A Hummer Quandary

Well, our trip to Mayo was successful. Linda checked out fine and we were able to get all of our questions fully answered with positive dispositions so SUCCESS on that front. Now we just need to take some precautions to make sure we didn’t inadvertently get exposed to COVID or any other rare transmittable disease. As Linda was verifying her tests/appointments before we left, she noticed that 1/3 of their total staff across all their medical facilities were sick or quarantined with COVID-19. We followed all protocols so not too concerned, but clearly it has made its rounds through the medical fields. I also thought of two more positives out of the pandemic (planting a lemon tree). First, from personal experience I can inform all married males that it takes roughly 8 months before the “ring dent” disappears. Linda and I have an agreement – I only have to wear my ring when out in public and Linda only has to wear her ring all the time. As our public engagements have been limited, my ring has sat proudly on my dresser for most of the year. Hoping for your wife’s sake that information won’t prove too useful. Secondly, if you happen to go into a cold environment (like Minnesota), my preferred mask, the gator, provides a nice extra bit of warmth to the neck and face. Now to take a sip from my glass of lemonade.

Okay, now for a call for help from all my birder friends.

Black-Chinned Hummingbird found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas January 2018

What we have here is a Hummingbird. That is the part of the identification I am absolutely sure about. No question about it, tiny bird, long pointy bill and often located near containers full of sugar water. It gets increasingly harder from there. Now, when it comes to Hummers, you can usually start eliminating a number of the species based on region alone.

Black-Chinned Hummingbird found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas January 2018

Hit the jump for my super-useful Illinois Hummer identification algorithm and see my plea for help!

Take for example if you happen to see a Hummer in my backyard during the summer. Maybe you are not familiar with all the Illinois based Hummers and need to do some digging. Grab your favorite birding reference book, navigate to the sugar-sucker’s section and look at the first name and follow this simple algorithm. Are you ready for this… it is quite revolutionary in its approach.

Black-Chinned Hummingbird found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas January 2018

First thing to do is to look at the first letter of the name of the bird. If it starts with an ‘M’ and spells out Magnificent then take a few minutes to admire how gorgeous that Hummer is and then turn the page – it won’t be that one. From there continue flipping through the pages and if the first letter is not an ‘R’ then turn the page – it will not be those either. Once you have made it through the Hummer list, you should be left with two options. Look at the next letter and skip it as it should both be ‘U’. Now take a quick break, I don’t want you to get too stressed about the process.

Black-Chinned Hummingbird found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas January 2018

After a refreshing beverage, head back to the two pages you bookmarked and look at the page with an ‘F’ as the third letter. If you have followed the process as precisely prescribed by yours truly, you should be looking at the Rufous Hummingbird. Take in the orange/rufous coloring, commit it to memory and then look at the specimen you are trying to identify. Now, I am going to go out on a limb here, but I am hoping you noticed it does not look ANYTHING like your bird so you have to toss that one out as well. Now, add three, carry the 1, take the integral and convert it into a quadratic equation before taking the derivation – check it twice and you should be left with the proper identification for your Illinois Hummer – the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (link here). Give yourself a round of applause, you have now mastered the super helpful algorithm to ID Illinois Hummingbirds (feel free to thank me in the comments hehehe).

Black-Chinned Hummingbird found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas January 2018

Problem is… we were not in Illinois when we took this series of our featured Hummingbird. We were in the middle of our annual trip down to Texas over the Christmas holidays back in January 2018. Sorry, the super useful algorithm expertly laid out above will not help you. Instead you will have to use a series of clues to help get you narrowed down. The best one being the coloring of the male’s gorget. If you are lucking enough to get in the proper light, it should go a long way to the identification. If you don’t manage to get that brilliant coloring, you will find yourself in my predicament especially in overlapping regions. While visiting Bentsen-Rio Grand Valley State Park, we were informed that the Hummer I wanted – the Buff-Breasted Hummer – was hanging out at the feeders. I did managed to tin it (link here). While shooting that, another Hummer decided to take part in the free nectar, which as you have already suspected is our featured specimen.

Black-Chinned Hummingbird found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas January 2018

I have been staring at this particular Hummer for a long time going back and forth on the ID between a Ruby-Throated and a Black-Chinned. If I was able to get the gorget color, this would have been extremely simple – that didn’t happen – so I’ve been forced to look at secondary indicators. Regions overlapped so that wasn’t helpful. Both have a neck centric gorget which knocked out the Costa’s, Anna’s etc. pretty easy. This one is fairly long-bodied and thin which leans to the Black-Chinned. The wing to tail length ratio is right in between the two options. Rubies have short wings so they come very short to the tail where the Black-Chinned has longer wings which can go to nearly the same length or beyond.

Black-Chinned Hummingbird found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas January 2018

Based on the sum total of characteristics I’ve landed on the Black-Chinned. The tipping point is the fact the Ranger at the visitor center, who told me about the Buff, also mentioned the Black-Chinned was hanging out there as well. Doesn’t preclude the Ruby also buzzing around there. So, I need some help. If you happen to have an opinion supporting or contradicting my selection, please let me know in the comments. I’d appreciate your input and would love to put this quandary to bed. Long post, but wanted to provide some humorous education to my non-birding readers and enough details to help out my birder friends. Once I get the ID finalized, I’ll try to come back and give some interesting tidbits – no reason to give them for a wrong ID ha.

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