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Canyon Notes

White-eared Hummingbirds - 2005

By George C. West

There has been an unusual influx of White-eared Hummingbirds this summer with individuals seen as far north as Michigan. Are hummingbirds reacting to global warming or is this just a single-year phenomenon? Here in southern Arizona, White-eared Hummingbirds are regular inhabitants only in summer in Miller Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains southwest of Sierra Vista.

Their normal range is throughout the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental from Sonora south into central Mexico. But to most of us, the female White-eareds are hard to distinguish from the more common female Broad-billed Hummingbirds. The male White-eared is much easier to identify as the whole head is almost black or blue-black with a broad white stripe back of the eye, not present in male Broad-bills. But how can we tell that the bird we are looking at is in fact a White-eared and not a Broad-billed female?

Consider the following characters to check: 1) The White-eared is a larger and heavier bird, actually weighing over one gram more than the smaller and trimmer Broad-billed. 2) Both have red or pink color along the lower bill, but the White-eared’s bill is shorter and straighter than the Broad-billed’s that is longer and slightly down-curved. 3) The black face patch of the White-eared stands out much more distinctly than the gray patch of the Broad-billed. 4) The White-eared usually has many green to greenish-blue spots from the throat down across in the breast to the belly. Broad-billed females sometimes have spots on the breast but usually the undersides are gray to grayish white from the chin to the belly without noticeable spotting. 5) The White-eared has a square tail across its tip while the Broad-billed has a slightly forked or indented tail (the central feathers are shorter than the outer tail feathers).

We have found female White-eared Hummingbirds twice this summer at feeders in Madera Canyon. While they prefer the pine-oak forests, they may come down to Green Valley. So keep a lookout for these rare hummingbirds and after checking carefully that it is not a female Broad-billed.



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