Nature Watch: Tracking hummingbirds in Berkshire County
In David St. James' (online) "Annotated List of the Birds of Berkshire County, Massachusetts," we read the earliest hummingbird listed in the Berkshires occurred April 29, 2000, in Windsor. An earlier hummingbird arrival I recently learned of was seen and photographed eight years later by preeminent local birder Gary Shampang, of Pittsfield. He recently sent me three prints of a ruby-throat (date imprinted, April 23, 2008).
These eagerly awaited gems have, it appears, been arriving much earlier for whatever reason, maybe sugar water feeders or simply more observers watching for them, than back in the 1800s. In my copy of Edward A. Samuels' "Birds of New England," published in 1870, it reads, "It arrives from the south from about the 15th to the 25th of May, according to latitude, and usually in pairs. The first notice that we have of his arrival is a humming sound, and now and then a sharp chirp, like that of a beetle among the earliest flowers of the garden."
Walter Faxon and Ralph Hoffmann's "Birds of Berkshire County, Massachusetts," published in 1900, has the hummingbird arriving in "early May" and lists an early sighting of "May 3, 1899, Lanesboro." In "Birds of Berkshire County" by Bartlett Hendricks, the bird's season is listed as May 15 to late September with an early date of May 2.
I asked our readers to send me dates of first sightings of ruby-throats this year, and first dates sent to Naturewatch this spring include:
The first one reported arrived May 2 and is the earliest arrival I received this year, but no location given.
(Note: When I ask for location I don't mean "buzzing around my head" or "by the front porch," it is the town or city I want.)
Other reports include:
May 5: "Hummingbird back. I think it was celebrating your new grandson!" -- Maggie, Lenox
May 6: "This evening, as I sat watching the evening news; I glanced over at the feeder, and, low and behold, there was a hummingbird sipping away! In past years, I've seen them within hours of putting out this feeder, but it was so chilly today that I was not expecting instant success." -- Kathy, Pittsfield
May 6: "My hummingbirds are back. I've had one feeder out for awhile, just in case, but saw the first one at 8 a.m. this morning." -- Linda, Pittsfield
May 7: "I hung my window feeder out for the first time this morning around 9 a.m. Roughly 11 a.m., a single male hummer appeared and returned a couple times, each time taking a fairly long drink. This appearance is consistent with arrivals over the last decade." -- Robert, Dalton
May 8: "[In the] afternoon, my husband and I saw the first hummingbirds of the season in our yard. Last year, our first sighting was on May 10 -- so they were two days earlier this year!" -- Kathy, Williamstown
May 10: "The first hummingbird was observed here on Saturday. Now there is a lot of activity at both our hummingbird feeders, and we are enjoying watching very much after a long winter!" -- Paul and Lenore, Great Barrington
"My ruby throated hummingbird has been back at the feeder in Richmond for a few days now (written May 19). I only put the feed out after your article mentioning the first sighting." -- Laura, Richmond
Here's an account of one lucky hummingbird:
"My husband [Lawrence] and I love to watch the hummingbirds that frequent the feeder on our front porch. The first one arrived May 2 followed by two more several days later. On May 11, as we were sitting on the porch, one hummer flew right between us and crashed into the window screen and his beak became lodged in the mesh! He tried several times to fly backward but his beak was stuck in the screen and wouldn't budge. Then he tucked his tail feathers under and used them to push against the screen and was finally able to dislodge his beak. A few moments later he was back at the feeder, none the worse for wear. We were speechless and that tiny little square in the screen is shaped more like a circle now." (No name or location provided.)
Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email Naturewatch@live.com