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've been feeding the birds at my home for over 20 years and have multiple bird houses all over. I'm getting old and I'm worried more about the poor birds that occupy the bird houses and where they will go when I'm gone and someone else buys my house and takes down all the bird houses.
    by Linda DiPierro, Sun, 01 Dec 2019
  • i live in watauga county nc and bluejays left our area on tuesday aug 20 2019! About twenty came in for their feed of peanuts, then left. It has been so quiet since they left. The gold finches are busy feeding.
    by Rhoda Buffalo, Thu, 22 Aug 2019
  • Really?! I have two (2) feeders that hold just over a pound each of Safflower seeds (I weighed) and I have to fill them up EVERY day. The small birds absolutely love these seeds!
    by David John Repischak, Mon, 05 Aug 2019
  • I use frisbees for umbrellas. Sometimes I get them free at events. I use red over hummingbird feeders. Helps to attract them.
    by wnyfalconfan, Mon, 05 Aug 2019
  • I recently were given two new bird feeders. Both have not been touched by any birds. Its been nearly 6 month, why is this? One is like a larger orange Hazel nut with an open front & the other is a yellow honey comb with 3 sides open.Is it the colour which scares the birds? I have the same feed in them as in my old feeder, which I need to refill regularly. Many thanks. Doreen
    by Doreen Atkins, Mon, 29 Jul 2019