'To have it here, holy smokes!' -- Watchers abuzz about rare hummingbird

Geri Nikolai

This southern Wisconsin city is in for a small tourist boom, thanks to a hummingbird that got lost and ended up hundreds of miles from home.

Birding enthusiasts across the nation have found out online about a green-breasted Mango that has been frequenting a feeder at a rural home northwest of Beloit. Dozens of birders from the Midwest came to the house Wednesday and Thursday to add the Mango to their list of birds seen in Wisconsin.

The green-breasted Mango is a common sight in parts of Mexico and Central America. There have been sightings in Texas and, seven years ago, in North Carolina.

But Wisconsin?

“To have it here, holy smokes,” said Barbara Williams of Rockford, who coordinates the Christmas bird count with her husband, Dan, each year.

How unusual is it that a Mango ended up here? Williams put it this way:

“It would be rare if this bird showed up on the Mexican border in Arizona.”

Birders say there’s no doubt it’s a green-breasted Mango. Williams saw it several times just after 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“It zips in to the feeder, drinks for five to 10 seconds, then flies away or goes to sit in a tree. About 20 minutes later, it’s back to do the same thing,” she said.

The homeowners, who don’t want to be identified or have their address in the newspaper, are allowing birders to stop and see the bird, Williams said. They’re even keeping a clipboard with notes and hometowns of the people who come.

Lee Johnson of Rockton, an avid birder and former director of the Burpee Museum of Natural History, saw the Mango on Thursday morning, along with about 20 other birdwatchers.

Johnson thinks the bird’s “compass” got mixed up and it flew too far north.

“A lot of birds, after being raised, wander around,” he said. “He must have wandered here. They say he’s been here a good share of the summer.”

Sometimes birds get blown about in bad storms, and some birders thought the Mango might have been sent north by a hurricane. But it was apparently in the area before this year’s hurricanes hit.

“This far north, it’s unheard of. It’s a new state record,” Johnson said, describing why birders are excited about the Mango.

“With the Internet, people found out about the bird’s appearance within hours of when the bird showed up” with someone on hand who could identify it, he said. “Less than six hours later, it was on a national birding report.

“I think they’ll be inundated by hundreds of people this weekend, maybe thousands. This is a real big deal.”

The Beloit Mango is still a kid, less than a year old, birders say. They can tell it’s a male by its coloring.

Right now, it’s spending its days eating, which all hummingbirds must do because they burn so much energy moving about. Its favorite foods are insects and flower nectar.

Mark Korducki of Wauwatosa, Wis., who maintains a Wisconsin bird hot line, said hummingbirds are difficult to follow because they’re too small to have radio devices implanted.

To Korducki, the Mango is a “life bird,” meaning one he’s not seen before in his lifetime. He hopes the little guy will head South soon and keep going until he’s in Mexico.

Experts say the Mango would never survive a winter in this climate.

People have sometimes tried to rescue birds that get way out of their home territory. Williams is not sure that is necessary.

“There’s no way of knowing if that is successful, if the bird dies back at home,” she said. “If he dies, losing one won’t make any difference to the population as a whole. They’re not rare in Central America. My contention is, we’d be better off putting money into wildlife and bird habitat than into trying to save one bird.”

There’s hope that the Mango will at least try to get back home. Korducki said Wisconsin hosted two green-violet ear hummingbirds in the past few years. Its natural range is also Mexico and Central America.

“The first one stayed too long and died,” Korducki said. “The second one left on its own. This far out of his range, he may be too disoriented, but I hope he leaves.”

Staff writer Geri Nikolai can be reached at 815-987-1337 or gnikolai@rrstar.com.

Send us your pictures

If you have a picture you’ve taken of the green-breasted mango in the Beloit, Wis., area, we’d like to share them with our readers. Please e-mail your jpegs to local@rrstar.com, and include your name and telephone number.

Green-breasted mango

What: A hummingbird commonly found in Central America and Mexico.

Where: A few sightings have been reported in Texas; in 2000, one was spotted in North Carolina. But it’s never before seen as far north as Wisconsin.

Length: About 4 inches (about twice as large as the ruby-throated hummingbird usually seen here)

Color: Green overall (male has glossy bright green upper body) with black bill and purple chin. Brown purple tail with two bronze green central feathers. Immature birds, like the one in Beloit, show Grey or tan feather tips on head and wings.

Eggs: Female lays two eggs in tiny nest on high, thin branch. Incubation is 16 to 17 days; birds leave nest in 24 more.

What else: For details on the Beloit sighting, go to birdingonthe.net/mailinglists/WISC.html or bwfov.typepad.com/birders_world_field_of_vi. Or call the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology hot line, 262-784-4032.

Sources: Wikipedia, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, identify.whatbird.com