A Rare Visitor

Photo Group
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Albino
Photo by: 
Mary Nemecek

On the 11th of August, a customer showed me pictures of a white hummingbird that she had visiting her feeders near Lake Waukomis. She had taken the pictures on August 8th but hadn’t seen the bird in the last day or so. Like many bird sightings, I thought we had missed our chance at something really cool. Fortunately it didn’t end there.

Over the next three weeks we tracked this female albino Ruby-throated Hummingbird via dedicated customers, facebook and some really lucky connections. Not all white animals are albinos, so the first task was to get some high quality pictures and confirm its true identity. Mary Nemecek staked out the first yard it had been reported from and got some excellent shots (featured).

The pink bill and pink legs convinced me that we were dealing with a true albino. But people were concerned about the black that could be seen through the feathers in places. Each feather has a small section near the base that is non-pigmented thus black in color. We typically do not see this in birds unless the wind blows feathers up to expose them. Her white color makes those black areas stand out even more.

I contacted the head of research at Operation Ruby-throat (www.rubythroat.org) in South Carolina. He confirmed my ID and felt that based on the bill length, that it was an immature female. He also confirmed the rareness of this sighting as fewer than 100 have been documented. Cool!

When two other Waukomis residents called with sightings of a white hummingbird we began tracking her movement. We marked her sightings on Google Earth and the result was a straight line among the three houses.

The Missouri Department of Conservation wrote a press release about the bird and sent it out over the “wire”. The story was published all over the country including Miami and San Diego, CA. Our little white bird was an overnight sensation.

Perhaps the most amazing part of this story was her big move. She disappeared one Saturday night after a pretty strong weather front moved in from the Southwest. The next day, a person in Cameron, Missouri sent a picture of her to the local newspaper. The reporter there had seen the press release and forwarded the picture back here. Sure enough, the bird in Cameron had the same unique dark markings on the left side of her neck. A week later, a cold front from the north pushed through and she showed up again at Lake Waukomis homes again. What a bird!

By Mark McKellar

FALL 2012