Hybrid Hummingbird

22 08 2015
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Anna’s x Costa’s Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

On August 10th 2015 I was shooting some hummingbirds in my yard when a bird popped in to check out the feeder that immediately struck me as somewhat odd. Initially the flash of the color in the gorget had me thinking about Costa’s Hummingbird, but something about it wasn’t quite right. Costa’s tend to be pretty uncommon in the yard themselves, so I was quite keen to try get a shot or two of the bird in question even if it just turned into a funky Costa’s. Though the initial view was quite brief the gorget coloration appeared to change somewhat as the bird changed angles, going from something almost typically Costa’s purple to something that took on a distinctly pinkish hue. Compare the color of the gorget of the hybrid bird above with the adult male Costa’s I photographed this spring below.

Costa's Hummingbird - Luke Tiller

Costa’s Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

I was aware of the possibility of hybrid hummingbirds as the week or so before, local birder, John Garrett had photographed an interesting hummingbird which he’d identified as an hybrid Anna’s x Costa’s (photo here) just a mile or so from where this one had appeared. To my eye his bird essentially looked much like an Anna’s Hummingbird with a Costa’s colored gorget and a white upper breast and line down the belly which hints at it’s mixed parentage. The admixture of colors in my bird had me wondering whether I might have another potential hybrid, but this time leaning more heavily towards Costa’s in appearance.

After about ten minutes, which felt much longer, thankfully the bird returned. This time it allowed me to gather a few admittedly poor photographs. At least now though I had something to send people to show the gorget coloration. As the bird continued to return over the afternoon I managed to gather a few decent shots of the bird and started to note a few interesting features beyond the gorget coloration including what appeared to be an important one – the length of tail. Though in the process of replacing many of its tail feathers the birds outer retrices extended notably past the wings. This is a good feature for Anna’s Hummingbird (note this feature in this linked picture), but problematic for Costa’s which are notably short tailed/long winged (see link). Costa’s wing tips reaching the tip of their tail or extend beyond the tail tip (compare the longer two outer retrices extending distinctly beyond the wing tips on the picture of the bird below).

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Anna’s x Costa’s Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

The bird certainly had many Costa’s features to it. I noted that the bird was distinctly white-breasted on the upper breast with a white line down the central breast down to the vent almost creating a vested appearance which is much more in line with Costa’s Hummingbird (features you can see quite nicely in the link on this bird I photographed in spring). Compare this to Anna’s below which typically shows a dingy upper breast and no central white stripe (you can also compare the gorget coloration to the hybrid). Speaking to local birders it seems that this white breasted and vested look is one often exhibited by suggested Anna’s x Costa’s hybrids and is hinted at in John Garret’s shot. The gorget shape with the long ‘tails’ is more suggestive of Costa’s Hummingbird than it is of Anna’s Hummingbird, though it is not as extensive on the crown or on the back of the head as it seems to be on most adult Costa’s.

One of the main things in favor of Costa’s was the overall size of the bird. Though it is not completely evident in the pictures the bird was noticeably on the small side. There are admittedly only 0.5 inches separating Anna’s and Costa’s in size, but that 0.5 inches is pretty noticeable at close range (down to ten feet or less) on a feeder.

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Anna’s Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

Though there is a lot that weighs heavily in favor of Costa’s Hummingbird (more than one correspondent suggested it was perhaps just a young male) I and most other birders I have had contact with believe that there is enough admixture in the gorget, as well as the odd tail/wing length, to suggest this is a hybrid Anna’s x Costa’s. Interestingly the same day the hybrid appeared I first noticed and photographed a female type Costa’s Hummingbird in the yard. This one I only saw briefly and managed to take a quick record shot of while it was perched in pretty marginal lighting (see photo below). It then seemed to disappear for a few days but it (or another very similar looking bird) showed up again  a few days later. The female type was seemingly generally reluctant to come in to the feeders so it may be that it has been around but passed unnoticed at times.

Talking to local birders the timing of the arrival of the hybrid and this female wasn’t at a time generally associated with movement of Costa’s Hummingbirds, so where these birds came from and why, who knows. Unfortunately I never knowingly heard the hybrid bird vocalize so I’m not sure what it sounded like, it would have been useful to hear it and even better to have a recording.

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Costa’s Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

Though there are only a few records of this particular hybrid on eBird (see link) at least one local birder thinks that it is probably relatively common within the world of hybrid hummingbirds. The two species are both in the genus Calypte and are closely related. There are at least two other records from LA County both from the San Gabriel Mountains and the San Gabriel Valley. It was a neat experience and I’m certainly glad I managed to capture a few decent photographs of it over the next couple of days before the bird departed on August 13th. You can view those other pictures on my flickr account (here).





Juvenile Male Hummers

10 08 2010

Juvenile Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Looking through NEHummers website (link here) which has loads of useful information about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds it seems that along with the early blooming plants this year a dry June and July might have also equated to an equally advanced season for hummingbirds in Southern New England.

This citizen science website has loads of great bits of information and pictures of hummingbirds to peruse. There are even a few individual birds birders in Connecticut might recognise including the Calliope from Lighthouse Point and the female Rufous from Somers (links to photo’s of out of range birds from 2006 here) as well as tips on identifying  the age and sex of birds (here). On the topic of great hummingbird websites, check out Sheri L Williamson’s blog on hummingbirds (amongst other things). She’s the author of the Peterson Guide to North American Hummingbirds and has loads of great information on the site (here)!

Recently I’ve been trying to work out just how many hummingbirds are visiting my feeders and I think I have at least tracked down a handful of individual young males (the pale tan feather edging to the birds feathers – especially noticeable on their heads – is the quickest way to age young birds whether they are male or female). The females seem a bit harder to individualize but the differences in the males gorget development seem to help work out how many are coming. Thus far my favorite is the one with just the one gorget feather that is peeking out! Here are some of the latest pictures:





Death Defying Hummingbirds

10 06 2009

Collared Inca (Ecuador) - Luke Tiller

Collared Inca (Ecuador) - Luke Tiller

A cool article about the aerial acrobatics of humminbirds. Seeing as the paper has illustrated the article with  completely inappropriate photo (of a Broad-billed Hummingbird). I thought I’d do the same. OK I just don’t have any picture of Anna’s Humminbird truth be told. Anyway pretty amazing stuff and goes nicely with the other recent hummingbird post (see below).  Article here. I have decided to make no comment about males doing ridiculous things to impress the female of the species!





Hummingbird Tags and more

7 06 2009

A really cool article here about attaching electronic tags to hummingbirds for the first time in order to try and figure out some of the issues behind what is being considered a global pollination crisis. It seems that forest fragmentation is causing much of the problems from initial research. As birders we are already aware of how fragmentation of habitat affects the breeding success of our woodland birds. It also seems to be an issue for the plant life in the tropics that rely on these little gems for pollination. More from the article here.

If you just want to find out more about Hummingbirds or get involved in some hummingbird projects check out these cool sites. NE Hummers has loads of ways to get involved in recording data about your own New England Hummingbird experiences. They are currently looking for birders to carry out yard counts on July 25-31 (more here) and you can report or just reminisce about out of season rarities (such as last years first Connecticut record of Broad-billed Hummingbird) as well. The Hummingbird Society has loads of info on attracting hummingbirds, video links, galleries and other great stuff including details about endangered hummingbirds around the world check out their website here. You might also want to check out Operation Rubythroat a project aimed at getting students involved in an international project to study the only hummingbird that regularly calls the local vicinity home (more here).