Leafcutter Bee

Research Spotlight

Jose Montalva

Hummingbird Hybridization

Dr. Chris Butler (University of Central Oklahoma), his graduate student Erica Judd, and passionate volunteer Ned Batchelder studied the hybridization of Oklahoma’s two hummingbird species.  Hybrid zones are interesting to biologists because they are areas where you can observe evolution and speciation.  Black-chinned (Archilochus alexandri) and Ruby-throated (A. colubris) hummingbirds have breeding ranges that overlap in Oklahoma, making hybridization possible. Before their work in 2011, only two cases of hybridization between these species had been documented (one in Oklahoma and one in Texas), but since then, several hybrids were banded by this research group in southwestern and central Oklahoma. This suggests that hybridization of these two species occurs more frequently than previously thought.

Read their published paper.

Oklahoma is home to two species of hummingbirds, the Ruby-throated and the Black-Chinned.  The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the most common in our state, with the Black-chinned being found mostly in the southwestern quarter of Oklahoma.  Both are valued pollinators in our habitats.  As a migratory birds, hummingbirds only spend summers in most of the US, usually spending the winter in Central America. Hummingbirds may travel up to 500 miles at a time for migration.

Hummingbirds live in woods, meadows, prairies, and forest edges. They can often be found in parks and backyards. While in Central America, they’re more likely to be observed in scrubland, rather than rainforests. They will defend their food sources jealously against competition (see video below!). These can also include small insects which are important protein source for newly hatched chicks and juvenile birds.

Hummingbirds can beat its wings more than 50 times a second, in order to remain airborne. Because of this, they can hover and stop instantly, as well as maneuver backwards. These skills are put to good use during the courtship display. Males fly in front of their partners in a wide arc, making a buzzing noise on each pass (this motion has been described as a “pendulum”). Females usually raise their broods alone, however, with the incubation period lasting less than two weeks. The young are usually ready to fly 20 days after hatching.

Hummingbird Videos

And you thought hummingbirds were sweet little birds!

Attracting Hummingbirds to your Garden

Want to learn more?  Check out these websites:

Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation – Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Cornell Lab All About Birds – Black-chinned Hummingbird

Audubon – How to Create a Hummingbird Friendly Yard