Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Broad-tailed Hummingbird in Cape May

The Press of Atlantic City has an interesting article on the Broad-tailed Hummingbird (a first state record) currently visiting a feeder in Cape May County. The has been there through the winter, but its identity was not recognized until recently because of its similarity to Rufous Hummingbirds.

A broad-tailed hummingbird is spending the winter in Lower Township, just a couple miles away from some of the world’s top birders at the Cape May Bird Observatory. These experts knew about this particular bird and some had even seen it with their own eyes, but they gave it scant attention because they thought it was a different, more common species.

Now they are feeling sheepish about their mistake.

Cape May birder and ecotourism guide Michael O’Brien was the first to realize the error when he took new photographs March 1 after the tiny creature had molted telltale spring plumage.

He immediately tweeted his colleagues his pictures captioned only with the expletive: “Oh, s***.”

Finding a bird never before seen in New Jersey is rare in a state that is so vigilant about such things. New Jersey has documented 465 bird species. Ignoring a new species that for months has had habits as predictable as the tides is simply embarrassing.

“We were going to pose for a photo with some scrambled egg on our faces,” observatory Director Mike Crewe said.
This story is a good reminder not to make assumptions about a bird's identity based on incomplete information. Most of the time, the danger is trying to turn a common bird into a rarer one based on a partial view or a momentary glimpse. Now and then, though, it might make us miss a true rarity while thinking, "Oh, that's just a [fill-in-the-blank]." This incident also serves as a reminder that even the experts can be wrong, and it is worth evaluating rare sightings for yourself.