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Rare bird visits county

November 25, 2011

Catawba County's Riverbend Park has a new attraction.

It's only inches long, colorful and may soon be gone.

An Allen's hummingbird is visiting the park off N.C. 16 near the line between Catawba and Alexander counties.

The adult male bird has a rusty-colored head, back and sides, metallic green on his back and a bright orange-red throat. He is only the second Allen's hummingbird ever recorded in North Carolina, according to Catawba County parks officials. The breed usually spends summers in western California and southern Oregon.

"This is one of the harder hummingbirds to see," said Dwayne Martin, the park ranger at Riverbend. "Even in their native range, they're not that common and live in places where people commonly don't live. He's very skittish with people. There's no way of knowing why he went 3,000 miles in the wrong direction and ended up here."

Observers first noticed the bird at the park Nov. 18, and Martin identified him as an Allen's hummingbird. Martin said he first thought the bird may have been a Rufous hummingbird, a breed that has appeared at the park before. Then he noticed the green on the bird's back, a mark that differentiates the Allen's from the Rufous.

Martin said the bird has plenty to eat in the park, with abundant insects and food from birdfeeders.

"He seems very happy," Martin said. "This could be a slow movement to where some of the Allen's are going to start making this their winter grounds. We just don't know. I suspect that as late as he came in the year, he will probably stay through early spring."

About 80 people have visited Riverbend to see the bird since his arrival, Martin said, and more are on their way.

"We've had them from Raleigh; Johnson City, Tenn.; and Greenville, S.C.," he said. "We have a group planning to come up from Columbia, S.C., if he's still here."

Martin said he's one of two people in North Carolina licensed to capture and band hummingbirds. He said the other Allen's hummingbird recorded in North Carolina, a young male, visited Manteo on the coast in 2003.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are commonly seen in North Carolina in the summer.

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