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Sunday, November 20, 2011

What's So Great About That Allen Guy, Anyway?

Like the rest of the rare birds I twitched this weekend, the tiny hummingbird coming to the feeder of a local park in Catawba County meant relatively little to me listing-wise. Unlike everybody else crammed into the room of the park’s offices, I’d gotten my lifer out in California, so this insane rarity would merely have to be a state tick. Still, I found it totally worth going out with a bunch of area birders to see North Carolina’s second record of Allen’s Hummingbird.

Because we had to return by noon, the four of us were out the door by 6am, which meant that after a rather uneventful 2.5 hour drive, the mid-morning sun shone upon a lone sugar feeder in the middle of a small clearing. At first, we could only see sparrows and chickamice and cardinals flocking around the outskirts of the clearing. Then, I caught the motion of a small shape on the nearby brambles, like a bumblebee skimming across the browning shrubbery. “There he is!” announced Dwayne, the finder, identifier, and ultimately bander of this impressive little specimen. “He’s back on his favorite perch.” Sure enough, camouflaged perfectly among the brown and green leaves, the Allen’s Hummingbird perched for all to see. Without warning, the little orange bird with a perfectly green back made a bee-line for the feeder, and all of a sudden the shutters of watching birders began to click like paparazzi following a celebrity. But a good celebrity, like a Scarlett Johannson or a Robert Downey, Jr. Not one of them Kardashians.

He was actually pretty small... more of a Danny DeVito type.

The hummingbird flitted back and forth between his little perch on the brambles and the feeder, with brief interludes to locales unknown. Each time he made it to the feeder, the cameras would click and words of awe would be exchanged among the birders. For a hummingbird of the Selasphorus complex, he’s surprisingly easy to identify, looking like he just jumped out of a field guide. After having our fill and getting overkill (but totally awesome) scope views, the four of us called it a day and returned for the long trek back to the Triangle. Totally worth it, in my opinion – the birds I saw in California would almost uniformly flush from in front of me, so it was nice to finally get the killer views I’d always dreamed of.

Not bad for having to photograph through a window, I say!

But the question remains – who is this Allen guy that got a hummingbird named after him? Turns out Charles Andrew Allen was an accomplished taxidermist of all things, who collected specimens on the West Coast during the latter half of the 1800s and sent them back to scientists out East. Apparently he recognized that a hummingbird specimen from Mexico represented a distinct species, and told his Eastern colleagues about it – and thus the Allen’s Hummingbird received its title, in honor of the one guy who knew it was special.


  1. It certainly is! Kudos to Dwayne Martin for finding this bird and recognizing it as an Allen's!