Hybrid hummer?

This hummingbird is believed to be a rufous-Anna's hybrid.
 (The Spokesman-Review)
This hummingbird is believed to be a rufous-Anna's hybrid. (The Spokesman-Review)

A group of Oregon birdwatchers have spotted and photographed what appears to be the first documented hybrid resulting from a breeding between North America’s most common species of hummingbirds, Anna’s and rufous.

Shortly after the bird was spotted in late April near Eugene, word spread to photographer Peter Patricelli, who quickly responded with a 600mm lens to capture high-quality images. The two photos accompanying this story indicate how dramatically different the same bird can look with different light angles on its iridescent feathers.

David Irons, one of the Eugene birders who identified the unusual hummer, gave this description of what caught his eye.

“The underparts and pattern of iridescent feathers on the throat (referred to as the “gorget”) and forehead suggest an adult male Anna’s. The iridescence of the gorget varied from the magenta hues of a typical Anna’s to the more orangish red of a rufous depending on light angle, while the iridescent feathering on the forehead, which rufous does not have, was consistently a rosy red or magenta

“Additionally, this individual showed an orangish buff wash along the flanks and rufous orange in the tail feathers. Anna’s hummingbirds have no orange or rufous coloration in their plumage.

“Finally, the exceptional image (of the bird positioned straight toward the camera) illustrates the rather unique shape of some of the tail feathers, which allowed the observers to conclude that a rufous hummingbird was one of the parents of this individual.”

Patricelli had an edge in making the photographs because male hummingbirds are territorial during the spring mating season and often return to the same branch to claim their space.

“Unfortunately,” Irons reported to The Spokesman-Review last week, “I suspect that it was or is failing miserably in its efforts to find a mate since it did not produce the normal amount of wing whir of a rufous or the tail “chirp” of a displaying Anna’s. From what I’ve read, these noises are essential in attracting female hummers.

“This bird sang like an Anna’s, but the tonal quality is higher pitched and sounds more metallic like a rufous,” Irons said.

Even if the bird does find a mate, he told the Eugene Register-Guard, “hybrids are often sterile.”

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Rich Landers

Rich Landers

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