Bird is humdinger of a mystery

December 1, 2011 at 10:06 AM Leave a comment

Bird is humdinger of a mystery

Experts to test DNA to learn species of hummingbird, rare in Illinois

 Click here to view video:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-talk-hummingbird-1129-20111129,0,6399494.story
By Jim Jaworski and Ted Gregory, Chicago Tribune reportersNovember 29, 2011
For seven years, the Gyllenhaals have traveled the Chicago area spotting rare birds that happen to land here. But they may have made their greatest ornithological find in their Oak Park backyard.That’s where Eric Gyllenhaal and his two sons spotted an emerald green bird flitting around last week. Since then, about 175 people have stopped at the Gyllenhaal home to catch a glimpse of the bird, which has created a feathered mystery of sorts.

No one seems to know its species.

It’s probably a broad-tailed hummingbird or a rufous hummingbird, but it could be a hybrid. Whatever the case, it’s a rare find. It would be the first record of a broad-tailed hummingbird in Illinois. Rufous hummingbirds have been spotted a few times in the state, but the only common hummingbird here is the ruby-throated variety.

The Gyllenhaal backyard bird has “a mix of characteristics that doesn’t lend itself to one specific species,” said John Bates, associate curator of birds at the Field Museum, which will test DNA from the bird’s droppings to learn its species.

David Bonter, a Cornell University ornithologist who leads the Gyllenhaals and others in a citizen bird-tracking project, said the photos he and colleagues have examined suggest the bird is a broad-tailed hummingbird. The broad-tail typically resides in the Rocky Mountains and western U.S. and winters in Mexico and Central America.

Determining its species may help identify new migration trends, Bates said, adding that hummingbirds have been spotted in unusual places the past 20 years. He attributes that to “malfunctions” by young birds that fly east or west instead of south, which Bates believes is the case with the Oak Park hummingbird.

Bonter noted that hummingbirds often are left to fend for themselves at 5 or 6 weeks. If they lack “an innate orientation mechanism,” they can drift far off their natural migration pattern, he said.

There are no plans to capture the bird, Bates said, adding that observers simply hope it flies south as the weather turns colder.

Whatever the outcome, “the cool thing is that the neighborhood kids have showed up, and it’s the first time they have seen a hummingbird,” Gyllenhaal said.

Added Bonter: “This just shows that you never know what you’ll find in your backyard if you’re watching.”

jjaworski@tribune.com

tgregory@tribune.com

Copyright © 2011, Chicago Tribune

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Entry filed under: Nature Notes.

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