Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Allen's Hummingbird---Selasphorus sasin

Male Allen's Hummingbird in a tree at Newport Backbay.

Even more than Anna's Hummingbirds, Allen's Hummingbirds are California Hummingbirds. They breed along a very narrow coastal strip of land along the coast of California. And although in recent years, their breeding range has expanded up the California coast and upwards into southern Oregon, it is still a limited breeding area. This extremely small breeding range helps to place Allen's Hummingbird on the Audubon WatchList. They are not seen often anywhere else. So most likely, Allen's Hummingbirds are a species Orange County visitors have not seen in their home state. This is a great bird for out-of-state visitors to add to their life list.

Upper Newport Bay aka Newport Backbay Allen's Hummingbird

Allen's Hummingbirds have a green back like many hummingbirds, and they have a small white bib. The rest of their body is covered with a rusty, orange wash. In this, the Rufous Hummingbird differs in that its back is rufous as well. (Well, most of the time, but we will deal with that more when I write about the Rufous Hummingbird.) The Allen's has a rosy, almost coppery gorget. Allen's are described variously as reddish, rufous, or orange with coppery or scarlet gorgets. Hard to describe, but take a look at the photos here and on the links and you will become familiar with the species. Listen for its little buzzy call and little chips. You can often hear it call right before it heads for the nectar. See video below for a good view of an Allen's in action.

Don't know what I think of this, but it does give a good view of an Allen's male Hummingbird.

Allen's Hummingbird has two subspecies.

1) Allen's Hummingbird, subspecies Selasphorus sasin sasin

The migratory Selasphorus sasin sasin which lives in the Northern part of the range. Selasphorus sasin sasin breeds on the Pacific coast as far North as southern Oregon, but winters in Southern Mexico.

2) Allen's Hummingbird, subspecies Selasphorus sasin sedentarius.

The larger non-migratory Selasphorus sasin sedentarius who who lives year-round mainly in the Channel Islands and in Orange and LA Counties. The Selasphorus sasin sedentarius is slightly larger. It may have originated in the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. You can remember it by how sedentary it is. Selasphorus sasin sedentarius. This is a Southern California bird.

According to the Audubon WatchList, the migratory Allen's Selasphorus sasin sasin may be decreasing while our resident nonmigratory Allen's Selasphorus sasin sedentarius is probably increasing. While the southern subspecies Selasphorus sasin sedentarius is the only totally non-migratory hummingbird in the United States, the northern subspecies Selasphorus sasin sasin is the only completely migratory hummingbird in the United States. So both the subspecies of the Allen's Hummingbird hold migratory distinctions. Because the range of the Allen's of both subspecies is so small, counting samples during annual bird counts may not be truly representative of the actual number of Allen's Hummingbirds present within the range.

Male Allen's Hummingbird at Newport

I often see Allen's Hummingbirds in Huntington Central Park, Oak Canyon Nature Center, Newport Backbay, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary to name just a few birding hot spots in Orange County. In fact, sometimes it seems as if there are more Allen's Hummingbirds than there are the larger Anna's. Since the the migratory Allen's Selasphorus sasin sasin migrates to its Mexican wintering grounds early through Orange County, you may begin to see northern migrants moving through our area and heading south as early as May. The migratory subspecies of the Allen's Hummingbird is one of the earliest migrant hummers in the Southland. They also return early. Sometimes as early as February.

Female Allen's Hummingbird at El Dorado Nature Center n Long Beach

Right now, I have an Allen's vigorously defending two bird feeders on my patio. He is very feisty. Allen's males are extremely territorial. (You would be, too, if your life depended on your nectar sources!) He drinks nectar from the feeder, from my Cape Honeysuckle, Hibiscus, and Salvia. Sometimes he hovers in front of the window and looks in. Once he hovered nearby, watching me as I watered the plants. The sound of their wings is loud, and can be startling when you are not expecting it. Luckily, I wasn't surprised and didn't scare the Allen's as it checked me out from behind a few the Cape Honeysuckle sprigs.

Looking for little insects to munch.

Oddly enough, sometimes near my home I see hummers hover close to the stucco looking for small insects on the walls near the landscaping. You can also see Allen's at woodpecker sapwells on tree trunks drinking sap and eating insects. And hovering at plants with no flowers as they glean insects or small spiders off the leaves and stems.

Male Allen's with light hitting the gorget--just the right angle. Newport Back Bay.

Yes, Allen's and other hummingbirds don't just drink nectar, they actually flycatch or "hawk" insects, grabbing them out of the air, or picking them off plants, tree trunks, and out of sapwells drilled by woodpeckers. They eat small insects, insect eggs, spiders, and even raid spiderwebs and eat the prey caught in spider webs. This last, an occasionally risky act. Hummingbirds are risk takers. They move fast and are fairly confident. They do have predators and exercise caution at times. American Kestrels and other small hawks may prey on hummingbirds.

Female Allen's Hummingbird at El Dorado Nature Center

Male hummingbirds are the Casanovas of the bird world. They are flashy and court with dramatic, romantic flair, diving from high in the sky to arrive just near the female hummingbird. The Audubon Watchlist describes it like this : "The Allen's Hummingbird begins its display with a back-and-forth shuttling, ascends slowly, and then drops in a J-shaped dive." He makes several metallic buzzy sounds at the top and bottom of his dive. The Allen's Hummingbird mates and then the male leaves the female to raise the young while he flies off in search of another female. The migratory subspecies, Selasphorus sasin sasin, actually begins its migration south to Mexico while the females are still raising young. What a guy!

Allen's at El Dorado Nature Center.

There may be times you see a hummingbird that puzzles you. Remember that Allen's and other hummingbirds hybridize with other species of hummers. Allen's has been know to hybridize with Anna's Hummingbirds. Females are very hard to tell apart, but female Allen's have a rufous wash as well and also a bit of iridescent rose spotting under the chin. However, the Rufous female is very similar so it is not so easy to differentiate at least between those two.

Allen's at a feeder.

Allen's Hummingbirds are named after Charles Allen from Marin County who was one of the first to notice the difference between Allen's and Rufous Hummingbirds. The male Rufous Hummingbird ususually has a rufous back and the male Allen's has a green back. See my post Allen's Hummingbirds and Rufous Hummingbirds: What's the Difference? for more details.

Blurry Allen's near the Audubon House porch in San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine

Feeding hummingbirds is easy. You can buy a hummingbird feeder. I recommend the disk type which is far easier to clean. Many of those have built in ant traps that you just fill with water to discourage the ants. You can buy it from Amazon (below), or if you can't wait you can get a very similar one for a slightly higher price at Wild Birds Unlimited in either Huntington Beach, Yorba Linda, or Mission Viejo. They also sell a great little cleaning brush for less than a dollar. Or you can go to your local pet store and get a feeder that is not quite as good, but is easy to clean. I bought a disk style feeder at a local pet store. It had annoying yellow flowers which I detached. The perch was very thin and broke. Must have been a big bird at my feeder. The hummingbird feeder at Wildbird Unlimited has stronger perches and so does the one at Amazon.

In my humble opinion, this type of hummingbird feeder is better than the bottle type or fancier feeders. It is easier to clean.

There will be feisty hummer fights when you put out a feeder. Just remember they aren't being selfish when they defend your feeder. They just are protecting a food source that their life depends on. Don't bother with the commercial food for feeders. Use 1 part sugar, and 4 parts water. Boil until the granules melt. Let it cool, and fill a clean feeder and wait for the hummingbirds to find you. Honey is not good for hummingbirds, so do not put any in your feeder. Red dye is unnecessary and perhaps harmful. The red on the feeder is enough to attract hummingbirds. Or plant flowers that hummingbirds like such as Hibiscus, salvia, fushia, honeysuckle, and lantana. They love trees with flowers also.

Hummingbirds make it easy to bird in your own Orange County backyard or patio. If you fill it, they will come. Wait, be patient, and it will happen.

Allen's Hummingbird from Don DesJardin on Vimeo.

Above is a female Allen's Hummingbird. Another great video from Don DesJardin.

Allen's Hummingird from Don DesJardin on Vimeo.

I added this amazingly clear and close video of an Allen's Hummingbird done by birder/videographer Don Desjardin of Ventura, California. Check out his awesome videos on the links above. Check out Don's photography website.

OC Birder Girl Links

Anna's Hummingbird

Allen's Hummingbirds and Rufous Hummingbirds: What's the Difference?

External Links and Resources

All About Birds: Allen's Hummingbird

Detailed page about Allen's Hummingbirds.

Animal Diversity Web: Allen's Hummingbird

Long, detailed article about the Allen's Hummingbird.

Audubon Watch List: Allen's Hummingbird

Long, detailed list.

BirdWeb: Allen's Hummingbird

Detailed article from Seattle Audubon.

Breeding of Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus Sasin Sedentarius) on the Southern California Mainland

Journal Article.


Interesting article about a hybrid hummer.

Experiments with Allen's and Anna's Hummingbirds at Sugar Water Feeders in Spring

Journal Article about what attracts hummingbirds.

Hummingbird.Net: Allen's Hummingbird

Short article, but good.

Identification of Adult Male Rufous and Allen's Hummingbirds, With Specific Comments on Dorsal Coloration

Journal Article about differentiating the male Rufous and the malw Allen's.

Internet Bird Collection: Allen's Hummingbird

Videos of Allen's Hummingbirds. Great site. Very good videos of Allen's Hummingbirds and birds on general.

The Migrations of Allen's and other Hummingbirds

Journal article.

USGS: Allen's Hummingbird

Short article.

Birds of North America Preview: Allen's Hummingbird

Great article--or at least a large part of it as a preview from Cornell's subscription service.

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