Photo Quiz: An Answer

quiz photo

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Two hummingbirds, photographed north of Mexico. What are they?

With hummingbirds as with all birds, start, when you can, at the rear, with the length and shape of the tail and the wingtip. The lefthand bird — the one with its head pattern so conveniently blotted out — shows a long tail that extends beyond the wingtip, which is itself long and noticeably pointed. The bunched secondaries are more or less uniformly wide.

All of that rules out many possibilities. If we look closely at the pattern of that long tail, we see a definite rufous edge to the outermost rectrix; the upper tail coverts and rump are the same emerald green as the back. Put it together, and we can identify this bird easily as a broad-tailed hummingbird.

The second bird, most of it invisible behind its saccharine lunch, seems to be larger, an impression created mostly, I think, by its relatively upright posture: the bigger the hummingbird, the more vertical its perch on a feeder. The dirty white underparts with coarse, dingy gray-green spangles should lead us to the correct identification: this one’s an Anna’s hummingbird.

Fun stuff. And a timely reminder to those of us in the east to start checking feeders for “other” hummingbirds, even as ruby-throated numbers remain high for the next month.