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(5 January 2002)

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

On a 31 December 2001 trip to the home of Lillian and David Cheek in Gastonia. North Carolina, we banded an adult female Rufous Hummingbird that had been in the yard for a few weeks (see Rufous Hummingbird Banded At Gastonia NC). During that visit Lillian said she thought she had seen a second hummer earlier but couldn't be positive--at least not until she saw two simultaneously on 4 January 2002. Lillian excitedly called Hilton Pond Center as soon as that happened, and we returned to Gastonia at 8 a.m. the next morning to confirm her observations.

The resident Rufous Hummingbird was visiting the feeder--which David had outfitted with a heat lamp to offset the effects of snow and hard freezes (see bottom photo)--and spending a lot of time sitting and preening in the Red Camellia shrub where Lillian had first seen her in early December. We moved the feeder into our pullstring trap and, sure enough, within a few minutes a second hummer came to investigate. This bird was immediately chased by the already-banded Rufous Hummingbird, which returned to survey the feeder from its camellia perch. This happened once more, so we decided to re-trap the more dominant first bird in the hope that the unbanded hummer could enter the trap.

The re-trapping took about ten minutes--obviously the first bird was not so disturbed by her banding experience that she couldn't be recaptured at all--and we placed Hummer #1 in a warm, dark container while we waited for Hummer #2 to return. About 20 minutes later, the object of our pursuit did fly into the trap, and we quickly pulled the string on our first winter vagrant hummingbird of 2002.

As we approached the trap it was apparent that this was a smallish hummer with a short tail--two characteristics that suggest Calliope Hummingbird, Stellula calliope. Once in the hand, there was no question that it was indeed a Calliope, one of less than a half dozen that had ever been banded in North Carolina. How amazing that the Cheeks would have not one, but two winter hummingbirds in their urban Gastonia yard--and two SPECIES to boot! (By the way, as soon as we caught Hummer #2, we hand-fed Hummer #1 with as much sugar water as she would drink and released her.)

Although Hummer #2 was certainly a Calliope, it was difficult to confirm its age and sex. Using a hand lens, we found small etchings at the base of the bill implied the bird was in its second year, i.e., it was hatched out in 2001. Several tiny rose-colored feathers on the throat (top photo) further suggested the bird was a male, but some female Calliopes also have a few iridescent gorget feathers. Females are also larger and some of the bird's measurements (below) were toward the upper end or in the area of overlap between sexes.

Based on the relatively large amount of rufous coloration at the base of the tail--plus the wedge-shaped tip of the central tail feather and width of the outer tail feather--we finally decided the bird was a male. We're hopeful that this hummer will continue to visit the Cheek's feeder until later in the winter, by which time a male should have have molted in many more metallic throat feathers that would confirm our conclusions about its sex.

Measurements of the Calliope Hummingbird included: weight 2.7g; wing chord 41.6mm; tail length 21mm; tail notch 2.5mm; culmen (bill) length 16mm. Band number: Y14794.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this website--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.