A week ago, Vonda Poole of New Wilmington, Pa. wrote to me, worried about a female hummingbird that had not gone south for the winter.
"It's now Dec. 9 and it's still here," she wrote. "Was I wrong to leave the feeder up? What will happen when freezing weather hits?"
I explained that keeping the feeder up was the right thing to do. The bird was almost certainly a rufous hummingbird, a hardy Western species that nests as far north as Alaska. Over the past 15 years, rufous hummingbirds have been showing up with increasing regularity in Pennsylvania and adjacent states. This year visits by Western hummers have reached record levels in Pennsylvania.
Scott Weidensaul, a naturalist and hummingbird bander from eastern Pennsylvania, has received reports of more than 80 hummingbirds statewide this fall.
"Most have been rufous," Weidensaul said, "but there have been a few late ruby-throats, two calliopes, two Allen's and one black-chinned hummer. By chasing these birds and banding as many as possible, we're getting a better understanding of their migration. Many seem to loop from west to east, and then at some point after a cold snap, they continue on to the Gulf Coast."
Poole agreed to permit a bander to visit her home, and arrangements were made for a visit the next day by Bob Mulvihill, consulting ornithologist and bander at the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania (www.aswp.org).
Mulvihill arrived early and had the trap set by daybreak. Within minutes, he captured a previously banded adult female rufous hummingbird. It had been banded Jan. 27, 2012 near Donaldson, La., and identified as a second-year female rufous hummingbird that hatched in 2011.
"That means she hatched somewhere in the northern Rocky Mountains in the summer of 2011," said Mulvihill, "migrated all the way to Louisiana for the winter, returned to the Rockies to nest this summer, and migrated south again, this time stopping in Western Pennsylvania."
It's never too late to see a late-season hummingbird, so keep a nectar feeder filled for least a few more weeks. If it gets cold at night, place the feeder indoors until morning so the nectar doesn't freeze. And if you see a late-season hummingbird please contact Mulvihill (email@example.com; 412-963-6100) or Weidensaul (firstname.lastname@example.org) as soon as possible.
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 AM WVLY (Wheeling), and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 AM WMNY (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com, and 2222 Fish Ridge Rd., Cameron, W.Va. 26033.