Stray Western Hummingbird Visits the Museum’s Flowers

by AMNH on

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A crowd gathered around the shrubbery at the Museum’s 81st Street entrance.
Rufous Hummingbird
A Western hummingbird is making a rare appearance at the Museum. Above, the bird feeds on Museum flowers outside the 81st Street entrance.
© David Speiser

They were looking for a Western hummingbird that found its way to the Museum grounds. Noah Burg of the Museum’s Education Department first spotted the stray on Wednesday, though it may have been there for several days.

Ornithologists at the Museum have not confirmed the species, but the consensus is leaning toward the Rufous Hummingbird, whose breeding range extends through the Pacific Northwest from Alaska to Northern California. Other suggestions included Allen’s Hummingbird and the Broad-tailed Hummingbird. All three species are part of the genus Selasphorus and live far from New York City, in the western part of the continent.

While it’s not unheard of for a bird from afar to end up in the East, it is a rare occurrence to see a Rufous Hummingbird in this area. A small navigational error can result in a big mistake for a long-distance migrating bird. “If you’re going from Alaska down to Mexico,” explains Paul Sweet, who oversees the Department of Ornithology collections, “And you get your angle a little wrong, you can end up on the East Coast rather than going south. This pattern of ‘vagrancy’ is a rare but regular phenomenon in many species of migratory birds at this time of the year.”

The Western visitor perches in the Museum's shrubbery. 
© Jacob Drucker.

No one knows how long the visitor will stay, but birders hoping for a rare glimpse should look at the foliage that flanks the ground-level entrance to the Rose Center for Earth and Space on 81st street, between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West.