If you were to see these 4 hummingbirds at your feeders, would you dare to think that one is out of its territory, or would you just assume they are all the same species, or even the same bird?
Birds typically stay within their common territory but sometimes you get a wanderer, and now that I've stated that one is not like the others, you're probably trying to find the difference. They are very similar, but when you start to look at the finer details, you'll probably notice a freckle on the throat of one bird. If you noticed that and thought you found the bird out of place, then you'd be wrong. It's also a Ruby-throat. It can be very difficult to separate the species, especially the young or the females.
Sometimes it comes down to recognizing the behavior to know the difference, and that was my case. They're all captured at a distance of 40 - 100 feet away from myself, so I thought nothing of it, but then one started acting a bit different from the others. One got my attention, and then I started to watch more carefully. The subtle differences were enough for me to question even the slightest possibility of a stranger among us. I grabbed my binoculars and also noticed a slight variation in color from the rest. Ruby-throats are olive colored on the back, but light gray on the front, except for the adult males which have the faint olive tuxedo, with the whitish/grey shirt underneath it. I've seen the odd young Ruby that shows a buff coloring around the flank area, but that's about it. The stranger in our yard looked like the other Rubies, but upon a closer look I noticed a slight buff coloring on the front shoulder down to the flank. This is where I noticed something was up. I started to watch that particular bird a whole lot more carefully. Then the behavior seemed far more dramatic from the others. I've seen enough Rubies to know what common behavior is, but this one was different in sound, appearance and behavior.
It flew over our heads before noticing another bird at a feeder below. It did an intimidation drop out of the sky like no Ruby I'd ever seen, and the sound brought the biggest smile to my face. It was a Calliope! Hundreds of miles from its territory and it ended up in my garden. You couldn't imagine my excitement! I managed several more photos as close as I could get before it also decided to leave for good. It headed east, yes east! This means many other gardens will have this Calliope visiting from far outside its territory, but will anyone notice? I really believe the rare sightings could be even more common if we could all more easily identify the different species, including myself. Fortunately for myself, this young male stuck around for several hours before I finally clued in.
For those who are still wondering which bird is different from the rest...it's the first one.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Mid August 2018
Author of Jewel of the North. Please post your comments and questions.