Field Notes

Mark S. Szantyr
78. by Mark S. Szantyr on July 11, 2011 at 08:43 pm

Well, I learned something today. Last week I observed an apparent male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at a local feeder but rather than showing the rich ruby red iridescence in the gorget, this bird was orange to orange-yellow, similar in color to the orange of an adult male Baltimore Oriole. In every other way it appeared to be a typical Ruby-throated male. I contacted Bob Sargent, the guru of hummingbird banders and Ruby-throat aficionado, described the bird and he mentioned that he has seen birds in molt show this type of coloring. Today, I was able to get some images of the bird. I used a very high ISO as I wanted to use natural light and not flash in order to keep the colors close to what I was seeing in the field. Though the images are far from stellar, lo and behold, this bird WAS in molt. Perhaps some aspect of this process somehow altered the reflective properties of the gorget and the typical rich red was now reflected as orange. Again, a lesson in not putting all of your eggs in the "one field-mark" basket. The gallery is below and I include an image of a more typical ruby-throated Ruby-throat for comparison.

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Citation: Personal Experience. I observe this regularly, highly confident.

Bjorn Hinrichs
reply by Bjorn Hinrichs on July 11, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Mark. This is fantastic. Thank you for sharing. Can you upload the photo to the BirdFellow Gallery? Also, check out the second ID photo taken by Glenn. It appears to show the orange to orange-yellow and the photographed is captioned as a late July photo.

Dave Irons
reply by Dave Irons on July 12, 2011 at 12:04 am

Iridescent colors in birds result from light reflecting and refracting off of barbules in the feathers. Variations in the structure of these small barbules -- such as feather wear -- affects how much color iridescent color and what hues we perceive. It stands to reason that as new feathers are growing in they may refract light differently than feathers that are done growing or already somewhat worn. We published a piece on this in the BirdFellow online journal in April 2010 (

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Caleb Frome added Ruby-throated Hummingbird to their Home smart list 8/19/2012 at 2:23PM
Mark S. Szantyr added a note to Ruby-throated Hummingbird Notes 7/11/2011 at 8:43PM