The rufous hummingbird visits the Washington region in small numbers. It migrates to Mexico, but between mid-March and mid-April they migrate back to their breeding range in western North America.
“I would expect her to remain no later than April 15th through 20th,” Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the Bird Banding Laboratory at the U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, said of this rufous in an e-mail. “If she were to remain later into April, then I would consider her migration to be unusually late.”
Someone reported the bird’s presence to Green Spring officials in early November, said Sandy Rittenhouse-Black, the visitor services and education manager there. After it became clear that the bird might stay for a while, the center’s officials consulted with hummingbird experts and decided to build the visitor a guest room befitting its status — and one that would protect its food from the elements.
The rufous’s daily visits vary in time of day and duration. Spectators have to squint or use binoculars to find the bird. Then there’s its changing appearance. Without the spotlight, it seems to have a little green around its head and back; hints of orange and brown on the wings and legs; and a white belly. Under the light, the orange dominates, making the belly and wings a radiant copper.
But the fact that this rufous is in a public place and is easily accessible is ultimately what’s made it somewhat of a celebrity, Peterjohn said. In the confines of a private house garden, such spectating would not be so permissible. And certainly not conducive to frequent fan visits.
“There is an element of drama, because there are some days when we don’t see her — sometimes for an extended period of a week or so,” said Jim Clark, 65, of Alexandria. “And, of course, we get all concerned wondering if she survived the freezing-cold nights.”
He and Chuck Roth, 75, of North Springfield have been monitoring the bird at Green Spring Gardens for a while now. They aren’t birders. In fact, Roth had been coming to the gardens to photograph birds, flowers and insects long before the rufous arrived. But since coming across the bird, well, they’ve become a bit like the paparazzi.
“We haven’t seen her today,” Clark said one recent afternoon, eyeing the feeder. “And there’s only a possible earlier sighting — no confirmed sighting today — so now we’re gonna be watching for her. Then, when she shows up when people haven’t seen her, it’s practically a celebration. People say, ‘Yay, there she is! She’s still with us.’ So this kind of drama kinda goes on day to day. It’s almost like a soap opera — is she gonna show? Is she still here? Is she okay?