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22-28 July 2001

Installment #83 -- Visitor #weekly hits

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Back in August 1999, we were fortunate to hear about a white hummingbird coming to a feeder in Anderson, South Carolina, and even luckier to be able to capture and band the bird (see "Leucistic Hummingbird Banded"). That particular individual turned out to be the first white hummer ever banded in South Carolina, even though it wasn't a true albino. This week our luck was doubled when we got word of another white hummingbird in Chester, South Carolina--much closer to Hilton Pond Center. Thanks to phone calls from Naomi Bridges and Jim Sorrow, we got hooked up with Mack & Agnes Banks, who've been feeding hummers for at least 30 years on their family farm in Chester County's Halsellville Community. Mack & Agnes graciously agreed for us to visit their home early on the morning of 27 July 2001.

Leucistic female Ruby-throated Hummingbird
All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

After setting up our trap, it only took about ten minutes for a ghostly white hummingbird to appear--a bird that was very, very different from the dozens of normal ruby-throats that swarmed the feeders with it. Within half an hour or so we were able to lure the Great White Hummingbird into the trap, pull a string, and capture it for a closer look. Although the bird lacked typical characteristics, its measurements and other criteria indicated it, too, was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird-- apparently a young female that hatched out this year. Because its beak, eyes, and feet were black instead of pink, this bird wasn't a genuine albino but "leucistic"--whitish where she should have had normal pigment. This hummer actually had many brown feathers--but not green ones--on its crown and body, making it much darker than the typical leucistic bird.

This was only the 13th white Ruby-throated Hummingbird ever banded in the U.S. The following series of close-up photos by bander Bill Hilton Jr. of Hilton Pond Center reveals just how unusual the leucistic bird appeared in comparison to normal ruby-throats.

Tail of leucistic female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

The leucistic bird's central tail feathers were flimsy and almost completely white, while outer ones were brownish. White tail tips are also typical of normal female--and young male--Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

Wing of leucistic female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

The leucistic bird's long primary feathers had brownish tips, and the pigmented primary covert feathers gave her a brown "wing bar" on each wing. The very dark patch of feathers near the bend of the wing may be common to most leucistic hummingbirds.
Leucistic female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

As in all ruby-throats, the leucistic bird was pale beneath, but normal females have some gray and buffy coloration on the flanks. (Note the band on the bird's right leg and compare its size to that of the bander's wedding ring.)

Leucistic female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

The leucistic bird's crown and nape were conspicuously dark brown, as were some of the feathers on her upper back.

Leucistic female Ruby-throated Hummingbird showing color-markTo help distant banders spot Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded at Hilton Pond Center, we have permission to mark them with a green "necklace." And, to make sure it would be easy to identify the leucistic hummingbird from Chester, we applied a line of temporary blue dye across her upper breast. The Banks family will be looking for their unusual hummingbird in 2002, even though none of the albino or leucistic hummingbirds banded has ever returned in a following year. We suspect these aberrational birds have more genetic defects than just lack of color, leading to an early demise. Even so, they're still fascinating and fun to watch and band.

NOTE: The capture of this leucistic hummer was documented by Dan Huntley and Deidre Laird, who published an article and photographs in the 28 July 2001 edition of The Charlotte Observer and other Knight-Ridder newspapers. See "Rare white hummingbird visits S.C. feeder, leaves with ID on leg."

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

Please e-mail additional reports of white hummingbirds to RESEARCH.

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For lots more info about hummingbirds, click on the logo below:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
(tail of normal female;
see leucistic tail above)


The following species were banded this week (22-28 July):

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--7*
House Finch--11*

* = Includes at least one Recent Fledgling

(22-28 July 2001)
2 species
18 individuals

63 species
817 individuals
(since 28 June 1982)
122 species
39,100 individuals

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (4)

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

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Made With MacintoshHilton 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 website, contact: WEBMASTER.

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