Rufous Hummingbird imm. male on bush Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 331a.jpg (11357 bytes)Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, Lenoir Preserve, Yonkers, Westchester Co., NY, 23 November 2001.

All pictures were taken by my son Jay and me and are Kevin J. McGowan.  Most were taken with an Olympus D-450 digital camera through my Swarovski HD-80 spotting scope.  The video captures were taken with a Sony TRV830 video camera.


On Saturday, November 17, 2001, Mike Bochnik discovered what appeared to be a Rufous /Allen's type Hummingbird at Lenoir Nature Preserve in Westchester Co., NY.  (He has a few pictures posted off of the Hudson River Audubons Society page http://www.hras.org/).   It was feeding on Pineapple Sage in the Hummingbird Garden.  (Pineapple Sage Salvia elegans is native to the mountains of Mexico.  It doesn't start to bloom till late October and can remain in bloom into December -barring a killing frost.)  We were able to combine a family Thanksgiving get-together at my sister's house in New Rochelle with a hunt for an unusual New York bird (life bird for Jay; state bird for both of us), and went bright and early on Friday, 23 November.  Although we had to wait a while for the bird to show up, it eventually did and allowed us to take some photographs.

Rufous Hummingbird imm. male on feeder Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 428a.jpg (10864 bytes)

Rufous Hummingbird imm. male on bush Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 308a.jpg (27104 bytes)

     The buffy flanks and sides of the chest, together with the rufous in the tail and over the back confirmed the bird as a Rufous/Allen's, and the scattering of red across the throat (not concentrated in a central spot) indicated an immature male. 

 

Rufous Hummingbird imm. male on bush Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 375a.jpg (10822 bytes)   Rufous Hummingbird imm. male on bush Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 325a.jpg (11743 bytes)

 

Rufous Hummingbird imm. male on bush Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 315a.jpg (17261 bytes) Notice the rufous edges to many of the back feathers, extending up onto the head.   While adult male Rufous Hummingbirds have rufous backs and heads and Allen's have green there, immature male Allen's can have rufous on the back too (or so I am told).

Separating the two species is difficult, and the best character is the width of the outermost tail feather (rectrix 5) (Rufous broader than Allen's) and the presence in Rufous of a slight notch in the next-to-middle tail feather (r2).  Unfortunately, these are very difficult to see in the field.  Still, with luck one can see the outer tail feather when the bird perches, and we hoped to capture some images on video to distinguish the two species.

Jay did pretty well with the still camera and scope, catching the following in-flight shots.

Rufous Hummingbird imm. male at flower Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 369a.jpg (16180 bytes) Rufous Hummingbird imm. male at flower Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 393a.jpg (9361 bytes)

Rufous Hummingbird imm. male at flower Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 406a.jpg (8047 bytes) This last photo suggests a broad outer rectrix, especially on the right side.  The bird kept its tail furled whenever it was perched, but we got this photo showing the tail from underneath, also indicating a rather broad outer feather.

Rufous Hummingbird imm. male on bush Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 295a.jpg (10932 bytes)

Fortunately the video camera is faster than we are, and we got a few shots of the bird in flight fanning its tail.  I had no idea how fast hummingbirds fan their tails.   I know hummingbirds are fast little buggers, but I hadn't had it quantified before.   My camera takes 30 shots per second, and in every case the tail was fanned for exactly ONE frame!

Rufous Hummingbird imm. male flying tail spread Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 vc005a.jpg (9113 bytes) This one wasn't quite in focus, but the white-spotted tail feathers are apparent (especially the left side), and the outermost one is as broad as the next two.

Rufous Hummingbird imm. male flying tail spread Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 vc020a.jpg (6479 bytes) This was the best shot, and again shows a pretty broad outer feather.

Occasionally the bird would flip its tail up, allowing a look at the underside of the feathers.  Again, the outermost one looks broad, perhaps best seen in the magnified version of the second photo below.

.Rufous Hummingbird imm. male flying underside of tail spread Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 vc015a.jpg (6555 bytes) Rufous Hummingbird imm. male flying underside of tail spread Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 vc016a.jpg (4934 bytes)   Rufous Hummingbird imm. male flying underside of tail spread Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 vc016b.jpg (5839 bytes)

But, how broad is broad?  I have to admit that I have not seen all that many Rufous and Allen's hummingbirds in my life (exactly one Allen's), and I do not have a good feel for how broad or narrow the outer feather should be.  While field guides are great, I just don't trust paintings to represent subtle differences accurately.   So, I went to the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates to look at some specimens. 

Allen's Hummingbird Selasphorus sasinThe following are shots of the tails of 3 Allen's Hummingbirds (unfortunately, none had data and the sexing was therefore not entirely trustworthy; museum folks trust sex only on specimens where the gonads had been examined during preparation). 

The first two photos are of the same individual (CU5417), top and bottom.  The outermost feather looks much narrower than the Yonkers bird.

Allen's Hummingbird female tail no data CU5417 387a.jpg (19416 bytes)   Allen's Hummingbird female tail no data CU5417 388a.jpg (16830 bytes)    

The same is true of the next two individuals (CU5418 and CU5416, respectively).   Note that the outermost feather is missing on the bird's left side in the left photo (CU5418).

Allen's Hummingbird prob female no data CU5418 396a.jpg (16208 bytes)  Allen's Hummingbird prob female tail no data CU5416 391a.jpg (16396 bytes)

 

Rufous Hummingbird Selasphorus rufusBoth specimens show here are immature males.  The first (CU5404) was collected in New Mexico, 10 August 1901.

 Rufous Hummingbird imm male tail NM,10Aug1901 CU5404 371a.jpg (16372 bytes) Rufous Hummingbird imm male tail NM,10Aug1901 CU5404 377a.jpg (18157 bytes)

The next (CU11753) was collected in Arizona, 13 Aug 1940.

 Rufous Hummingbird imm male AZ 13Aug1940 CU11753 382a.jpg (17986 bytes) Both specimens show noticeably broader feathers than the Allen's, and both are similar to Yonkers bird.  (Notice also that CU11753 has a broader outer feather on its left side than its right!)

 

Compare also the next-to-middle tail feather shape.  In the two Rufous Hummingbirds that feather is slightly indented on the inside side.  On Allen's, it is not.  Here is a blowup of the tail of CU5418 (Allen's) shown above.

 Allen's Hummingbird prob female no data CU5418 394a.jpg (4966 bytes) Remember that the outermost feather is missing on this bird.

Here is a blowup of the best video capture show above.  I can almost convince myself that I can see the notch on the bird's left side.

 Rufous Hummingbird imm. male flying tail spread Yonkers, NY 23Nov01 vc020b.jpg (7472 bytes)

Therefore, we conclude the Lenoir hummingbird is indeed a Rufous Hummingbird.


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Revised: November 06, 2002.