Never-before-documented hummingbird found by Field Museum researchers

A specimen of a rare gold-throated hummingbird (center) whose iridescent throat looks green, blue, or gold depending on the angle of light, is shown by a scientist at the Field Museum, Tuesday, March 7, 2023. It is a hybrid of a Pink-throated Brilliant hummingbird, Heliodoxa gularis (right), and the Rufous-webbed Brilliant hummingbird, Heliodoxa branickii (left). Photo credit Pat Nabong/Sun-Times Media Wire

CHICAGO — What happens when you mix pink with pink?

You usually get, well, more pink.

So when Field Museum scientists working in a remote part of Peru captured a hummingbird with a gold throat in a region where the tiny bird’s neck feathers are typically iridescent pink, they thought they’d identified a new species.

Turns out, the gold-throated bird was actually a never-before-documented offspring of two different species with pink throats. Far from being disappointed, the Field Museum scientists — who recently went public with their findings in the journal Royal Society Open Science — say it illustrates nature’s marvelous complexity.

“It’s a little like cooking: If you mix salt and water, you kind of know what you’re going to get, but mixing two complex recipes together might give more unpredictable results,” said Chad Eliason, the Field Museum’s senior research scientist.

The scientists used DNA analysis as well as an electron microscope to examine the throat feather structure on a “subcellular” level.

The work found “subtle differences in the origin of the parents’ colors, which explains why their hybrid offspring produced a totally different color,” according to the scientists.

Other gold-throated hummingbirds exist in the world, but they are rare and the nearest species live mostly in Brazil, the scientists say.

Data on hummingbird populations is also limited — particularly in the Peru location where the gold-throated bird was found.

John Bates, another Field scientist involved in the study, said that with hummingbirds, it’s very difficult to do the kinds of research they do for most birds — specifically, he said it’s harder to place bands on hummingbirds and follow them over time. Bates was among the scientists who captured the gold-throated bird back in 2013.

Chicagoans aren’t likely to see a gold-throated hybrid at their bird feeder because there is typically only one species of hummingbird living here: the ruby-throated variety.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire & Chicago Sun-Times 2023. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Pat Nabong/Sun-Times Media Wire