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Hybrid or Variant?

Hybrid or Variant?
Photo Information
Copyright: Jane Magen (jaycee) Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2454 W: 10 N: 8044] (25460)
Genre: Animals
Medium: Color
Date Taken: 2008-09-02
Categories: Birds
Camera: Canon PowerShot S5 IS, 1.5 Teleconverter
Exposure: f/4, 1/500 seconds
Photo Version: Original Version
Theme(s): Joe's Favourites 2 [view contributor(s)]
Date Submitted: 2008-09-10 8:14
Viewed: 3279
Points: 54
[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note
This looks to me more like a male Red throated Hummingbird than a Black Chinned. However, very few Red-throated have been spotted in Arizona. This article describes the difficulty of identifying these tiny birds. I found it interesting - I hope you will.

Mixed Marriages? by Nancy Newfield

"Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that I have ever seen...," goes the refrain from one of my favorite Irish ballads, which recounts the woes of a child whose parents are of different religions. "me father, he was orange and me mother, she was green." In biology, the offspring of such a "mixed marriage" is called a hybrid, a term we hear bandied about far too much.
Every time someone sees a bird that doesn't look quite the same as the ones they are used to seeing, the word "hybrid" seems to come up. Often, it is a matter of the observer noticing a characteristic that he has not seen before. Other times, the observer notices a difference in plumage that is within the range of variation for the particular species. Yet again, sometimes the angle from which light strikes the bird causes our eyes to play tricks on us. Don't forget, hummingbirds are masters of illusion!

Hybrids really are very rare. In order for hybridization to take place, a male of one species and a female of another species must be in the same locality at the same time. The two species must be closely related. You won't see a hybrid of a duck with a crow, for instance! And, both male and female must be in breeding condition.

Generally, it is thought that hybridization occurs when a member of one species is at the edge of its breeding range and cannot find a mate of its own species. Appropriate nest sites for the female must be available as well. There may be logistical difficulties as well. The relative sizes of the two parents could also affect the outcome. And, for some species normal nesting season is in winter, while others breed in spring or summer.

Nevertheless, in spite of all the natural obstacles that are supposed to prevent members of one species from breeding with members of other species, hybridization does take place. Most of the hummingbirds that inhabit the United States and Canada belong to closely related species. Members of the genera Archilochus, Selasphorus, Calypte, and Stellula are genetically quite close and a number of hybrid specimens are well-documented. But none of the species in this group would likely be capable of mating with more distantly related species such as members of the genera Amazilia, Cynanthus, or Anthracothorax. For them, the genetic distance is too great so that no offspring would be produced even if copulation between a male of one species and a female of another species occurred.

These closely related species exhibit strikingly different colors, but plumages follow a similar pattern. Likewise, courtship displays are often variations upon a single theme—elaborate dives and closer, more intimate "shuttle displays."

If you view the almost-350-member hummingbird family as you would look at a family tree, you will see that all of the widespread North American species are tiny twigs descending from the same large branch. These birds are, however, separate and distinct species, not just the same hummers dressed in different feathers.

In the field, we distinguish birds by differences in their color patterns, but the real differences are much more fundamental than that. Because females wear more subdued plumages, distinguishing among them can be quite a challenge.

In the hand, we look for distinctive shapes to wing and tail feathers. Bills show subtle differences to the shape and the placement of the nostril. Banders take careful measurements of the bill, wing, and tail, and of the widths of certain tail feathers to make sure of their species diagnoses. There is a range of measurements that is normal for each age and sex of each species. These characteristics are far too subtle to be determined by just watching a bird in the wild.

Suspicion of hybridization is usually based upon the presence of characteristics and measurements that are typical of two different species, or the presence of characteristics and measurements that are intermediate between two species. Because some characteristics are variable within a species, it is not always apparent whether an individual is exhibiting hybrid characteristics or simply showing a variation that is normal for its species.

The labelling of an individual as a hybrid is somewhat speculative, too uncertain to be accurate without a thorough "in-hand" examination. Unless that individual bird resulted from a mating that occurred in an aviary, it is often difficult to be certain of its parentage. In many other types of birds, we can see both parents tending a nest, but with hummingbirds the male parent is not evident. We just cannot be sure!

Most of the hybrid combinations that have been described involve species that inhabit the western United States. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have fewer opportunities to mate outside their species. Yet, hybridization with the closely related Black-chinned Hummingbird has been documented on a couple of occasions.

I have heard speculation about the possibilities that hybridization between Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and some of the western species—especially Rufous Hummingbirds—that overwinter in the southeastern United States might be occurring. It is true that many of the wintering birds are still present when the Ruby-throats arrive back in their natal regions. And male Rufous, Black-chinned, and Allen's have been noted performing their towering dive displays on their wintering grounds.

But, other important elements seem to be lacking. Dive displays are used in an aggressive context as well as for courtship. I have not seen males of any of the western species performing the "shuttle display" that is supposed to be an immediate precursor to actual copulation. And, by the time female Ruby-throats begin arriving in the southeastern states, there is no shortage of displaying male Ruby-throats, so the temptation to accept a less optimal mate would seem unlikely. So far as I know, hummers do not engage in recreational sex!

It also seems unlikely that a female of any of the western species would mate with a male Ruby-throat before she had come into breeding condition. Supposedly, readiness for mating in female hummers is stimulated by nest-building activities. I have not heard of nest-building by females away from their own breeding areas. And, sperm-storage in female hummers is not known, so the notion that a female Rufous might mate with a male Ruby-throat and then return to the Pacific Northwest to build her nest seems to be without foundation!

All of the hybrids I've seen and read about are males. Females, because they are so similar to each other, are nearly impossible to detect. Surely there are as many female hybrids as there are males. But, they will be much more difficult to distinguish.

According to everything I've read about hybridization, offspring of mixed matings are supposed to be sterile, that is, incapable of producing offspring themselves. But, some hybrids of other types of birds are known to reproduce. We really don't know anything about reproductive capabilities of hybrid hummers, and surely recognizing the progeny of a hybrid parent—if such an event should occur—would be a considerable challenge.

Not all oddities are hybrids, however. In the years I've been studying hummers, I've seen a Ruby-throat that was smaller than normal, female Rufous and Black-chinneds that were much larger than most of their kin, and a melanistic Ruby-throat that had a brown back and purple gorget feathers. Recently, I handled an adult male Ruby-throat on which the shafts of his tail feathers were a bright buff, instead of the usual inky black. And I banded a Black-chinned that had wing bars. "Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that I have ever seen..."


PeterZ, nglen, uleko, Argus, Alex99, Dis. Ac., xTauruSx, zulfu, boreocypriensis, jrobertop, yasemin, haraprasan, rousettus, eqshannon, Jamesp, MMM, gracious, rcrick, gannu, CeltickRanger, jusninasirun has marked this note useful
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Critiques [Translate]

  • Great 
  • PeterZ Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 5137 W: 166 N: 13121] (49139)
  • [2008-09-10 8:23]

Hello Jane,
Excellent photo of this Hummingbird. Pose, sharpness, details, POV and colours are superb. Great DOF and composition.
I don't venture upon a discussion about the i.d. The note is all including.
Kind regards,

  • Great 
  • nglen Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2883 W: 30 N: 9683] (36145)
  • [2008-09-10 8:36]

Hi Jane. Once again a good close up of the Hummingbird. Taken From a pov so we can see the underside. Good detail and natural colours.It would be nice to have some of your blue sky. Well done tFS.

  • Great 
  • uleko Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 3396 W: 172 N: 3310] (10940)
  • [2008-09-10 9:03]

Hello Jane,
Another lovely capture of a Hummingbird from you! Whatever species this is it is a real little beauty that looks gorgeous here at the end of the twig! I like the light and the beautiful colours and sharp details of its plumage.
I've only once seen Hummingbirds on Trinidad and Tobago but my memory of these little birds is very vivid!
Many thanks and all the best wishes, Ulla

  • Great 
  • Argus Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 5038 W: 260 N: 15594] (50626)
  • [2008-09-10 9:20]

What a gem Jane!
A great sharp and well composed portrait of what must be a Black-chinned Hummingbird but the throat shines reddish in this lighting.
The pose and POV are great and the composition is, as usual excellent.
Thanks for sharing this beauty,

  • Great 
  • Alex99 Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 4072 W: 133 N: 7096] (23735)
  • [2008-09-10 10:12]

Hi Jane.
What a cute scene, charming bird and nice picture of the subject. Expressive pose of the bird is sweet as well as its fantastic details, fine blue sky and attractive piece of the twig. Bravo. Well done.

Hi Jane,

Nice picture from this Hummingbird.
Very good pose, dof and pov.
Exellent details.
Ineteresting long notes.

Hello Jane, Perfect and timely shot of this beautiful bird. TFS.
Regards, Deniz

  • Great 
  • zulfu Gold Star Critiquer [C: 685 W: 0 N: 2] (43)
  • [2008-09-10 11:25]

Hi jane, a lovely and wonderful capture of this hybrid.
Thanks for sharing this. Regards,

Hi My Sister Jane, an another excellent shot of a bird-as usual. I can not say anything on that if it is a hybrid or variant! Bexause I have not got enough info on birds:). But this seems very happy and you captured it in a nice posture.
Many thanks for sharing this beauty.

L'il Bro

Hello Jane.
Wonderful register of this small bird!
The blue of sky as BG is fantastic!
Very good details and interesting frame!
I liked of the note also.
José Roberto

Hi Sister.
Beautiful catch and well framed. I liked the pose.T hanks to share.
Kind regards,

You are getting pretty fancy with words used in question...and of course I only know of the images, not the ID in this case. Maybe I could have found the type...but a variant is a word that will elude me until death....Nice image. See what you get for continuing to look up...Go West Young Woman!..ur only as old as u thunk!

  • Great 
  • Jamesp Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1369 W: 9 N: 6334] (18906)
  • [2008-09-10 22:56]

Hi Jane

I would just be thrilled seeing a hummingbird! Great pose and detail against that lovely Tucson sky.


  • Great 
  • Mana Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1772 W: 36 N: 5597] (18598)
  • [2008-09-10 23:38]

Hi Jane,
Whatever its identity it looks majestic and very beautiful. Very neat and sharp image with lovely colours and details on its plumage. The blue sky as BG again does the trick and you have captured it in a fine pose. Superb lighting effects too. Excellent DOF, POV and composition. Thanks for sharing this beauty.

Hi Jane,
I know a little about humming birds. But all I can tell is it is just beautiful. Very well captured. Very good details and a nice composition. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  • Great 
  • lousat Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6595 W: 89 N: 15659] (65489)
  • [2008-09-11 4:16]

Hi Jane,the point of view make a difference! Fantastics details and colors,i like a lot the blue sky as background,very interesting note too,have a nice day,Luciano

Hello Jane
this is one of the best capture of very beautiful hummingbirds on your portfolio. Coloration superb as like other birds of the family Trochilidae. Sharp details, eyes contact and composition great. Space in front of bird very nice. many thanks, best wishes

  • Great 
  • MMM Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1114 W: 0 N: 2546] (11425)
  • [2008-09-11 7:15]

Hi Jane
Great capture.Excellent POV and razor sharp image.Plumage detail are excellent.I love the colors and the catch light in the eye.Great text to.
TFS Michel

Hello Jane,
The underside of the Hummingbird are well captured with good details and colour!
it's also very good colour contrast against the blue sky as well
many thanks for the wonderful sharing and the notes

Ciao Jane, I don't know, but I like a lot this splendid capture of lovely bird with wonderful colors and splendid details, very well done, ciao Silvio

  • Great 
  • joey Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1739 W: 224 N: 6872] (24909)
  • [2008-09-11 14:32]

Fantastic shot of this beautiful Hummingbird :-)
Excellent detail in the feathers.
Superb composition.
Lovely colours.
Great pose.
This one is going into my favs!

Very well done, Jane!


hello jane,
fine capture of the humming bird, this style is a typical jane megan style. the sky makes a fine bg here, i liked the pose and the composition,
tfs & regards

Hi Jane,

What an excellent photo of this Hummingbird. POV and colours are just superb, really stands out against that perfect blue sky, just beautiful, tfs

Cheers Rick :)

  • Great 
  • gannu Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 988 W: 4 N: 3277] (14761)
  • [2008-09-11 21:47]

Hello Jane, What a lovely long note you have provided. Lovely shot and good composition. nice details and good lighting. Ganesh

  • Great 
  • EOSF1 Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1393 W: 119 N: 5267] (23955)
  • [2008-09-12 9:58]

Hello Jane! I'm so jealous of your Hummingbird's shots! :-) Another beauty my friend, perfectly composed image and technically strong! Fantastic work, thanks!


hello Jane

excellent shot of this Hummingbird with fine POV and framing,
as usual beautiful luminosity and Arizonian blue sky,
i love the bird's pose, beautiful catch-light at the eye,
excellent sharpness and details, TFS


Hello Jane. Not only the bird and the note is interesting, the capture here is just brilliant too. You have captured this tiny bird really well at the tip of the branch. Vivid exposure and details especially around the head are amazing. Well isolated against the spotless blue sky. Top quality work and thanks so much for sharing. Best regards. Jusni

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