Arnie was an adult male Anna's hummingbird. What
he lacked in size, he made up for in tenacity. He became the most
famous hummingbird in Montana when he decided to spend the winter
in Missoula. Arnie had already made the record books by just showing
up in Missoula!
Generally a west coast and southwest bird, Anna's hummingbirds
do not have a range that includes Montana. Arnie's appearance
marked only the 12th documented sighting of any Anna's hummingbird
in Montana. The ornithological records began being rewritten from
the first. Arnie was with another Anna's hummingbird at the same
time! It was the first time two Anna's had been recorded in the
same location in Montana. (The second bird was captured by
an ornithologist from the University of Montana and even under
close examination in hand, was misidentified as an adult female.
It was two years later before I was able to track down a hummingbird
expert who correctly and conclusively identified the second bird
as a juvenile male Anna's. My question posed to her that she answered
was the same I posed to others, "Do female Anna's hummingbirds
sing?" I had video of both singing a rather elaborate song.
Females do sing, but not the complete song. Only males sing a
Sue and I first documented Arnie and "friend" on September
1 (yes, the owners of HabiScapes and this website) at our home.
However, some time later, a review of videotape of our gardens
that were on the Missoula Garden Tour revealed an Anna's hummingbird
caught on tape on July 30, 2001...one month earlier!
Once the word was out that, not only one but, two Anna's hummingbirds
were in Missoula, Montana, throngs of people came from all over
Montana and other states to add this bird to their life list of
birds seen. Since birds can leave at anytime, time is, usually,
of the essence...or so we thought. Shortly, after capture, the
young male Anna's left the area. Arnie, however, stayed...and
stayed...and stayed. The concern now was cold weather coming on.
The common Calliope and Rufous hummingbirds had been heading
south since about the end of August. Flowers blooming and feeders
out, it made no difference. The photo-period and their biological
clocks told them to head out.
November 2, 2001, Arnie was banded by two federally licensed banders.
It was another first for Montana as Arnie was the first Anna's
hummingbird to be banded here. Upon release, the banders placed
Arnie on Sue's hand where he flashed red hot (I would too) before
realizing his freedom and jetting off to his dogwood perch.
As the weather got cooler, the feeders were moved to the south
side of the house to allow them, as well as Arnie, as much sun
as possible. An open balcony off an upstairs room was slowly enclosed
with clear plastic sheeting over several days. It was hoped that
it would serve as protective housing for Arnie. Feeders were placed
inside as were aspen perches, heat lamp, etc. Arnie was able to
come and go via a small opening left in the sheeting. Arnie would
come in to feed and sometimes perch in the aspen, but preferred
remaining in a crab apple tree just below the balcony. It appeared
that Arnie simply needed to constantly survey his surroundings,
whether for predators, intruders, or yes, a female.
8th saw another Anna's visit, much to Arnie's dismay, as it was
another adult male. The territoriality display was nothing short
of dramatic. Arnie's hovering and flashing of his brilliant "hot"
pink/red gorget in front of the intruder was simply breathtaking.
Arnie then slowly rose higher and higher and upon reaching his
pinnacle, he swooped down directly in front of the intruder with
a "pop," as he arched upwards and, again, rising higher
and higher to repeat his display. Arnie would chase the new hummer,
clicking all the while, then return to his favorite perch. We
decided to give the newcomer a break and placed a feeder out back
where the feeders were originally. While Arnie guarded his feeders
in the front, the other bird could feed in the back...or so we
The new bird was on the feeder quick, but Arnie was on him just
as quick and before long, Arnie had taken up his old perch in
the red-twig dogwood in the backyard. In spite of the enclosure,
which warmed up enough to even hatch a few gnats, it was clear
that Arnie was not bothered by the now cold weather and would
not seek refuge inside. All the feeders were returned to the back.
Our observation of Arnie would again be from the breakfast nook
job was harder. With cold weather came freezing sugar solution.
We liked to have a warm/tepid solution for Arnie when he came
in first thing in the morning from his nights roost. We thought
that it helped reduce the BTUs necessary to warm the solution.
We maintained two feeding solutions under heat lamps. The heat
lamps are almost a misnomer, as feeders had to be within a few
inches of the lamp just to keep the solution from freezing.
deficiency was the main concern regarding Arnie's diet. Insects
may provide about 50% of a hummer's diet and winter in Montana
was not the best time to find insects. On sunny days you could
see Arnie "hawking" a small hatch of no-seeums near
the dogwood. He would fly out, catch one with his tongue and return
to his perch only to repeat this again and again. Upon closer
look, you could see a swarm of very teeny insects spiraling about.
During this entire time, we had been in touch with many wildlife
experts, including hummingbird researchers. They recommended adding
a protein supplement to Arnie's sugar solution. While Nektar-Plus
is used successfully by many, Vital, by Ross Labs, proved to be
Arnie's favorite. The representative for Ross Labs for the Montana
area kindly provided the life saving Vital for Arnie.
the same time, we learned of research being conducted that determined
sugar levels in the flower nectar of some favorite hummingbird
plants. It was then that we decided to offer Arnie a "hanging
perennial bed" of sugar solutions at various levels similar
to those various flowers. We purchased additional feeders, made
varying solution (with and without the protein supplement), and
hung the seven feeders outside where they could be observed from
the breakfast nook window. Every feeding, from the first in the
morning to the last tank-up of the day, was recorded.
Between feedings, Arnie was quite inactive. He watched the "invisible
tennis match" (as we called it), as his head went from side
to side, perhaps in survey for predators. When ready to feed/nectar,
he would fidget, fly to the top of the dogwood, stretch and flash
his brilliantly-colored gorget, and then come in to feed. His
feeding frequency changed little from September to February. Even
on the coldest days, his feeding remained about the same. He also
did not change his perch to get more sunshine. Even with the sun
shining (rare for a winter day in Missoula) on part of the dogwood
in which he perched, he stayed in the shade and preened away.
Arnie continued this routine until the end of February and we
continued to record his feedings. On some of the colder days,
it was sometimes necessary to change the feeders up to 5 times
a day. Valentine's Day came and went with no female for Arnie.
Many Anna's are actually feeding young in February. We would have
been more surprised than him to have seen one.
Then his behavior began to change. Arnie would leave for long
periods of time before returning. On Friday, February 22, 2001,
Arnie flew off about 12:00 pm. He did not return that day. On
Saturday, we worked on our Wildlife Gardener curriculum, keeping
a constant eye out for Arnie, he did not return all that day.
Sunday, we continued our work on the Wildlife Gardener course,
but spent most of the time looking for Arnie, hoping he could
possibly be alive and miraculously appear at the feeder. I even
went out and checked at the base of the dogwood in case his little
body might be laying in the snow. No Arnie. About 4:30 on February
24, as I was heating another cup of coffee, I again glanced out
the breakfast nook window. In flew a tiny hummingbird as if in
slow motion. It attempted to feed from a feeder under a heat lamp,
but fell/flew clumsily off. I yelled to Sue as I grabbed two fresh
feeders waiting on the counter just for this moment. By the time
I was reaching the back door, Sue was holding it open.
I stepped out on the porch and Arnie flew slowly to one of the
feeders I was holding. Again he seemed to fall off only to catch
himself and fly to the dogwood almost landing in the snow along
his way. After a few attempts. I simply held Arnie and he laid
in my hand. I held him and placed his beak in the feeder port.
He fed almost non-stop.
We later surmised that Arnie was flying off to either look for
females or find a way out of the snowy icy Missoula valley. Regardless,
he was burning his fat reserves while not feeding.
Arnie near death in my hand, the decision was clear to us what
to do, and against all the scientific drivel we had been bombarded
with, we brought him inside. With feeders set-up, aspen and dogwood
to perch in, wireless cameras, and a room with a view, Arnie stayed
with us for seven weeks. His days were spent singing abundantly,
flying, and feeding from his Vital feeder and, yes, live, protein-rich
fruit flies direct from a biological supply company.
After hours of video recorded behavior and endless feeder changes,
on April 20, at 4:00 pm, Arnie was released. We knew he would
be out like a flash never to be seen again, but when we opened
the window, he simply flew to the pussy willow to eat insects.
He then spent several minutes bathing in one of our creeks. It
was the first time we had seen him bathe, even when he had his
own private recirculating pond in his room. Arnie then flew, yes,
to his favorite dogwood perch, were he remained until last seen
August 8, 2002. The teeny, little bird flew off, leaving a major
impact on our lives and those that his remarkable story touched.