By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
For the past six weeks, Sandi Moore has been entertaining a very unexpected but very welcomed guest.
A Rufous hummingbird – Moore has named him Monroe Ru – has taken up winter residence at her home, which is two miles from Hatley, five miles from Amory and five miles from Smithville, in an area Moore calls the HAS community.
“The first time I saw him was Dec. 4 and my mouth just fell open,” said Moore, a retired U.S. Foreign Service medical officer. “It’s the only Rufous I’ve ever seen that I know of.”
Moore was right to be astounded.
According to Bob Sargent of the Hummer/Bird Study Group based in Clay, Ala., this is indeed a rare bird for this area.
“The Rufous hummingbird is a bird that nests in the Northwest, in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Alaska,” Sargent said. “It has a good healthy population there.”
The most common hummingbird in Northeast Mississippi is the Ruby-throated hummingbird, which generally begins its fall migration from this area across the Gulf of Mexico to Central America in August or September.
The Rufous hummingbird begins its fall migration in the summer, passing through California, Colorado, Arizona or New Mexico by the end of August, heading toward Mexico.
But some birds only get so far and then choose to spend their winters at feeders a little farther east.
Such appears to be the case of Monroe Ru.
“These birds are remarkable,” Sargent said. “They are not lost. They are not strays. They are not wayward. It is unbelievable what we know about these tiny birds – what we can prove but not explain.”
Two years ago, Moore attended the Hummingbird Migration Festival at Strawberry Plains just outside Holly Springs. One of the speakers there suggested hummingbird enthusiasts keep one feeder up after the birds had left their yards for the winter.
“They said their migration patterns were changing,” Moore said, “so that year, I dutifully left a feeder up, but nothing came. I left one up again this year (2011) and this time a hummingbird came.”
Moore watched her new little friend feed at the feeder for a few days and then she called Sargent and told him what she had.
“I’ll tell you how important this was,” Sargent said. “When she called, we left Alabama the next day before daylight and got to her house and captured the bird and banded him without incident.”
The banding will allow birders to identify Monroe Ru if he were to pass this way again this coming fall or winter.
“We’ve found these birds often return to the same spot for eight or nine years,” he said. “But this is an immature bird and eight out of 10 are going to die before they’re 1 year old. That said, there’s a one in eight chance this bird is going to be in her yard next winter. It could show up as early as July as an adult bird.”
Rest assured if it does come back this summer, there will be plenty to eat.
Moore regularly puts out 30 hummingbird feeders in her yard just as soon as she sees the first males arrive in March. The females arrive a month later.
“I feed them 70 cups a day of nectar,” Moore said. “They will limit the number of birds for each feeder put out. If I only put out one feeder, only three or four birds might come. With the feeders I have, though, I’d say I have at least 200 a day. That number wouldn’t surprise me.”
Moore said the solution she mixes – one part sugar to four parts water – isn’t the sole reason birds come to her home.
“The solution is only 50 percent of their diet,” she said. “The other part is small insects. They bathe in my pool in the summer – I keep a minimal amount of chemicals in it. I’ve never used any pesticides or chemicals around the house or on plants or in the yard. I think they come here for the location.”
Tracking bird’s path
Moore said she has no idea how long Monroe Ru will winter at her home.
Sargent said he could leave today or he could hang around until April.
“When it does leave, it will likely head to coastal Mississippi,” he said. “Then it may turn westward across Texas and Mexico, then probably turn north and fly up the western side of the Cascades and head back to what will be its new breeding ground at some spot in Washington or Oregon. He’ll be traveling over land and food will be available for him wherever he wants to go.”
Moore wouldn’t mind if he paid her a visit again this fall. It’s her favorite time for hummers.
“Labor Day weekend, you just sit on the back porch and listen to the hum of their wings,” she said. “I have people over and we just sit and don’t talk. We just listen to the hummingbirds. I often think of naming this house ‘Hummingbird Haven’ or something like that.”