Birder's Guide

MAY 2014

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 47 of 51

Birder's Guide to Conservation & Community | May 2014 46 id you know that there are thou- sands of obsessed birders who you're not likely to meet at your lo- cal bird club meeting, hawk watch, Christ- mas Bird Count compiling dinner, or major rarity event? Most of them aren't members of state or regional birding listservs and don't report their sightings to state records committees or eBird, either. It's not because they're loners. They may spend hours each week in online communities of like-minded devotees. In fact, it would be hard to fnd more active and passionate groups of bird enthusiasts. The reason you won't see these "invisible birders" in typical birding venues is that they're obsessed with certain iconic "back- yard" birds: hummingbirds, bluebirds, and Purple Martins. You might run into a blue- bird buff checking nest boxes along a rural road or enjoy the hospitality of a humming- bird maven who's hosting a rare vagrant, but for the most part, these highly focused birders live and bird in what amount to parallel universes, out of sight of the main- stream birding community. For many of these specialists, birding isn't so much about personal achievement or competition as it is about relationships, and providing nest boxes and feeders can foster greater ap- preciation of birds as individuals. The community of hummingbird watch- ers is particularly large, diverse, and pas- sionate. I often joke about hummingbirds being a "gateway drug" for birding and nature appreciation, but the ef- fect can work either way. I've seen hummingbird fans grow into gen- eral feld naturalists, and dedicated feld naturalists (including ornithol- ogists) get hijacked by humming- birds. There are also those who never step through the gateway from hummingbirds to the bigger world of birding, but their passion is no less intense. The most fanatical hummingbird- ers have a lot in common with hard- core hawk watchers and gullers. They may appreciate warblers, buntings, orioles, etc., in passing, but they choose to invest their time and energy in watching and learning about hummingbirds. Many hummingbirders have contributed to our understanding of migration and vagrancy by collaborating with banders, and a few become so obsessed with unraveling these mysteries that they train to become band- ers themselves. It's from these efforts that we're privy to spectacular records such as the Rufous Hummingbird that migrated a record-breaking 3,500 miles (minimum!) from Alaska to Florida, and the two Broad- billed Hummingbirds banded in winter in Louisiana that found their way to Colorado. One of the heroes in the hummingbird community is my longtime friend and banding colleague, Lanny Chambers. He is best known as the creator of the web- site and its annual map of the spring migration of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Since 1996, Chambers has solicited frst-of-season reports from observers all over the eastern U.S., later expanding to eastern and central Canada. Each spring, thousands of visitors fock to the website to watch as dated dots appear, representing the northward movement of migrating Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Though Chambers started this project to help backyard hummingbird hosts know when to put out their feeders, it has become far, far more. With contributions from hun- dreds of backyard watchers across the east- ern U.S. and southern Canada, the maps have deepened our understanding of how topography and weather affect humming- bird migration. The most dramatic example of this was in March 2012, when Chambers's map showed something remarkable: Ruby-throateds moving north weeks ahead of schedule. By March 21, sightings had spread north to Wisconsin, Michigan, and New York. Those who compared the 2012 map to previous years' maps saw that, while the dates were unprecedented in the history of the project, the overall pattern was consis- tent. The older maps showed a tendency for northbound Ruby-throateds to spread through the Midwest along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and the March 2012 reports followed this pattern. To many hummingbirders, the early ar- rivals weren't too surprising. Migration is triggered by the changing day length in spring and fall, but its speed (especially in spring) is dictated largely by weather and resources. The weather in the Southeast and Midwest had been unseasonably warm, coaxing sap to rise and enticing insects out of hibernation. Northbound Ruby-throat- eds that might otherwise have stopped over along the Gulf Coast found warm southerly winds and an ample supply of fuel, allow- ing them to proceed north at record speeds. Increasing numbers of Ruby-throateds have been wintering in the southeastern U.S., and these birds would have a head start on their tropics-wintering relatives. Other birds, too, took advantage of the favorable conditions. The 2012 maps on eBird show a vari- ety of migrants pushing north more rapidly than usual: Broad-winged Hawks, Purple Martins, Hermit Thrushes, Orange-crowned War- blers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuck- ers, to name a few. The sapsuckers are particularly signifcant because their sap wells provide a vital en- Parallel Universes D The author communes with fellow hummingbirders visiting a private home during the Hummer/Bird Celebration in Rockport, Texas. 9-Parallel Universes.indd 46 5/22/14 8:01 PM

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