Friday, July 9, 2010

Rootin’ Tootin’ Rufous!

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On January 13 of this year, Fred Dietrich banded a female Rufous Hummingbird in Tallahassee, Florida. As he released it, no one dreamed this little female would break more records than Virgin America airline’s discount! On June 28, it was recaptured by another hummingbird bander in Chenega Bay, Alaska. That’s 3,523 miles in 166 days. If she traveled in a straight line, and didn’t fly on the weekends, that would be slightly less than 30 miles a day for 24 weeks. All this for a bird that weighed 13 hundredths of an ounce when banded! That straight-line path would have taken her over the Canadian Rockies, including Banff and Jasper National Parks, and then the largest national park in the US, Wrangell-Saint Elias NP, with it 18,000-foot peak.

I never hear of Chenega Bay. It’s roughly 100 miles by air east of Anchorage. I say roughly, because there are no roads between the two, so Google “couldn’t calculate directions.” Chenega is the only town on Evans Island. I counted less than 30 buildings. Main Street leads northeast into the Chugach National Forest, then dead ends at Chenega Bay Airport. According to Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, Rufous hummers have the “northernmost breeding range of any hummingbird in the world.” By the range map in The Sibley Guide to Birds, this little lady had arrived at the absolute extreme northwestern tip of the Rufous’s summer range.

There are many amazing things about this story. The fact that this bird beat the previous record of 2,200 miles is incredible. The fact that there are people on an island in the Gulf of Alaska banding hummingbirds is mind-blowing. But what are the odds that any hummingbird will be recaptured? I asked my friend my friend Lanny Chambers about it. He’s a hummingbird bander and maintains the best hummingbird site on the web! Lanny captured a female Rufous hummingbird in my yard in November 1999 and we were thrilled that day to find that she already had a band. His take: “This spectacular recapture is like a blind golfer making a hole-in-one on a million-yard hole! I've banded about 2500 hummers in 10 years. Exactly two have been recaptured elsewhere.

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