By Bob Sargent
(excerpt from Netlines,
the official poop sheet of the Hummer/Bird Study Group)
This is the second in a series of articles
on some of the species that we are encountering in our study.
is by far the most controversial of all the hummers we capture
and band. It is in the same genus (Selasphorus) as
Rufous and Broad-tailed hummingbird and is very similar in
both size and appearance to Rufous. The following is based
upon both field observations and banding encounters in winter
only. It is not intended to be the final word. Our experiences
with Allens on its nesting grounds are very limited,
and are not a factor in this article.
Our good friend Nancy Newfield in Louisiana,
who helped start us on this wonderful journey of discovery,
of the controversy surrounding any immature or female Allens
that we might encounter. I can only imagine the hassle that
she must have had when she first started documenting this
species regularly in the midst of all those professional
ornithologists at Louisiana State University. I tip my hat
to the lady that started it all.
Lets begin by saying that Allens had never
been documented in our original five state area when we started
our hummer banding. These states were Alabama, Georgia, Florida,
Mississippi and Tennessee. The Allens we banded in
these states were all documented first records. This is certainly
not intended to suggest that they were not there before we
came. In fact, it is our contention that they have been in
the Southeastern U.S. all along, they just went undetected.
What is new here is the search and discovery process itself.
The hummer-loving public has now become an important part
of the Ornithological community simply by leaving hummer
feeders out during the winter months. They now have someone
to call when one of these funky birds shows up
after the Ruby-throats have flown-the-coop. My wife, Martha
Gail, and I have been the instrument of identification and
documentation only. The discovery is yours, dear friends.
The first Allens we documented was at the residence
of Mary LeGault in Mobile in 1991. It was a female and was
very difficult to identify in the field. The belief at that
time was that a female could not be field identified. That
belief is still held by most ornithologists and birders today
and rightly so. This bird and all the other Allens
that we have banded except one were identified as Allens
prior to being captured and banded.
As described in the previous article on Rufous
hummingbird, adult males of both Rufous and Allens
are a piece-of-cake. An adult male Rufous will have a full
gorget of rufousy, reddish-orange appearing feathers that
are like glowing coals in a hot fire! He will have no white
tips on his tail feathers. His back will be all brownish
rufous in color, except for possibly a few scattered green
feathers. He will be brash, bold, very vocal and mean as
sin. He will continually perch in the open on an exposed
twig to hawk insects and protect his territory. He is just
as likely to attack a Red-tailed hawk as another hummer
that enters his turf. He is fearless and very aggressive.
He thinks he is Godzilla. He is Rufous hummingbird, and
he is the big boss man!!
An adult male Allens is smaller overall. He will
have the throat-on-fire appearance of an adult
male Rufous, but the back will be solid green. This green
is in the form of an elliptical shaped disk that covers the
central back. Some rufous color may extend just above the
folded wing when the sides and flanks are fluffed,
but only slightly. The rump area will be rufous colored and
it will extend well up on the lower back area. The rufous
colors present on the face, the sides, flanks and in the
rump and tail tend to be much more chestnut brown than the
more orange-brown colors found in Rufous. In my opinion,
the tail will appear much more pointed than that of an adult
male Rufous. This tail in an adult male will be all dark,
with no white tips. This pointed tail appearance was first
suggested to me by Nancy Newfield. The outside tail feathers
are very, very narrow. In winter, when we see Allens,
they are much more subordinate than their brash cousin Rufous.
They tend to keep a much lower profile. They perch inside
evergreen shrubs, and glean insects from the bark and leaves
of these plants. They are much less likely to openly hawk
insects from an exposed perch than Rufous, and rarely are
they as combative when an intruder enters their territory.
If the bird has a full gorget and the back is green, it is
almost certainly an adult male Allens. I have heard
and read many times of adult male Rufous with an all green
back, I remain unconvinced. It is my opinion that if one
of these green backed Rufous existed, it would be so rare
(outside the 95% statistically) as to not be a factor in
the general field
identification of adult male Rufous/Allens hummingbirds. A possible explanation
could be a hybrid or simply an Allens, misidentified as a Rufous. Hey,
it could happen. Youve got to have good accurate calipers and really know
how to use them when measuring the width of these needle-like tail feathers.
Most banders do not have this type of caliper. Just remember, male Selasphorus
hummers will normally molt in a whole new set of back feathers before they get
their new gorget feathers in the throat.
Female Rufous and Allens look
alike!! Tread easy here when trying to identify them in the
field. Most observers
will not have enough experience to sort them out.
Adult female Rufous and Allens will have all green
back with little or no rufous color visible in the tail feathers.
The outer three tail feathers on both sides will be white
tipped. In both species, about 1/3 to ½ of the basal
portion of the outer tail feathers will show rufous color
and will normally be seen only when she spreads the tail.
The very narrow and normally shorter outside tail feathers
of female Allens gives the tail a more pointed appearance
than Rufous. Both Rufous and Allens will have some
rufous color on the breast, sides and flanks. Occasionally,
females of both species will show some rufous in the area
of the cheeks and face. Although there is some degree of
overlap in size, in most cases Rufous hummingbirds are noticeably
larger than Allens. Rufous tend to have longer wings,
longer tail and longer bill. In addition, the rufous color
in female Allens tends to be darker and more chestnut
brown in tone. Many females of both species will have some
iridescent gorget feathers located primarily
in the lower center part of the throat. These feathers will
not be as shiny and flashy as those in the males. If there
are gorget feathers present on the sides of the throat below
the eye, the bird is probably a young male.
Immature male Rufous and Allens look almost identical.
Young Allens will always have an all green back. Most
young Rufous that we have encountered have had at least some
rufous colored feathers in the back. Young males of both
species will have the basal 2/3 to ¾ of the tail rufous
colored. Both will normally have some long, rufous colored
feathers in the rump that will extend out over the base of
these tail feathers. That color in young Allens will
tend to be more chestnut rufous colored.
Like other families of birds such as
shorebirds and sparrows, it takes a lot of experience to
become proficient at identification.
However, I believe that good observers, familiar with hummingbirds,
can safely separate many Rufous/Allens in the field.
There are no field guides or bird books that have photographs
that will enable you to identify female and immature Rufous
and Allens hummingbirds at your feeders.