by Steve N. G. Howell
Hummingbirds present some of the most challenging identification problems in North America. Views of these tiny, fast-flying birds in the field are often frustratingly brief, and many hummingbirds simply “get away” as unidentified – even for experienced birders. Accepting that most of your field encounters with hummingbirds may be this way is an important first step! Fortunately, hummingbird feeders increasingly allow close-range and prolonged studies that are difficult if not impossible to obtain “in the wild,” but then, if you do see a bird well, what do you look for? Females and immatures of different species, and even adult males, often look very similar to one another. Indeed, plumage differences between ages and sexes of the same species can be greater than those between species.