Different Hummer (Updated)

Allen’s Hummingbird adult male (Selasphorus sasin)

The large Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) bush on the south side of the park, near the parking circle, is a magnet for creatures that love nectar. Among them was this copper-tinted hummingbird. It’s probably a male Allen’s Hummingbird. But, the sources caution, they’re so similar to the Rufous Hummingbird that identification is tricky. I’m publishing additional photos of this bird for hummingbird experts.

Update: Since posting this, I’ve had the benefit of two authoritative opinions, one from Rusty Scalf, another from Joe Morlan, both saying “adult male Allen’s.” Scalf referred me to an informative article in an online field guide to hummingbirds, titled “Rufous v. Allen’s” by hummer expert Sheri Williamson. Williamson wrote that the amount of green on the back doesn’t tell the species apart. “The only safe, accurate way to distinguish between Rufous and Allen’s in any and every plumage is by the shapes of the tail feathers.” The Rufous adult male has a little notch in the second tail feather (rectrix) while the Allen’s does not; see illustration. The key photo for ID purposes is the first one below showing the bird dive-bombing into the bush with its tail feathers spread out. This was an accidental photo, a little bit out of focus, but it’s clear enough to show that the tail feathers are slim and pointy without that telltale Rufous notch. So: Allen’s.

Both the Allen’s and the Rufous are West Coast natives. The Allen’s tends to stick closer to the coast. They are here as migrants; their winter home is Mexico and, increasingly, Southern California. Because hovering is energy costly, hummingbirds need to feed often. This one worked very quickly, sipping from each little flower for a fraction of a second before moving on, and spending less than half a minute in the flowering bush before flitting off somewhere else. It reappeared several times during a two-hour observation, each time spending only seconds taking nectar.

Charles Andrew Allen (1841-1930), after whom this bird is named, was a Massachusetts amateur birder who worked as a carpenter and lumber mill worker. He served in the Union army during the Civil War, and afterward came west for his health due to sawdust inhalation. He lived as a caretaker and handyman in a small cabin in Nicasio, Marin County, where he studied birds and other wildlife. In the late 1870s, Allen sent skins of two hummingbirds that had been thought the same, pointing out key distinctions between them, to a Harvard naturalist, who forwarded them to Henry W. Henshaw, a prominent naturalist in Washington D.C. who later became head of the U.S Biological Survey. Henshaw agreed and named one of the species after Allen, the other being the Rufous. Allen’s cremains were put in the Sunset Mausoleum in Berkeley in 1930.

More about Allen’s: Wikipedia Cornell Audubon

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