely. Destinations a little closer to the Heart of Dixie could include
south Texas or Arizona, or if your time for travel is very limited you may
try Pineapple, Alabama? Say what! Yes, itís true! We now know that
Summerís "Glittering Garments of the Rainbow" are also
"Winter Jewels" in Alabama.
I did indeed see my first
Winter Jewel" in Pineapple on a cold and rainy day in
January. Like many of my finest bird experiences it began
with a phone call. "We donít know for sure. but we think we
have an unusual bird in our yard", is what Martha Mills said
almost as soon as I said hello. Martha and husband Jim are
avid backyard birdwatchers and have a very bird friendly
A lovely flower garden festooned with hummer feeders certainly
gives them the right to brag if they are so inclined (theyíre not).
Martha, almost as if it were a sin, told me that they had left a few
feeders hanging in the garden and, to their amazement, the day after
Christmas they saw a hummingbird flying around one of them. They quickly
filled the feeder and, "he has been there ever since, even through
the snow flurries we had last week". About 20 minutes later I was
headed for Pineapple. About 30 minutes later I rolled into the Millís
driveway. About 10 minutes after getting there I saw a hummingbird. A long
time later I was still trying to figure out what kind it was. Some of
these "Winter Jewels" are not so shiny.
As the shadows of winter crept across the yard, I sensed that it was
time for me to go. Martha and Jim are the most gracious folks you can
imagine, but I had been there almost 4 hours. I asked if I could return
the next day with a couple of friends. They said I could.
As soon as I returned to Greenville I called Bob
Mr. Hummingbird. I also called the Editor of the Greenville Advocate, who
is a bird fancier. (In the Advocate bird articles get top billing on the
front page) Shortly after lunch the next day Bob and Martha Sargent,
Mollie Utley, a reporter from the Greenville Advocate, and yours truly
were sitting in Martha Millís kitchen watching a hummingbird drinking
from a feeder just outside the window. It was still raining.
It didnít take Bob long to tell us what he was going to do and then
he got started. He and Martha had already unloaded a box full of assorted
gear including a large wire cage. The feeder was removed from its tree
limb and the cage hung in its place. The feeder was placed inside the
cage. Bob unrolled a length of fishing line and tied one end to the
spring-loaded cage door. He unfolded a lawn chair and moved to a position
about 50 feet from the cage where he sat (in the rain) holding the other
end of the line waiting for his unsuspecting victim. The rest of us went
inside to sit by the Millsí cheerful fire.
Less than an hour later Bob was seated at the kitchen table opening a
small stocking. What to our wondering eyes did appear? I donít think we
would have been more pleased or excited if there had been 8 tiny reindeer
in the stocking.Bob and Martha explained what they were doing as they worked. The bird was
weighed and a really small band with really small numbers was fastened to
its leg. As Martha took notes, Bob measured his captive from stem to stern
and looked at various parts through a magnifying glass. As he studied the
beak he noted that the striations thereon indicated a young bird.
"Sheís less than a year old", said Bob. Iím not exactly up
to snuff on striations, but since he referred to the bird as
"she" I figured Olí Bob had been checking out something beside
her beak. At any rate, I had my reputation as the "Bird Man of Butler
County" to consider so I said, "sounds good to me."
After a few more minutes of close scrutiny Bob declared the bird to be
an immature female Rufous Hummingbird. Everybody cheered. Martha entered
all the necessary scientific data into her notebook and after a round of
pictures were made, we took turns placing a finger on the tiny breast to
feel the ever so fast heart beat and breath rate. The bird was amazingly
calm through all of this and even drank a little sugar water from a
A few minutes later we were back out in the
rain and Bob placed the little hummer in our hostessí hand. She sat
there for a few seconds, eyes shining like diamonds, and then took off
with a scolding twitter to perch in a nearby tree. In a few seconds she
went to have a sip at the feeder. Jim wondered where she might go when she
left Pineapple. "In a week or two she will probably be headed for
Oregon, Washington, or maybe even southern Alaska", was Bobís
Not too long ago the "Official Alabama
Bird List" had 3 hummers on it....
It now has 11. Through the tireless efforts
(although they do get tired) of Bob and Martha Sargent, Fred Bassett and
other dedicated bird banders, in cooperation with a large network of
backyard citizen scientists, these have been added...
Most of these are still rare, but gee whiz,
nobody was expecting a Magnificent Hummingbird to show up in Monroeville,
Alabama in the middle of the winter! One certainly did, followed shortly
by hundreds of birders. It was a sensation!
So, leave a couple of your feeders up after
all the Ruby-throats have gone and if you see a hummingbird between
November 15, and March 1 give me a call or send an email message. Who
knows, the next day you may see Bob Sargent or Fred Bassett take a
"Winter Jewel" from a stocking and gently lay it on your kitchen
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