Rufous Hummingbird Flies From Florida To Alaska
A banded Rufous Hummingbird flew from the Southeast United States to Alaska this week.
On Monday, June 28th, this hummingbird was recaptured near Chenega, Alaska. A distance of nearly 4000 miles! This is the greatest distance between banding site and recapture for the Rufous Hummingbird we could find records for. Fred wrote in a message on the Florida Listserv:
While it has long been believed that the birds that winter in the Southeast states may have come from as far away as Alaska, this is the first time that we have been able to document it on both ends of the migration route.
Way to go Fred! See more pictures of when Fred banded the bird in his PBase photo gallery called 4,000 Mile Migrant Hummingbird.
The species was first recorded east of the Mississippi River during winter in Charleston, South Carolina on 18 December 1909. After this initial detection, records of Rufous Hummingbirds east of the Mississippi River remained sporadic until the 1970s, when steadily increasing numbers were reported in the fall and winter along the Gulf Coast. This increase has continued to the present, and Rufous Hummingbirds are now considered regular along the Gulf Coast in winter from Texas to Florida.
The scientists propose three different reasons for the new wintering area:
Clearly, many more Rufous Hummingbirds are wintering in the southeastern United States now than a few decades ago, and their numbers seem to be increasing rapidly. These observations beg the question of why Rufous Hummingbirds are expanding their winter distribution. We propose three hypotheses for the change in behavior that is being observed: cultural transmission, rapid evolution of novel migratory behavior, and independent exploration and settlement.
It’s a very good article if you want to learn more about this. I found the similarities between the European Blackcaps and the Rufous Hummingbirds very interesting!
Perhaps the best support for the idea that the increase in Rufous Hummingbirds in the Southeast resuits from rapid evolutionary change in innate migratory behavior comes from a detailed study of the Blackcap, a European passerine that has undergone a change in winter distribution similar to that of the Rufous Hummingbird.
The scientists studying the Blackcaps were able to show that the birds new migratory path was possibly based on a genetic variation.
They captured Blackcaps wintering in England and Blackcaps breeding in Germany (most of which still migrate to Africa in the winter). When orientation was measured during the fall migratory period, German caught birds oriented toward the southwest (toward Gibraltar), and British-caught birds oriented almost due west (toward the British Isles). Moreover, the captive-born offspring of both the German-caught and British-caught birds, which had no opportunity to learn migratory behavior, oriented like their parents.
The main difference between the Blackcaps and the Rufous hummingbirds is the distance of migration. The new migration path for the Blackcaps is significantly shorter therefore these birds return to the breeding grounds before the rest. This can allow these Blackcaps to pair preferentially among each other and produce more offspring.
However, the Rufous Hummingbirds wintering in the Southeast United States do not gain anything from the new migration route because the distances between breeding and wintering areas in the southeastern United States and Mexico are about the same.
This could explain why the physical characteristics of the Rufous Hummingbirds are not changing and the Blackcaps are.
If you want to read more, check out the research paper. It’s called Recent change in the wintering distribution of Rufous Hummingbirds.