Mar 24, 2014 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, April 2014

A Rare Hummingbird

A hummingbird rarely found in North America turns up in Eastern Pennsylvania!
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Ruth Witmer feeds hummingbirds. She lives in eastern Pennsylvania, where ruby-throated hummingbirds normally make their annual debut in mid- to late April.

Last April, Ruth put her sugar-water mixture out in mid-April before she had seen the first hummingbird of 2013. What she saw on April 20 was not what she expected. It was a hummingbird all right, but sure looked different.

"I had never seen anything other than a rubythroat," she said. "I thought maybe it was a rubythroat." She called the local bird club president and got in touch with the hummingbird banding network.

A hummingbird bander from Harrisburg trapped the bird and took extensive measurements before banding and releasing it. She sent detailed photos and the data she had collected to hummingbird experts across the continent.

At first, the experts thought it was a broad-tailed hummingbird, found in the western U.S. and Mexico. But the measurements were wrong for that species, and the striking orange and black tail was wrong, too, as was the red gorget (throat feathers) rimmed in purple. No North American hummingbird species matched the characteristics of this bird. Could it be a hybrid of some sort?

In fact, it was a male Bahama woodstar, a first in Pennsylvania, and only the second documented in North America. The first one was found dead in Florida in 1961. Except in extremely rare cases such as these, the species is found only in the Bahama Islands. It doesn't migrate.

Why it turned up in Denver, Pennsylvania, we'll never know. The most likely hypothesis is that it blew in on a thunderstorm the night before Ruth spotted it. Regardless, rarities do show up at backyard bird feeders, and it's wise to keep an eye out for them.

About Dawn Hewitt

Dawn Hewitt is the managing editor at Watching Backyard Birds and Bird Watcher's Digest. She has been watching birds since 1978, and wrote a weekly birding column for The Herald-Times, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Indiana, for 11 years.

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  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018