(3 March 2004)

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

On 3 March 2004--after we made a successful capture at dawn of a Rufous Hummingbird near Weddington NC--we departed for Tega Cay SC, just over the border into York County (home county of Hilton Pond Center). As with the Weddington bird, we heard about the vagrant hummer in Tega Cay when Nancy Brachey published a note about our winter banding research in the 21 February issue of The Charlotte Observer. Kathy Mooney E-mailed us that day with news that she and her husband had been hosting a hummingbird since "sometime in January." Kathy's message, however, arrived when we were on a field trip to Costa Rica; a follow-up trip to Iowa delayed our earliest possible Tega Cay visit until 3 March.

Unfortunately, Kathy Mooney was out of town during the first week in March, but she kindly offered to let us visit her house to observe and catch the winter hummingbird. This was an important offer because many vagrant hummers that overwinter in the Carolinas apparently begin moving out as early as February--undoubtedly toward breeding grounds in southern Alaska, western Canada, and the northwestern U.S. Nearly all are gone from the East by late March.

We arrived at the Mooney home on Lake Wylie at 8:50 a.m., after which we moved their feeder into our portable hummingbird trap and hung the whole apparatus on the back deck. As we sat on a lounge chair listening to numerous birds vocalizing in surrounding trees, we wondered if the hummingbird actually would visit the feeder this late in the morning on what was a very balmy day for early March. We didn't have to wonder long, however, since the hummer first appeared at 9:08 a.m.. It took one look at the trap and immediately dropped from view, heading off in a direction we couldn't determine. Sitting perfectly still, we waited another six minutes for the bird's second trip, but this time it entered the trap to take sugar water from the feeder. After letting the hummer dine for a few seconds, we hit the lever on the transmitter that triggers the trap and watched as the door closed smoothly behind the Mooneys' hummingbird.

When we carefully removed the hummer from the trap, we saw that it had metallic throat feathers, a green back, and rusty color at the base of its tail (see top two photos)--at this time of year a combination that meant we probably were dealing with a female Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus. Bird in hand, we set up our battery-powered electronic balance and found the hummer weighed 3.6 grams--about average for winter hummingbirds we've banded. As we checked plumage and finished our usual measurements (see below), we concluded the bird was indeed a female Rufous Hummingbird; all her measured parts made her too big to be a similar-looking young male. The Tega Cay bird was also too large to be a related species, the Allen's Hummingbird, Selasphorus sasin.

We further observed that the Mooneys' bird had completed most of its wing molt--probably an important factor for a bird that was about to embark on a spring migration journey of up to 3,500 miles. Only the tenth primaries--the outermost feathers on each wing--were old feathers from last year; the #9 primary on the right wing was about half-grown.

After banding and measuring the Mooney's Rufous Hummingbird, we took the photographs on this page to document the event. In this case, since the Mooneys weren't able to be around for the banding and capture of their bird, our account and photos are a record of what transpired on 3 March. We're most grateful these hosts allowed us to visit Tega Cay in their absence and hope the bird will return in the fall of 2004. We'll be happy to return then to recapture the hummingbird and give the Mooneys an up-close view of their unusual winter guest.

Vital Statistics for
Rufous Hummingbird #Y14869

Age/Sex--after hatch year female
Wing Chord--42.2mm
Tail Length--27.0mm
Tail Fork--7.0mm
Culmen (ridge of upper bill)--18.0
Bill Corrugations--none; one small bump as base of upper bill
Gorget--11 orange-red metallic feathers

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

From October 15 to March 15
Please report
your sightings of all
Vagrant & Winter Hummingbirds
east of the Rockies

Hatch-year male Rufous Hummingbird

If you're interested in sharing your hummingbird observations and learning from other enthusiasts, you may wish to subscribe to Hummingbird Hobnob, our Yahoo!-based discussion group. Also be sure to visit our award-winning Web site for Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project; on it you'll find almost anything you want to know about hummingbirds, including more information about Hummingbird Banding.

Students at GLOBE-certified schools may submit winter hummingbird observations as part of Operation RubyThroat and GLOBE. Students can also correlate hummingbird observations with data on abiotic factors, including atmosphere, climate, hydrology, soils, land cover, and phenology. See the "Protocols" section of the GLOBE Web site for details about this exciting collaboration.

For much more information about hummingbirds, visit:

If you found this information useful or interesting, please

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History
It's painless, and YOU can make a difference!

Just CLICK on a logo below.

Make direct donations on-line through
Network for Good:
Donate a portion of your purchase price from 500+ top on-line stores via iGive:
Use your PayPal account
to make direct donations:

Back to Vagrant & Winter Hummingbird Banding

Back to This Week at Hilton Pond

Back to What's New?

Current Weather Conditions at Hilton Pond Center

You can also
post questions for
The Piedmont Naturalist

Search Engine for
Hilton Pond Center

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: Webmaster.