Orange-throated Hummingbirds: more questions

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Now updated by a new post Progress on the Orange-throated hummingbird mystery. This adds to my previous post about orange-throated hummingbirds.

After hearing from a couple of hummingbird banders affirming that they do not see a change in throat color in the fall as male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds go though their summer molt (and the fact that banders have been aware of this molt for many years) I will have to modify my previous post suggesting that the birds molt into an orange-throated nonbreeding plumage. It was a very neat and simple hypothesis, explaining all of the data that I had, but it looks like it’s a “just-so story”.

In addition, it appears that there may not be a connection between the occasional orange-throated males seen in late summer (before molt, according to the hummingbird banders) and the orange-throated winter specimens at MCZ (after molt).

An orange-throated male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photographed in CT, 11 July 2011, copyright Mark Szantyr.

 

In July 2011, Mark Szantyr photographed this male Ruby-throated Hummingbird with an orange throat in Connecticut, and has allowed me to post a couple of his photos of that bird here as part of this discussion. You can see the rest of the photos and more at Mark’s website.

An orange-throated male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photographed in CT, 11 July 2011, copyright Mark Szantyr.

The date of this orange-throated bird – 11 July – is too early for it to have completed molt. Dittmann and Cardiff found the peak of molt in mid-July through August, with throat feathers molted throughout the period but the throat generally in the later stages of molt for any individual bird. This individual also doesn’t show the drab fringes on the gorget feathers that are apparent on the MCZ specimens, instead it seems to have a brilliant and uniform orange gorget.

This shift to orange color is presumably the result of a slight alteration in the structure of the gorget feathers, so that they reflect very slightly shorter wavelengths of light. I still doubt that it has anything to do with wear, for two main reasons: 1) if this was caused by wear I would expect to see a lot more such birds in late summer, but they are extremely rare. 2) If this was caused by wear I would expect the throat to be less uniform in color, as wear would not affect all the feathers precisely the same way. (Update 16 August – apparently an orange shift can be the result of wear, see my later post)

The brilliant iridescent throat color is produced by tiny air bubbles that are prefectly calibrated in thickness to reflect a certain wavelength of light. A shift to more orange color would require a slight thinning (or collapse) of the air bubbles on the order of nanometers… maybe that could happen as the feathers age, but again I would expect that effect to be more uneven (with some feathers still reflecting red) and more common.

My suspicion is that this bird molted into these feathers in the spring, and has been the same color since then. In that case orange-throated hummingbirds should show up during spring migration. All of the reports I have heard have come from late summer and fall, but maybe that’s just the season when most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are seen and studied. Have orange-throated birds like this ever been seen in spring? (Update 16 August – orange shift can be caused by wear, see my later post, but it’s also possible that some birds begin the summer with more orange feathers, so still worth watching for orange-throated males in spring).

The drabber and more orange-toned throat color of the MCZ specimens remains a mystery. I’ll continue to check museum collections as I am able, and I’d be very grateful for any info from others. It would also be helpful to know if observers who see this species on the wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America see this variation in throat color in real life.

Thanks to Mark Szantyr for the photos, and to Cathie Hutcheson and Scott Weidensaul for comments.

66 thoughts on “Orange-throated Hummingbirds: more questions”

  1. Interesting story. I have had the most R-t Hmbd’s ever, including a male that has staked out a territory in our backyard. The sheer numbers are incredible for Margate, N.J.– a barrier island. We have had multiple males and females, as well as immatures at the feeders and Agastache.

    Some of the males appear to have partial or complete orange throats, but this seems light-dependent.

    Marvin Hyett

    1. I’m in Geneva on the Lake, Ohio. It’s only 50° here and was just sitting within 3’ of an orange breasted hummingbird. I have seen red ones also today. So is it an actual different species?

  2. Jody & Bill Maas

    Hello! We live in a suburb of St. Louis, MO, and definitely have one male Ruby-throated hummingbird with an orange throat. We have only one hummingbird feeder and he is the dominant male. We have observed that his throat was red and turned orange about two weeks ago. He is defiitely beginning to look ‘bedraggled’ from his over-protective stance.

    We have questioned if he could have sustained injuries from the diving and soaring he does in his protective stance towards both males and females.

  3. I Have a beautiful iridescent orange throated hummingbird visiting my south atlanta feeder this week. Color of a pumpkin. He’s the dominant bird here right now.

  4. In the last two days I have noticed an orange throated male in my back yard, Pensacola, Florida area. He has just become dominate over the reigning female.
    I managed to capture some decent photos of him today. I have five females, and one male all vying for the feeder, even though I have two. It’s quite an event watching them dance around my head.

    1. Today September 3, 2019 in Mobile AL, I see an orange throated male for the first time. He’s aggressive and tries to dominate as many feeders at one time as he can. Seeing him led me to this forum. I had never seen one and was wondering if it was a mutation.

  5. Hi there, I have been web searching for answers to my hummer sighting last May. Now that we are heading to May 2012, I am hoping I have that sighting again AND a camera set up.
    What we (my fiancée too) saw was a hummer with a brilliant orange throat. It also showed a brilliant iridescent green on its crown and down the back. The absolutely vibrant orange (and not reddish orange) also had an iridescent quality about it. Considering the picture here, the throat extended further down on the breast. The bird in all its postures was rounder, you might think this bird pictured above, after some steroids. But the curiosity is that it was on the feeder the 15th of May 2011 with the “non-breeding” plumage? Any answers?
    Thanks, Jim

    1. Hi Jim, First, just checking, do you live somewhere in the east so that the only expected species of hummingbird would be Ruby-throated? (because in the west then Allen’s Hummingbird would fit your description pretty well). Assuming it’s a Ruby-throated, the orange throat in May would be very unusual. It’s likely that it had molted into “breeding” plumage, but that the new feathers were a little off in color. For an extreme example of this see the green-throated Ruby-throated Hummingbird here http://www.pbase.com/fdietrich/image/123666772
      The throat color extending farther down on the breast is probably related to posture, along with the “rounder” appearance. In Anna’s Hummingbirds it’s been found that males with less protein in their diet grow less briliant red throat feathers, so the odd posture could indicate a health or fitness issue for this bird, which could lead to a different throat color – just to throw out one possibility. If it comes back this year I do hope you can get photos!

      1. Mr. Sibley. I stumbled across your website and was amazed to find this bird! I hadn’t seen any males in a while and all of a sudden I saw one with a green neck and was completely flummoxed. He appeared to be molting, so I was wondering if it could be part of the process, but when I saw other photos, I was floored. I have photos, but I’m hoping to get some better shots with my zoom today.

        I’m currently in Iowa City, Iowa.

        And by the way, I have your guide, and I love it.

      2. I have had an increasing family of orange hummingbirds here in California for over 2 years. They are day glow orange, not just the throat but the whole body and back. The young start with a little orange throat spot which expands to the whole body. They started arriving in early march and stay orange all year long. They also have a deeper tone when they fly, so much so you can tell them by sound alone. Last year I had about 10 different birds in various stages of maturity. So far I’ve only counted about 5 different birds but it’s still early.

        1. Hi Mark, Based on your description, and the fact that you are in California, it’s likely that you are seeing a different species – Allen’s Hummingbird. The adult males have an iridescent orange throat and a rusty-orange color over most of the body (and their wings produce a high trill in flight). Immatures and females are similar, with a little more green on the back and mostly white throat.

      3. David, It is May 5th here in Texas, and I have a brilliant orange throated hummingbird at my feeder. He is definitely the dominant male, and is defending the feeder hanging next to my kitchen window from all the other ruby throats. He just arrived today and has staked his claim on this feeder. It is the first time I have ever seen an orange – ruby throat. I had a Rufus hummer last winter. This bird is not a rufous.

      4. I have a very dominant male that just showed up yesterday. He sits on one of the 4 feeders I have all day and chases off all the others (8 or more others)
        He looks just like the one you described. I would love to send pictures to show you but not sure how to post them on here

  6. Andrea Goodwin

    Thanks for your articles on the orange throated hummingbird. Today is May 17, 2012 and I have an orange throated that has been here for two months. It is very beautiful and a joy to see.

  7. Today is June 10th and I was able to get multiple pics of the red, rufous and orange throated.. very cool! I’m also in CT

  8. May 31, 2012,
    I saw my first orange-throated hummingbird at some flowers on our deck, within the past two weeks. Its throat was very bright iridescent orange (not ruby and not dull) and I noticed the top of its head was not green, but seemed to have a small, dull, light grey cap, other than that it looked just like our ruby-throated hummingbirds. Today I saw another hummingbird at our feeder that appeared to be a female (no throat patch) but with the same small, dull, light grey cap on top of its head. We normally only see male or female ruby-throated hummingbirds here, Columbia, MO.

  9. Bruce in Vermont

    I just saw an orange throated humming bird yesterday, 8/7/12, in Island Pond, VT, which is in the northeast corner of Vermont, about 20 miles from Canada.

  10. How interesting! We just arrived at our place in Fairdealing, Kentucky to find three orange throated hummers – very definitely orange. Excited to learn that we aren’t imagining it!

  11. I live in southern Alabama and my yellow-throated hummingbird is also the dominate male. He will only allow one female to feed with him and chases all others away. This is the first time that I have observe the yellow-throated hummingbird around my feeders. I took a picture and will try to post it. I had to take it from the window – couldn’t get close enough for a better picture.

  12. Photographed a beautifully lit male Ruby-throated hummer sitting on utility wire protecting his feeder and hamelia patens bush here in Houston. Sent pic to interested family members and all questioned if the throat was touched up with orange. Was fortunate to have him looking straight at me for the best color.

  13. have a young hummingbird with two vivid orange spots on its throat; is dominating 3 other hummers at the feeder and the orange trumpet flowers which i think are female RTH’s. Chittering seems to be different sound than the other 3 but bird is green with white outer tail feathers;orange spots show in lower light but dazzle in full sun;wish gorget would develop fully before he leaves for warmer climates Douglass (deep east Texas)

    1. Hi Carol, Rufous Hummingbird is rare but regular in Texas. They have bright orange throat feathers and if you’re really hearing a different call that could mean it’s a different species. Both species have white tips on the tail feathers, but Rufous hummer should have a lot of orange in the base of the tail (where Ruby-throated is gray-green), and more buff-orange color on the flanks than a Ruby-throated.

      Having just a few orange feathers means it’s either a female or an immature male, and they show more variation in the iridescent color than adult males do, so it’s certainly possible it’s a Ruby-throated that’s just not developing the perfect red color. I’d be happy to look at a photo if you can get one, just send it through the contact link above.
      –Good Birding, David

  14. Hi Mr. Sibley,

    I live in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, in the western highlands near Chiapas, Mexico, about 8500 ft ASL. I get migrating Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds at my feeders in the fall (they move to lower elevations to spend the winter) and I have just started seeing the first migrants in the last week. I have seen an orange-throated male several times. I have some rather poor photos; I’m working on getting a better one.

    Helen

  15. Linda Heinzman

    Today is April 14, 2013 and I just saw an orange throated hummingbird. I was amazed as I have never seen one like this before. I have ruby throated and black cap that visit my feeders often. But today is the first time for the orange throated hummingbird. I just thought I would add how blessed I felt to see this one.
    Linda

  16. May 1, 2013 – Riverside, CA,(southern calif) I have had feeders up about 25 years and in the past 2 weeks for the VERY FIRST TIME (not even seen a picture of one) I saw a dual orange/brownish throat hummer (not bright or iridescent)! It also has the orange/brownish color in it’s tail feathers when it fans it’s tail. I don’t know if it’s male or female but it is at the feeder all the time. I have 3 feeders up since early March when the females started to swarm. It does a lot of guarding of the feeders but does feed with others birds at the same feeder. It’s smaller in size than the Ruby throat males. Where in the world did it come from?!?! My husband and I are in awe at it’s sight and are thankful for it visiting us!! 🙂

    1. Hi Cat, That’s great that you have a new hummer at your feeders. In your area the common species with a red throat is Anna’s Hummingbird, and a bird with orange throat and orange tail as you describe would be a male Rufous Hummingbird (or maybe Allen’s Hummingbird, which is nearly identical). Both of those species are small, and males are extremely territorial, trying to defend a group of feeders against all other hummingbirds. If it’s a Rufous Hummingbird it will migrate on to the north to nest in British Columbia or even Alaska, Allen’s Hummingbirds nest along the coast of California, and yours might be a male Allen’s that’s already finished nesting for this year.

  17. Liesl Moheimani

    We live in Cortland County, New York and were surprised to see an orange throat on a male Ruby Throated Hummingbird at one of our feeders yesterday (15 June 2013). I just sat down to search for information to show to our children and found your site. We have several male and female hummingbirds; the orange-throated male frequently perches on or near this feeder and feeds from it.

  18. I’m in N. CA, Jackson to be precise and have just seen a hummer that is for sure different than the ruby throated hummers! It’s slightly smaller and a neat buff brown with a dot of bright orange on its throat the size of a pencil eraser. Very cool and feel lucky to see it!

  19. My husband and I live in Michigan and I have put up hummingbird feeders for years, this is the first summer we’ve seen a hummingbird with a orange throat, seems way more dominant then the others and there are 4 females and the male that visit!

  20. We have had orange throated hummingbirds from May on through the season. We live in Maine and these birds are not moulting.

  21. Just saw a orange throated hummingbird at my Dad’s farm. He has had several different kinds, but we were so excited to see this one. Riley County, Leonardville, KS

  22. We are in northern Arizona where we have been enjoying Rufus hummingbirds, ruby throated hummingbirds, some black headed hummers with pale breasts, and in the middle of watching all these different fun hummers all of a sudden this new guys pops up. He’s got bronze iridescent feathers on his back and when he turns face to face he flashes this florescent orange throat. It’s sudden and almost a shock to see this bright orange. He then proceeded to declare himself the supreme sheriff of the feeder. He had a lady friend who showed the orange colors in a feminine version. We called him Ivan the Terrible. He was in no way a faded version of a Ruby throat.

  23. It’s May 11,2014 and for the first time ever we have a orangethroated hummingbird. It has brilliant iridescent orange on its throat. We’ve had feeders out for forty years and never seen any birds like these. We are in Choctaw, OK. Central Okla. we have really been fascinated by them. I think we have two males and a female. Thanks for all your info.

  24. I live in the suburbs of Minneapolis and just this morning at 8:30 am saw an orange throated hummer out my window. I have photos of it. The photos are not real sharp as it is another gloomy day and shot thru a window. If you would like me to send them I would like to make sure it was not a rufous. Please let me know where to send them if you want.
    Sher

  25. I am In northern mn , I currenty have a orange throated hummingbird in the woods super cute seems to be more active the. The others.

  26. today 5/30/14 I saw a different hummer @ my feeder & he had the beautiful orange neck!! I was up close so I could see that his neck was orange!!! My husband insists that it was not because according to our local paper the person who writes weekly about birds & has been doing so for 30 yrs claims we only get the ruby throated hummers in MA… help!!! I know what I saw… we are up North… thanks- Jodi ():)

  27. We live in the southern suburbs of Chicago and our first hummingbird of the year was on May 5th, and it had a very bright orange throat, almost fluorescent. I had never seen the orange throat before, and that’s how I ended up here 😉

  28. Debbie Clements

    I live in a semi-rural area 20 miles east of Grand Rapids, Michigan. We have had Ruby Throated Hummingbirds for many years: red-throated males, females and fledglings. This year as usual we have had frequent visits by a male with red throat and one or more females. Just now, on June 17, 2014, a male with a brilliant orange throat visited our feeder. He may have had a slightly longer and sleeker body than our ‘resident’ male but seemed exactly like a RTH except for his throat color. I was so surprised I immediately did a search online. I was wondering whether Rufous and Ruby Throated Hummingbirds ever hybridize.

  29. Fascinated by this, as we have just seen a brilliantly orange-throated hummingbird at our feeder in the Smoky Mountains (in the extreme northwestern edge of N. Carolina). It is still fairly early in the summer, today being June 22. The orange was striking: a complete replacement of the red and not in the least tatty or partial.

  30. Have a orange-throated male at my feeders in South Carolina. He has been here for several weeks. Very vivid with gold overtones. He looks a little taller than my average ruby. Will try to get a picture.

  31. Jim Alexander

    I am in the White Mountains of northern Arizona; about 160 miles NE of Phoenix. Elevation about 6500 feet and heavily wooded Ponderosa Pine.
    We have a pretty large number of different hummingbirds at our feeders from April/May until October when they head south. About 10 minutes ago we had an orange hummer visit our feeder. This hummer was not an orange throated anything …. it was a completely orange hummer and a non aggressive (Rufus) kind as well Any ideas?.

  32. We’ve had an orange throated hummer since the first arrival back in May. He looks like a female until he shakes or poofs up and you see the bright orange the same as a ruby throated hummingbird. And like the previous comments he is very aggressive with the other males. Never seen one before, and my brother has one at his feeder as well. We are located near North Bay, ON Canada. I’m trying to get a picture, but you know how fast they are….lol

  33. Just a note- It is September 4, and I have an iridescent orange throated male at my feeder in upstate SC. Nothing drab about his throat. I haven’t seen him before this during the spring or summer. Seems like I see more different birds each year; used to be ruby throated or drab only. This guy has the most iridescent throat i’ve ever seen.

  34. September 13, 2014, and I am sitting a few feet from an orange-throated hummingbird that is guarding our feeder and has been here for a couple of days at least. We are just east of Memphis Tennessee, in Germantown. We had an influx of hummingbirds here over the last 10 days or so, but others all seem to be “normal” ruby throats. The throat feathers seem to cover more of the throat than I’ve seen. We have been feeding hummers here for the last 10 years and this is the first orange-throat we have seen.

    Alan Wentz

  35. Debbie Clements

    Hi again, it is one year later, June 15, 2015, and I want to report that our orange throated ruby throated hummingbird has returned. I am assuming it is the same orange throated rthb that we had at our feeder all summer in 2014.(See June 16, 2014 above) We are in Western Lower Michigan. I have a blurry but useable photo of him from last year and will try to get a better one this year!

  36. Darlene LeClair

    I have had 3 generations of orange throated hummingbirds here in Lewis NY. The youngest just returned on May 10th and I am still watching for his father. I know the grandfather is dead because I found him and buried him a few seasons ago.

  37. Darlene LeClair

    I feel I should explain my experiences with the orange throated hummingbirds. When I moved to the area I live in now I put up my feeders and got a male with a neon orange throat along with some females. That was in the spring of 2010 . Every year the same birds return. Since 2010 two more males have been born and both have the same orange throats. As I previously stated the older male died and is buried in my yard and his grandson is back. Its obviously a genetic thing . If someone is really serious about this please feel free to email me. I did save some tangible proof.

  38. Kimberly Williams

    It is May 15, 2016 and we just had our first hummer this evening and he was bright orange throated with a black body. We have never experienced an orange throat at our home in Battle Creek MI. It was quite exciting! We will continue to watch to see how long he sticks around.

  39. Spotted my first fluorescent orange throated one today at my feeders. Very tame and beautiful from South Central WI.

  40. Saw a Fluorescent orange throated hummingbird on top of Casper Mountain, Casper Wyoming. He was about two or three times bigger than most of the ruby throated we see in Mo. Also as he flies away his feathers appear brownish orange, not brilliant green as the ruby throated. Saw same exact looking bird last July 26 last year too.

  41. Roger Butturini

    It is May 13 in Northern Virginia. I see a Hummingbird hanging around our house earlier than usual. Typically, we notice them in June/July when it is warmer. This year, we see the Hummingbird sits on a tomato plant climber and FLASHES an orange neck. I would be hard-pressed not to connect this behavior with that of other birds who display their bright plumage to attract a mate. On-off, on-off, on-off…our hummingbird is clearly advertising. So, this does not seem to be a late summer behavior, nor does it seem to say, “Stay away, I’m not interested.” Could it be immature males practicing courtship?

  42. It is May 29, 2017 and we live in the St. Louis, Mo area. I have seen an orange throated male for a couple of weeks now so he did arrive in the spring time. I found your information to be so interesting and have learned a lot. All the posts were interesting too. I will keep watch on him but wanted to let you know that he arrived here in his”package of orange”…bless his little heart!!

  43. Darlene LeClair

    My two orange throated males are back for the summer. This year I am going to try to get a photographer here with the right camera to get some pictures.

  44. I’m in Windsor, California and just saw an orange-throated hummingbird (3/21/18) on nearly the first day of spring. Very cool!

  45. Hi David! I was searching to see what kind of Hummingbird is here in Upstate New York. And I can tell you it’s different from all the rest. It had a copper / orange color under his neck. And a beautiful color brown with irridesent. Turquoise. The young female is also here. And another Ruby throated Hummer, but he had has a red throat. This bird is amazingly beautiful! So why are they that color?

  46. I live in the foot of the Appalachian mountains in blue Ridge Georgia. Just now I had a hummingbird fly up to me and hover looking at me. His neck was iridescent bright orange. I’ve never seen one like that before which led me to researching it. There’s a lot to read so I haven’t figured it out yet. Posted 4/10/2019. Elevation 1789

  47. I live in Mobile Alabama. April 14 I had. Copper throated hummingbird at my feeder. I wished I been close enough to my camera

  48. On April 27, 2019 I have seen an orange-throated hummingbird in Pendleton, SC. I was able to snap a picture through the window which captures the color, though through binoculars it appears much more neon-tangerine when the sun hits it than represented in the photo. It stayed long enough for my husband to have a look as well. I didn’t see any red or ruby coloring.

  49. Meggen Kramer

    I am living in Iowa. I have seen a male ruby throated humming bird with an orange throat several times this May. I have pictures ans video.

  50. Lorie Bryngelson

    I live in Chaska, MN and have a hummingbird that is more of a gold not orange throated. He arrived that color early May and was also here last year. He has a white breast and is iridescent green.

    1. Lake Cooley SC. We’ve had an orange “bib” throated hummingbird dominating one of our feeders since mid July, 2019.

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