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Illinois Hummingbird creates a stir

November 29, 2011

Imagine recording a very rare observation for your state — from your own backyard! When Eric Gyllenhaal and his two sons saw a hummingbird in their Oak Park, Illinois backyard in November, they knew it was unusual. But they likely didn’t realize the bird that they found would create quite a stir in the birding community. The Gyllenhaals posted their bird as a possible Broad-tailed Hummingbird to the FeederWatch Facebook page and to the online Illinois Birder’s Forum. Crowds of birders soon arrived with optics, cameras, and video equipment to document this rare find. “A whole range of folks, from professionals through amateurs, birders through banders, are discussing the age, gender, and parentage of this bird,” Eric reported. The hummingbird was even featured in a Chicago Tribune article.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird in Oak Park, IL. Photo by Jerry Goldner.

As more people took photos and discussed the bird, some suggested that the bird may be a hybrid. The Gyllenhaals even collected fecal samples from the ground beneath the feeder in the hopes that DNA could be extracted in order to confirm the identity of the bird. The presence of the hummingbird has created a wonderful learning experience for Eric’s sons. Eric writes, “I know you folks are interested in documenting the ways in which FeederWatch encourages scientific thinking among participants. Well, here’s a good example — I’ve been impressed since day one with how my two teenage birders, and their friends, have been participating in and talking about all this.”

Well, the genetic results are back and… a researcher from the Chicago Field Museum confirms that it is a female Rufous Hummingbird! The Rufous Hummingbird and the Broad-tailed Hummingbird are closely related (both are in the same Genus, Selasphorus). Females are particularly difficult to distinguish from one another and the Gyllenhaal’s bird lacks much of the rusty-red coloration we’d expect to see on the flanks of a female Rufous Hummingbird.

A rare winter hummingbird feeding near Chicago. Photo by Jerry Goldner.

Congratulations to the Gyllenhaal family on this unusual find, and thanks for sharing your home, yard, and this hummingbird (and its DNA) with the world!

Showing off the tail. Photo by Jerry Goldner.

For more information about hummingbirds, visit the species accounts on All About Birds. To see photos of all confirmed rare bird reports from the current FeederWatch season, visit our rare bird pages.

7 Comments
  1. Christine permalink
    December 1, 2011 7:32 pm

    Exciting find!!! Wonderful photos, too!

  2. December 6, 2011 2:11 pm

    Yep. Birders are a passionate sort. Just ask my husband and son.

  3. virginia Hutchison permalink
    December 12, 2011 5:34 pm

    Wonderful photo and video. i was missing my summer hummers and have been watching the eggs hatch at the Phobe sight from calif. two eggs this week. Your sighting helped the missing of the hummingbirds. Enjoy your treat. Ginny Hutchison

  4. December 12, 2011 6:29 pm

    We’ll all be watching those hummers a little closer next year!!

  5. Marilyn permalink
    December 14, 2011 8:54 am

    What a beautiful little creature! I’m so glad he landed in a yard with a good photographer!

  6. mike bednar permalink
    February 21, 2012 10:24 pm

    Great photos! So jealous

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