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1-31 October 2014

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It's been a few years since we've posted a collection of white hummingbird images, but we got so many reports in 2014 we're devoting another installment to this unusual phenomenon. We've never had a hummer with aberrational plumage here at Hilton Pond Center--just normally pigmented Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and a couple of winter vagrant Rufous Hummingbirds--but people around the country have been kind enough to share their original photos of albinos, leucistos, and pieds. This year we got more than six dozen reports from Canada south to Georgia and west to California, and many observers sent pictures. Unfortunately, a lot of those barely showed the hummingbird in question, while others were taken from a distance with cell phone, in poor light, or through window screens. We appreciate everyone's efforts but have selected just the 14 "best" photos for inclusion here--all in the hope hummingbird enthusiasts will try even harder to acquire clear photos to document white hummers they encounter. Thanks to everyone who submitted reports, and please accept our apologies for not being able to respond to each of several hundred e-mails and phone calls we received about white hummers this year.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

White hummingbirds fall into three general classes: 1) True "albino" hummers (those that lack all pigment and bear pristine white plumage and pink eyes, feet, and bill--including the above we banded near Chapel Hill NC); 2) what we have nicknamed "leucistos" (leucistic birds with more-or-less white feathers but usually having dark eyes, feet, and bill); and, 3) "pieds" (birds with more or less "normal" feathers spotted with some that are white). All these birds may look larger than their normally pigmented counterparts, but this is just an optical illusion. They do stand out from the flock when around other hummers, however, and are guaranteed to attract attention. Alas, white hummers don't seem to last very long in the wild. Except for non-migratory western species, we're not aware of any albino or leucisto that has survived into its second year. (Occasional pieds may be exceptions.) There are likely lots of reasons for such an early demise; for example, white birds are easily seen by predators, and odd plumage may be connected with other genetic "defects." We also speculate white feathers are weak because dark melanin in normal feathers is a structural, strengthening pigment; thus, unpigmented plumage wears out very quickly--perhaps even on the first southbound trip--meaning migratory white hummers may end up in the Gulf of Mexico.

The first 11 birds below are in chronological order, with the newest reports first; since they were encountered during the "breeding season" (spring through fall) in eastern North America, it would appear all are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. (That said, some white hummingbirds can be quite difficult to identify to species.) The final three photos are of western reports--probably all Rufous (or Allen's) Hummingbirds.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

This grayish leucistic bird was reported by Veronica Brown of Laguna Vista TX on 29 October 2014. (NOTE: Because of the late date and location near the U.S.-Mexican border, this bird could be a Black-chinned Hummingbird, but we suspect it is a ruby-throat that will either overwinter or attempt southerly migration.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

A word about the bird above, reported by Karla Hays while on vacation at The Anchorage By The Sea in Ogunquit ME on 30 September 2014. At first we thought it might be a leucistic bird with a bunch of yellow pollen on its bill. However . . . .

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

. . . . we we checked our e-mails more closely we found another image--undoubtedly the same bird--that had been taken a few days earlier on 25 September 2014 at the same location by Dee Lalley. From Dee's image there's no question this individual is a full albino. Rhoda Bunnelll also reported this bird from essentially the same Maine locale on 2 October 2014, meaning the albino was hanging around longer than these birds sometimes do.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Linda Henry reports this about her leucisto above: "Late on 29 September 2014 we saw an all white hummer on one of our eight feeders. Next morning I stood in one spot for several hours just to get a decent photo of her. We had a local TV station (KSLA, Channel 12, Shreveport) come out to get a video of "Miracle" (that's what I named her). We live in Haughton LA just a few miles east of Bossier City--separated by Red River from Shreveport."

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Photos of this unusual leucistic bird with uniformly brown back and crown were taken by Lauren Cross in Woodstock AL on 28 September 2014. (Note the pollen staining on top of the head.) Lauren reports the bird was "very talkative, constantly chirping" and feeding primarily on flowers of a white Butterfly Bush.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Donna Pierce of Big Sandy TN hosted this full albino hummer for at least a week starting 16 September 2014. Unpigmented pink feet are quite obvious in this diagnostic photo.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Patricia Conaghan of Mandeville LA (north of New Orleans) sent this photo of a fully white but leucistic hummingbird on 18 September 2014. The other normally pigmented Ruby-throated Hummingbirds appeared to ignore the white individual. The leucisto's "white eye" is an artifact caused by camera flash.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Chad Downum photographed this gray-backed leucisto at the home of Jimmy & Joyce Greenlee in Tontitown AR on 15 September 2014. The eye looks quite large because the bare skin around it is dark.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Chelsey Perkins, a reporter with the Brainerd (MN) Dispatch, sent the excellent photo above with a note on 2 September 2014: "We have had two readers in neighboring communities send in photos of what appears to be a true albino hummingbird. Although it's impossible to say it is for sure the same bird, given what I can gather it seems this is a very rare occurrence." The hummer is indeed a true albino. Its dark feather bases appear dark but are not pigmented--nor is the "subalular apterium," the bare spot just below the bend of the wing. When this featherless spot is pink it is a sure sign of true albinism.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

By comparison to the albino just mentioned, look at the subalular apterium on the bird above; dark, pigmented skin shows through and tells us this is leucism rather than albinism. This hummer was at the home of Karen Leiderman of Douglassville, PA on 25 August 2014. Karen reports other hummers chased away the leucisto.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Cher McHan of Country Star Bed & Breakfast in in Bryan TX had this leucistic hummingbird for at least two days beginning 16 August 2014. Cher observed that, unlike many leucistos, this bird had brown feet rather than black.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

That the hummer on the right has tail feathers and a flank that are rusty is a good sign the photo on 26 July 2014 was not taken in the eastern U.S. In fact, this is an image of what are likely two Rufous Hummingbirds--one leucistic, one normally pigmented--at the Farmington NM home of Jake (last name not given).

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

This striking leucistic bird with dark wings and a hint of rust in the tail is either a Rufous or Allen's Hummingbird. The image was taken by David Schneiderman in North Hollywood CA on 21 July 2014.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The final photo above was one of the few reports we got this year of "pied" hummingbirds whose plumage is a mix of white and normal feathers. This particular individual had a pink bill and feet, plus white splotches on head, chest, and wings. Taken by Michele Mueller of Trabuco Canyon/Rancho Santa Margarita CA, the unusually pigmented bird is dining with what appears to be an adult male Anna's Hummingbird. It showed up the day before Christmas in 2013 and hung around at least through the new year.

Remember, if you get white hummers at your feeder in 2015, please document the sighting in a clear photo and e-mail it with your name, city/state, and anecdotal info to RESEARCH. Please do not make your report via phone unless you are within 50 miles of Hilton Pond Center and would be agreeable to our coming to band and further document your albino, leucisto, or pied hummingbird.

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1-31 October 2014

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--2
American Redstart--1

Northern Parula--1 *
Magnolia Warbler--3
Eastern Phoebe--1
Carolina Chickadee--4
Cape May Warbler--1
Black-throated Blue
Northern Waterthrush--1
Red-eyed Vireo--1
Northern Cardinal--8
Gray-cheeked Thrush--2
Swainson's Thrush--3
Eastern Tufted Titmouse--1
Downy Woodpecker--2
Carolina Wren--1
Scarlet Tanager--1
Northern Mockingbird--2
Red-bellied Woodpecker--1
Blue Jay--1

* = New banded species for 2014

20 species (11 new)
39 individuals

46 species (33-yr. avg. = 66.3)

1,087 individuals
(33-yr. avg. =
217 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(since 28 June 1982, during which time 171 species have been observed on or over the property)
126 species
60,769 individuals
5,054 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Carolina Chickadee (3)
05/31/11--after 4th year female
08/02/12--after 3rd year male
07/20/13--2nd year male

Eastern Phoebe (1)
10/10/13--2nd year unknown

Northern Cardinal (2)
08/17/09--6th year female
09/09/11--4th year male

--October was by far our most diverse banding period of 2014 at Hilton Pond Center (see list at left); we captured 20 different species--11 of them new for the year. Locally rarest of these was a Northern Parula, only our 65th of this species banded since 1982.

--Ruby-throated Hummingbird banding season has ended at the Center, with our final bandings on of two hatch-year males on 3 & 4 Oct. Our latest-ever RTHU came on 18 Oct 1986 so there's no chance now for fall stragglers; we'll just have to follow them to Ujarrás (Costa Rica) in November, Guanacaste Province (CR) in late January, and Crooked Tree (Belize) in mid-March if we're to see any before spring migration brings them back to the Carolina Piedmont as early as the last week of March 2015. This year's total is officially 217, our fourth best year since we began studying ruby-throats 30 years ago in 1984.

--Vagrant hummingbird species from out west--especially Rufous Hummingbirds--are already beginning to show up at feeders in the eastern U.S. Some of these may end up spending the next several months stateside rather than migrating to "traditional" wintering grounds in Mexico. If you spot one of these hummers, please e-mail a report to RESEARCH with your name, location and date of sighting, and any anecdotal info; include a clear photo if possible.

--As of 30 Sep the Center's 2014 Yard List stands at 75--about 44% of the 171 avian species encountered locally since 1982. The following new species were recorded for the year: Northern Parula, Red-eyed Vireo, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Cape May Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Northern Waterthrush & Magnolia Warbler.

--The immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about the on-going scarcity of local bird species and individuals in late September. The photo essay is archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #607.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Please report your
sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Oct 15 to Mar 15:
East of the Rockies please report your sightings of
Vagrant & Winter Hummingbirds

(immature male Rufous Hummingbird at right)

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