Nancy L. Newfield has been
watching hummingbirds at her Louisiana home and lots of other places since 1975.
Nancy lost her amateur status years ago, and now writes and lectures on hummers.
She is co-author of Hummingbird Gardens, reviewed
elsewhere on this site. Nancy is also a licensed hummingbird bander and a recognized
authority on hummingbird distribution, behavior, and taxonomy.
Vicious Animal Captured in LaPlace
Catching Susie Nowell's Buff-bellied Hummingbird has become an annual challenge.
I banded this big guy in LaPlace, Louisiana, on my birthday, 19 February 1993. It
was a very chilly morning and he entered my banding trap easily. This bird had arrived
in adult plumage in the fall of 1992. Susie was sure this was the same bird that
had held sway over her yard the previous season (1991-1992), but because he was not
captured that season, we have no way to be 100% certain.
He arrived in late August one year, then early August the next. Last year, he arrived
in late August again. But now, in 1998, he set records by arriving at Susie's "Hummer
Hotel" on 28 July, the first member of his species to be recorded in Louisiana
This Buff-bellied Hummer has always been difficult to catch, but it is necessary
to do so to read his band number and thus confirm his identity. Last Tuesday, 25
August, I arrived at Susie's place at 07:00, ready for action. Susie reported that
she had not seen him and that he had gotten rather quiet of late. Ordinarily, this
hummer is not silent, but every year during his late summer molt, he becomes far
less dominant than his usual demeanor. When he is not molting, this Buffy is a vicious
killer, a junkyard dog, and he keeps all other hummingbirds at bay as he cruises
around the large yard.
I set up my best trap and waited. After about 30 minutes, the junkyard dog arrived,
halfheartedly chasing an immature male Ruby-throat away from a patch of Sultan's
Turban near the trap. Several times, he eyed the feeder inside the trap, but got
no closer than the door. Clearly, he remembered last year. I knew there would be
a long wait ahead. Susie and I tried several adjustments to the feeder - outside
the door, just inside the door. Susie put a sweeter sugar syrup in the feeder, sweeter
than the mix she used in her other feeders, which she had temporarily taken down.
At 15:00, I was no closer to capturing my quarry than I had been hours earlier. Reluctantly,
I left my trap in place, with a feeder hanging right in the door opening. Susie would
watch to see when he used the feeder and would move it back an inch at a time until
he entered the cage easily. Late Friday, Susie said that she had not seen him go
near the trap. Still, I decided to try again the next morning.
Saturday morning was warm and muggy. My hopes of catching this hummer were not high
as I drove the 25 miles to LaPlace. I anticipated spending half a day watching him
evade the trap before heading home empty-handed. Fortunately, I was wrong; he entered
the wire cage without hesitation on his second pass.
Most hummers become quiet and quiescent when I handle them, but not this one. I read
the band very carefully. He clicked menacingly throughout the examination. He was
in heavy molt, having only 4 primary feathers on each wing and only 3 tail feathers
- period. It seemed a wonder he could fly at all, but overall, he was in good condition
for an old guy. Shafts of newly emerging feathers peppered his crown and throat.
We now know that this Buff-bellied Hummingbird is at least 6 1/2 years old, and probably
a year older than that. He is the oldest member of his species ever recorded and
the most senior returnee I have ever documented!
"Grrrr", he snarled as he took off from my opened hand.
Copyright © 1998
Nancy L. Newfield