Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Hummingbird Saga Continues

Yesterday we were saddened to find our wintering Ruby-throated Hummingbird dead on our front porch. Today it was replaced at the feeder that it used to frequent by another Archilochus hummingbird, thus confirming the "two bird theory." That another bird immediately lay claim to the vacated feeder has me wondering if foul play wasn't involved in the death of our little friend. This second bird had motive (limited food supply) and a ready weapon (long jabby bill). Leaving the corpse on the porch by a window would provide the perfect cover for the crime. Perhaps we are dealing with a case of hummercide!

I'm not entirely kidding. There is what appears to be a wound on the throat of the dead bird, and hummingbirds have been known to collide with fatal results.

Back on December 9th I posted some hummingbird photos taken at one of our feeders. At the time I thought that all of my Archilochus hummingbird photos were of the same bird, with differences in appearance due to changes in posture and lighting. I posted a request for help in identifying the bird(s) on Frontiers of Field Identification (which incidentally happens to be a great place to get expert assistance with tough ID problems). Allen Chartier responded, writing that "the bottom two of your four photos clearly show the blunt-tipped and curved shape of the tenth primary (p10) that is diagnostic for Black-chinned Hummingbird." Case solved. Well, not quite.

I later had better views of the bird in the top two photos, and became convinced that it was a Ruby-throated. I also got additional photos in which the 10th primary appeared to be more sharply pointed. Plumage and behavior provided additional clues. The bill was short and straight, indicative of Ruby-throated. The back was brilliant green and the underparts were cleanly white, not as dingy as one would expect of a Black-chinned. Our bird didn't pump its tail while feeding - a trait characteristic of Black-chinned Hummingbird, but not typical of Ruby-throated. A couple of times I had brief observations of a hummingbird that appeared to be different - longer billed, grayer. The weight of evidence shifted toward a "two bird theory" (most commonly employed in birding circles to explain a bad call, as in "yes, that one is a Horned Lark, but there was a second bird, and that was the longspur - must have just flown away").

The Archilochus hummingbird in our yard today had a long slightly decurved bill, dingy whitish underparts, and pumped its tail constantly while feeding. Based on my observations I'm confident that it's a Black-chinned Hummingbird (#122 for the yard list), and probably a female. I didn't get any photos - unlike our Ruby-throated, which tended to perch in shrubs near the feeder and guard it jealously, this bird disappeared between feedings. Black-chinned and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are both rare in Southeast Texas in winter, but Black-chinned is the one more likely to occur at this time of year.

We had another unusual visitor at our feeders today - a Dark-eyed Junco. Regular Slate-colored type. Not a rarity, but it's only the second one I've seen hereabouts, and the first one that's actually been IN our yard. So in a sense it is rare, at least to an underachieving yardlister who doesn't get out much. In recent years juncos have apparently become less common in Southeast Texas, possibly a consequence of global warming.Here's our junco, boldly preparing to cross the lawn and nibble seeds under our feeder.


At 4:18 PM, Blogger Larry said...

It must be nice to have a variety of Hummingbirds-anything other than a Ruby-throated Hummingbird goes on the rare bird report in CT.


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