That wasn’t just any ordinary hummingbird darting about Terri Walls’ nectar feeder last week in St. Paul. And Walls knew it.
She also knew that the tiny orange-reddish bird with a bright iridescent gorget at the throat — a rufous hummingbird — usually summers in the Pacific Northwest and winters in Mexico, and wouldn’t last long in the snow and frigid temps of an early Minnesota winter.
So with a quick call to experts and the help of a rescue cage, Walls captured the bird and turned it over to a Roseville wildlife hospital, which is now trying to place it on a big bird headed south to resume its annual migratory trek.
“Really, the only problem with the bird is that he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Jessika Madison-Kennedy, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who is caring for the bird until it can be released in Arizona.
The hummingbird was examined Wednesday at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota. A veterinarian found it to be a healthy adult male of typical size — a few inches long and a penny’s worth in weight.
It was fortunate that Walls fed the bird and provided a heater over the feeder, Madison-Kennedy said.
“If she hadn’t done that, he would have perished,” she said.
The rust-colored bird — not often seen in these parts, and especially not this time of the year — will be flown south for release as soon as a pilot can be lined up, said Phil Jenni, executive director of the Wildlife Center, the largest independent general wildlife hospital in the country.
“We’re an emergency hospital. That’s what we do,” Jenni said. “We care about the animal partly because someone else cared enough to want to help it. It can be expensive, but is there a price tag for compassion?”
So what happened to knock this bird so far off course?
Jenni surmises that it was blown to Minnesota by the global weather disturbance that began two weeks ago with Typhoon Nuri in the Pacific Ocean, the same system that brought cold and snow to the Upper Midwest.
“Hummingbirds tend to use the wind to migrate, and sometimes they’ll get caught up in abnormal jet stream patterns,” he said.
There have been little more than a dozen sightings of rufous hummingbirds in Minnesota in nearly 40 years, all from June through October. The most common hummingbird found in Minnesota is the ruby-throated variety.
Once a bird is captured and brought to the wildlife center, Jenni said that state and federal regulations outlaw releasing it in an area where it has little chance of survival.
And flying the bird south to catch up with migration isn’t as simple as it might seem.
First, licensed wildlife officials in the destination state must be notified and agree to accept the animal; Jenni said they’ve already cleared things with Arizona. Now they’re hoping to arrange transportation this week.
“You can’t just take it out to Delta and buy a ticket,” he said.