Ramblin’ Anna’s

An unusual hummingbird is sighted — and celebrated

By Susan Campbell

Every now and then — it happens more than you would think — an out-of-place bird appears. Sometimes on a beach, at a feeder, or by the side of the road, these wayward individuals may be on the move, so that a quick glimpse is all that you get. But in some instances, for whatever reason, the bird decides to stay awhile.

Depending on how distant the bird’s origin, it may cause quite a stir among birdwatchers — or more accurately, birders. Birders are enthusiasts who track the species they see over time and in different places. For these folks, vagrants are a very big deal.

Recently, an odd-looking, noisy and aggressive hummingbird was seen in a neighborhood on Hatteras Island. Fortunately, it was using a sugar water feeder that belonged to an avid birder and hummingbird photographer who realized it was special — and that bird lovers would be interested in knowing about it. It is likely this bird had also been visiting other feeders on this street, but residents did not think anything of it. Along the coast, hummingbirds can be found in any month, and different species can go unnoticed in the flurry at the feeder.

Within minutes of this particular bird’s arrival I got an excited call (the homeowners are good friends and longtime year-round hummingbird hosts) and then, shortly thereafter, received the first photos that made clear that the unusual hummingbird was an Anna’s. It’s a species not at all expected in our area. (Common in the northwestern U.S., most Anna’s hummingbirds head south of the border for the colder months, not east.) Only two others, both males, have spent the winter in our state. The most recent individual returned to the same feeder for a second winter in New Bern during 2011. So this winter’s bird was not only unprecedented but an extremely exciting find for North Carolina — and in January, no less!

I quickly packed my gear and headed eastward in order to trap and band this little marvel the next day. (I am a licensed bird bander with special training just for hummingbirds.) At first light, it went like clockwork, and before I knew it, I had the wayward hummingbird in my hand: a feisty and healthy adult male Anna’s hummingbird. In a matter of minutes, he was processed, photographed and then back out terrorizing the wintering ruby-throateds there in the neighborhood. He had no evident fat, suggesting that he might stick around awhile. A bird in migratory mode would require energy reserves for the journey northward.  However, he may decide to wander, given the quality of hummingbird habitat; food is plentiful in the area.

Excited local birdwatchers began dropping by to see this handsome fella immediately after the word went out. He was not hard to locate: usually perched high in “his” tangle of vines right above “his” feeder. Everyone has been thinking the same thing: Why is this Anna’s in this yard along the Outer Banks and not along the West Coast or in Mexico, where he belongs? Unfortunately, this is a question I cannot answer. He might have been caught up in a front that moved eastward in the last month or two, or maybe he headed 90 degrees in the wrong direction and went south and east from the breeding grounds. Birds have wings and, thus, can hypothetically show up anywhere, anytime. Whatever the reason, the hummer-loving hosts, as well as bird enthusiasts making the trip, will continue to marvel at this drifter’s antics as long as he cares to stay.

If you are interested in viewing this hummingbird, please contact me and I will be happy to give you an update and location information — if he is still present.

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos at susan@ncaves.com.

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