American Birding Podcast



Chicago mystery hummingbird a mystery no more

Offered as a follow-up to last week’s post on the mystery Selasphorus hummingbird that has, for the last few weeks, been turning the brains of Illinois birders to mush as they try to figure it out.

Last week, the hummingbird was captured, banded, and lessened of a few tail feathers for DNA sequencing, in a renewed attempt to discover its identity.  The feathers were taken to the Field Museum of Natural History where ornithologists hoped to be able to finally put a name to the bird to a very high degree of certainty.  Specifically, they hoped to answer the question of whether this was Illinois’s first Broad-tailed Hummingbird as originally identified, some sort of unknown hybrid, or something else entirely.

Chicago hummer
photo by Greg Neise, used with permission

And the verdict is finally in….

The bird is a Rufous Hummingbird.

Or, at least, it’s Rufous enough for jazz, as they say (see comments for clarification).

This surprising, given some of the plumage characteristics, result poses no shortage of questions as to whether or not juvenile Selasphorus hummingbirds are identifiable at all short of a full-on DNA workup, but Chicago birder (and ABA Blog contributor) Greg Neise discovered a potential field mark that may shed a little light on future confusing birds.  He was looking at the eyelashes.

As if juvenile Selasphorus identification couldn’t get more obscure, now we must pay close attention to hummingbird eye”lashes”, or rather, the tiny feathers on the lower eyelid that serve the same purpose as lashes in mammals, but it’s not quite as difficult as it first appears, and the idea seems to have some merit. Greg writes more on the Illinois Birding forum here.

In any case the mystery is solved, and while Illinois must wait a but longer for the state’s first Broad-tailed Hummingbird, the bright side is that, after the hullabaloo involving this particular bird, all parties involved are a whole lot more prepared for that record now.