Common Valley Hummingbirds

By Jim Gain

Learn 100 Common Valley Birds is a photo blog series highlighting the 100 most common Valley bird species.

Post #2 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series.

This is a three-fer post featuring the three most common hummingbirds, Anna’s, Black-chinned and Rufous that are likely coming to your feeders right now (summer). When viewed in direct sunlight with their resplendent gorgets in full glory, few birds elicit a reaction quite like hummingbirds do. The hummingbird represents an ancient symbol of joy and happiness. Its colorful appearance brings good luck and positive energy to our lives.

Let’s start with the most common one, Anna’s Hummingbird.

ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD

Anna’s Hummingbird – Male

STATUS

Anna’s Hummingbirds are Common Year-round Residents of the Central Valley and are frequently found at backyard feeders. Like many hummingbird species, these three are sexually dimorphic with the males having the boldest and easiest to identify markings. At 3.9 inches in size, Anna’s Hummingbirds are the largest of the three hummers in this post.

IDENTIFICATION FIELDMARKS

Adult male Anna’s Hummingbirds feature a bold pinkish-ruby gorget (throat patch) that is subtended (bordered along the bottom) by a grayish-white breast. The pinkish-ruby feathers also appear on the top of their head.

Anna’s Hummingbird – Male

Females and first-year male Anna’s Hummingbirds are more challenging as they lack the pinkish-red gorget and head feathers.

Anna’s Hummingbird – Female

BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD

STATUS

The Black-chinned Hummingbird is a Fairly Common Summer Visitor, arriving in mid-April and hanging around the Central Valley until mid-September. At 3.5 inches, the Black-chinned Hummingbird is slightly smaller than the Anna’s Hummingbird. The Black-chinned Hummingbird is the second-most likely hummingbird that residents will encounter of the 6 hummingbird species that have visited the Central Valley.

Throughout the Central Valley, this species is widespread in many habitats at low elevations, often coming into backyard gardens and nesting. Other hummingbirds may stay through the winter, at least in small numbers, but the Black-chinned Hummingbird is almost entirely absent from the valley in winter.

IDENTIFICATION FIELDMARKS

Black-chinned Hummingbird – Male

The Black-chinned has a thinner, longer and straighter bill than both the Anna’s and Rufous hummingbirds. It is metallic green above and dull grayish-white below. They are best identified by their smallish gorget that is bordered by a pure white throat. Their gorget tends to look solid black unless viewed straight-on in good light when the lower edge takes on a glowing purple hue.

Black-chinned Hummingbird – Male

As with the other hummingbirds featured in this post, females and first-year males lack the colored gorget and make identification a challenge that is best left for the experts.

Female, Creative Commons Image by VJAnderson

RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD

STATUS

The Rufous Hummingbird is a Fairly Common Spring & Fall Migrant as it travels between its wintering grounds in Mexico to its nesting territory in Canada. It can be seen visiting feeders in March to April and again on its return journey from mid-July to mid-September. At 3.3 inches, the Rufous Hummingbird is the smallest of the three hummingbirds featured in this post.

The Rufous Hummingbird is North America’s “extremist” hummingbird, venturing far from the equatorial tropics, it reaches the northernmost latitude of any hummingbird (61° N). (From Birds of the World)

IDENTIFICATION FIELDMARKS

Rufous Hummingbird – Male

The Rufous Hummingbird stands out from Anna’s and Black-chinned by the bold rufous coloration on its belly, back and tail feathers. It has a white throat and adult males have a brownish-red gorget.

Rufous Hummingbird – 1st Year Male

First year males tend to have greenish instead of rufous feathers on its back.

Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,

California Scrub-Jay

By Jim Gain

Learn 100 Common Valley Birds is a photo blog series highlighting the 100 most common Valley bird species.

Post #1 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds

In California’s Central Valley, almost anyone can learn 100 local bird species. Especially since on a daily basis Valley Residents come in contact with at least a dozen species that most recognize, but may not know the name of. Few things on earth fill us with as much delight as birds, and knowing them by name only adds to our pleasure. The intent of this blog is for followers to learn about and be able to identify 100 common valley birds.

Eazy Peazy First Bird

(You probably already know this bird.)

From James Whitcomb Riley’s poem, The Jaybird
The Jaybird he’s my _favorite_
Of all the birds they is!
I think he’s quite a stylish sight
In that blue suit of his:

And from George Parsons Lathrop’s Poem, O jay
O jay —
Blue-jay! —
What are you trying to say?
I remember, in the spring
You pretended you could sing;

Just remember one thing, it’s a Scrub-Jay, NOT a Blue Jay. Blue Jays have a crest and live back east. Our beautiful jay is a California Scrub-Jay.

All About This Bird

California Scrub-Jays are medium-sized members of the Corvid Family sharing similar characteristics with their other family members, the crows, magpies and ravens.

California Scrub-Jays are easily identified by their blue upperparts, dusty-white belly with a grayish-blue back. They have a medium-sized straight bill with a hooked tip and sport a white supercilium (eyebrow line). Depending on the light, their blue feathers may range from pale blue to almost iridescent bold blue. Unlike their Blue Jay cousins back east, they do NOT have a crest.

California Scrub-Jay

California Scrub-Jays can be found just about anywhere in the Central Valley. They are what ornithologists (bird scientists) call a year-round common resident and your backyard may even be a favorite spot for one. They are omnivorous and will eat bugs, lizards, berries and even other smaller birds (ouch!). Males and females are monomorphic, meaning they pretty much look the same. The opposite of monomorphic, where the males and females look totally different, is called sexual dimorphism. (Think of male vs female Mallards.) 

California Scrub-Jay

California Scrub-Jays have strong bills which they use to break open and eat acorns. Acorns are held by the toes of both feet and are hammered with their bill until they break open and can dig out the meat.

California Scrub-Jay

After completing this first post in the series, you are now on your way to Learn 100 Birds! These ubiquitous birds may be found in our backyards, on power lines or flying overhead on a regular basis.

Other posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,