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Arnie!

The remarkable Anna's Hummingbird that spent the winter in Missoula, Montana.
And, where in Missoula did he spend the winter?
At the home of Sue and Gordon Scaggs, owners of HabiScapes!

Arnie as he usually appeared.
Arnie, seconds later, with his spectacular "flash."
 

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 complete song.)

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.

On 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.

December 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 thought.

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 window.

Our 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.

Protein 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.

At 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.

With 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.


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