Thursday, September 4, 2014


Martin Dollenkamp apparently photographed this Violetear on September 4th at a private residence in Port Alberni, BC (Vancouver Island). Mexican Green Violetears have been known to wander throughout eastern North America and there is a record from Alberta. A similar species from South America--Sparkling Violetear--(which is non-migratory) is presumed to be regularly kept in captivity and so if this is the latter species it is likely an escapee. The ID is still being sorted out. See comments and links in the comments section below for a few points, but in a little while I'll post more feedback from other forums to summarize what people are suggesting.

No sightings to report for Sep 5+6. If there are any updates to this story I will post them here. 


  1. This is absolutely amazing
    Please do let us know if the owner will welcome visitors to look at the bird.

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  3. Oh and this would be the third record for Canada. This bird has been recorded in AB in 1993 and in 1991 in Ont. So it is the first record for BC!

  4. Sparkling Violetear

    A quick check reveals no extralimital records of this non migratory species with Columbia the closest point of its range.

    Status in captivity : Once fairly common in captivity, now relatively rare and not kept outside America. Bred by a few collections including the San Diego Zoo, kept at Miami Metro Zoo.

    Likely an escape or like the Xantus' ship-assisted.

  5. Yes I would imagine escapee would be much more likely to ship-assisted, although like the Xantus's nearly impossible to confirm exactly the method. Interesting that both birds show up in smaller towns in the Georgia Basin

  6. I agree with Sparkling Violetear--purple-blue throat and belly. Common in Quito, but I can't imagine one deciding to fly by itself all the way to Port Alberni. Wow.

  7. The debate continues on the ID as 'Mexican' Violetear is superficially similar to Sparkling.

  8. The Sparkling Violetear was not seen today. The species has been confirmed as such by the expert on the violetears who wrote the paper on separation of the Green and Sparkling Violetear complex for the ABA. As a Sparkling, there is little likelihood of it being a vagrant or certainly no way of knowing if it is not an escape from one of the many aviaries this species is kept. A very quick check has them breeding in the San Diego Zoo. They could just as easily be kept locally - legally or illegally.

  9. COOL! Even without a reliable marker to estimate size, the color and pattern of the underparts indicate Green. In adult plumage, Green (including ssp. thalassinus of Mexico) has a narrower green "bib" than the larger Sparkling and lacks a broad violet "chinstrap."

  10. I am i the Green Violetear camp myself, having seen many Sparkling Violetears in South America....and a few Greens as well. Green just seems a little dingier to me and this bird just doesn't seem to be as 'dazzling' and sparkly as the Sparklings I have seen.

  11. Martin,

    It gives me no pleasure to say that this bird is a Sparkling Violetear Colibri coruscans from South America. This species, which is about an inch larger than the Mexican Green Violetear Colibri thalassinus thalassinus,is one of the most widely kept in aviaries. It is quite a bird, but certainly has to be an escape from captivity. I doubted myself when I viewed your image, so I consulted Van Remsen of the Louisiana State Museum of Natural Science. His comment is: "No Green Violetear should ever show that amount of blue in throat. So, unless there is something weird about the image that distorts the throat color, this bird is not Mexican Violetear, which as you know has just one thin row of blue across the chin."

    Now, the big question is 'by what manner did this bird get to British Columbia?'
    Nancy L Newfield
    Casa Colibrí
    Metairie, Louisiana USA
    USDA Zone 9b

    1. Very interesting, Nancy. Since the bird is in transition between juvenile and adult plumage, and new iridescent feathers often refract slightly shorter wavelengths than mature ones (e.g., violet feathers on the crowns of molting male Anna's), the bluish tint to the chin doesn't strike me as that important compared to the the modest bib and violet breast (not belly) spot. Browsing violetear images on Flickr, it's pretty easy to tell Green from Sparkling by these differences.

  12. Below a communication re the most recent "enhanced" photo and previous photos from the leading expert on the Violetear group with published papers including the separation of the Sparkling and Green in the ABA publication "Birding".

    The 'chin strap' still appears to be too extensive and the bird seems to be too large, but I've sent it on to Van Remsen for any additional insight he may have. However, I will be out until early afternoon today so don't expect an immediate second response.

    -- ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Nancy L Newfield Casa Colibrí Metairie, LA USA ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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  15. Subject: Re: Violetear Canada new photos any change of opinion?
    From: Nancy L. Newfield <
    To: James V. Remsen, Jr.

    I will appreciate any input you can give based on specimens. None of the standard field guides gives even an adequate illustration of either species and of course, one never sees the Mexican Green Violetear in direct comparison to the Sparkling Violetear. My field experience with the nominate Green Violetear is considerably less than with any of the more southerly subspecies or with the Sparkling Violetear. Surfing the 'net was illuminating, if not clarifying. Images of Sparkling Violetears were mixed in with images of Green Violetears of the cabanidis subspecies as well as some of the South American Green Violetears - and vice versa. That said, look at figure 3 in the Birding article I wrote back in 2001. Even the Neotropical Birds site is not immune from egregious errors.

    The somewhat muddy coloration of the lower underparts and the apparently unfinished 'chin strap' lead me to suspect that this is a young bird. Overall size is difficult to judge without any direct comparisons, but this bird just looks more 'big-boned' and substantial than most Green Violetears. Hardly scientific though.

    James V. Remsen, Jr. wrote:

    Nancy -- I'll check collection on Monday, but I do not think we have any Mexican Violet-ears with that amount of blue on throat. However, by recollection, I think the blue on underparts looks more like Mexican.

    At some point, the interested parties should make efforts to discover how many Sparkling Violetears have been imported into Canada recently and if there are any aviculturists in the area who might be the source of this valuable bird. I would wager that this bird might not have travelled very far from its point of Canadian captivity and it probably has not been free long.

    Keith Taylor wrote:

    Attached are the best images of the Violetear that were not presented originally. I've attached cropped images that show an undeniably wide blue chin. The coloration is subdued due to age I assume, but certainly a chin strap that is not green is there. The debate continues. I too thought that the blue on the breast was too "high" instead of low on the belly, but the bird in question must be a juvenile advancing to adult and the lower parts are still "uncoloured" so could the blue actually be there also? A real learning opportunity. Think I'll send pics to Nick Athanas in South American as well.

    Nancy L. Newfield wrote:

    A completely green throat is not probative to the current question. It would just indicate that the bird did not belong to any of the southern forms of the Green Violetear. We are judging the relative width of the violet chin strap. Another character I noted on images, but forgot to mention in my message to Van, was that on many of the Green Violetear images, the ends of the 'ear fans' extend and attenuate far around the back of the neck. I do not see that character on the subject bird.

    Best regards,


  16. To me, this bird looks just fine for a Middle American Green Violetear, of which I have seen hundreds over the past few years. I see no reason this bird should be considered a Sparkling Violetear. If anything, the concentration of blue so far up on the chest is a strike against that species. Birders who spend most of their time with Green Violetears south of the Isthmus of Panama are often thrown by how dissimilar the Middle American and South American Green Violetars are.

  17. This Flickr gallery comparing the Port Alberni bird with various plumages of Green and Sparkling might be helpful in clarifying some of the ID issues, in particular the differences between the northernmost subspecies of Green (thalassinus) that is more similar to Sparkling and the southern ones that English-speaking birders tend to be more familiar with (cabanidis, cyanotus).

  18. I took the liberty of asking Steve Howell what his thoughts on this bird were since he is arguably an expert on the identification of hummingbirds. Here are his comments: "It looks like a Mexican Violet-ear, which should be split from CR to S American birds. Nice record, and another addition to the fall “pattern” of western records in North America..."

  19. More comments from Steve Howell on the above photo (He has not viewed the others so I sent them to him):

    "It’s obviously not an adult Sparkling Violet-ear, in that it lacks a broad violet chin strap. I think it’s likely an immature bird, however, but difficult to say from one image. I assume images with a feeder of know size would solve the “problem” very easily, but the face pattern and violet chest patch look typical of Mexican [Green] Violet-ears, and I don’t know that this pattern = extent of violet on face and chest (e.g., see photos of Mexican Green Violet-ear in Hummingbirds of North America, by S N G Howell, 2003, Princeton University Press) would be duplicated by immature Sparkling. I have already deleted the one photo I had of the BC bird, but I think the violet was on the chest, vs. typically lower down on the underparts of Sparkling; again, this could be checked easily with more photos compared to specimens."


  21. Thanks for putting those photos up for comparison. I haven't weighed in myself yet as I'm not an expert on tropical hummers and have been too busy with other things to do any research (plus I'm away from my references). I've looked into things a little today and have to respectfully disagree with you interpretation of some of those photos. To me the blue/purple colouration in the throat barely extends below the chin (close to level with the eye. 'Image 6' from your set shows this best to me with green clearly high above the ear coverts. There are a few feathers high on the throat (and on the belly) that are up for interpretation or 'subdued presumably due to age/sex' in your words. Therefore I'm not sure how one can say "obviously not green" or "obviously not blue" for that matter. From what I can see, this bird actually has LESS blue-purple colouring on the throat than the Texas bird (accepted as Green Violetear), and much less than the subadult Guatamalan bird pictured on this blog (scroll halfway down):

    To be clear the above bird is from the same ssp. as mexican greens.

    Furthermore the top of the blue chest mark seems to end close to shoulder height (if the bird was lying flat) where as all the images of Sparkling VEs that I can see in similar poses have at least 1cm or more of green below shoulder height. Most Greens seem to show this spot right at the most robust section of the chest, whereas Sparklings have more blue colouration below the mark including part of the belly which the Alberni bird does not.

    Most importantly, I think we need to recognize that the Green VEs from Mex/Guat/Nic are clearly different from the more southerly greens and seem to show a lot more violet-colouring than many realize.

    The fact that this appears to be a young bird gives credence to its possible wild origin, and as Howell points out (author of "Hummingbirds of NA," "Rare Birds of NA," and "A Guide to the Birds of Mexico), a wild bird showing up in BC "fits into the later fall (sparse) pattern of western GRVE records vs. earlier fall in TX and the East."

    So unless someone can conclusively prove this is a Sparkling, it seems like a wild Green might be more likely than a captive bird. Hard to prove of course, but my limited research seems to show that hummingbird smuggling is quite rare in Canada/US compared to Europe and other continents, and for the record there are no 'hummingbird gardens' or facilities like that in the Pacific NW.

    It's been great to hear from everyone on this so please keep the comments coming!

  22. As stated in the album, these are not my observation but statements made from experts. I, however, believe that # 6 (the enhanced photo) has refracted light in the throat. If you compare with # 1 the blue-purple ends below the ear coverts in my humble opinion. I disagree on the positioning of the blue breast spot as it varies. As stated earlier by McRuer there are hummingbirds kept in captivity at a tourist aviary in Coombs (for one). One does not have to smuggle birds if licensed.

    I know this sounds as if I'm in the Sparkling group but I'm not. I too believe that Green is the more likely candidate in regards to probability but a positive ID is required. What is your opinion of the Sparkling taken by Mr Cruz of the Magic Birding Circuit in Quito?

  23. As far as I know, the Coombs facility has no captive hummingbirds. They have a "hummingbird patio" but this is outdoors for wild hummingbirds. It seems their bird selection is pretty minimal with their brutally named "Tropical Finch" exhibit consisting of domestic forms of Zebra Finches.

    Here is all I have found in terms of captive hummingbirds for public viewing:

    I agree that bright frontal light is a factor in #6 but there are plenty of Sparkling VE images online in similar poses where the purple shows up quite well. #1 is a side-angle and doesn't show any of the central throat feathers. It appears the dull feathers lining the malar are purplish but this is still within the realm of GRVE in my inexperienced opinion.

    The Quito bird does show a higher breast spot than other Sparklers but it's another side-angle and along with the throat it's tough to assess. I'm sure there is a bit of variation but how much?

    Chris Charlesworth brought up an interesting point about the dingy underparts which do seem to be more of a GRVE thing than SPVI. Do some HY Sparklings look like that, or perhaps this could result from time in captivity?

    As many have suggested on other online forums including the ABA Facebook forums, it's likely time for another ID paper on this complex as this will come up again soon!

  24. Here are the pictures of the Violetear that I have posted, there are no feeder shots since it didn't go to the feeder. We got lots of pictures but very few good ones, it was a lot harder to take pictures of than the regular hummingbirds like the Anna's since it absorbed more light and darted around from flower to flower.

    Frogpondphotography Violetear

    Violetear flikr

    Martin Dollenkamp

  25. From Avery Bartels (Who has extensive experience with SPVE and (Southern) GRVE in Columbia:

    "1. Posture: Green Violetears are shorter necked and tailed. Their over all "giss" is, for lack of a better phrase, more evenly proportioned. Sparkling, by contrast, appear rather long and ungainly. Their tail and neck are notably longer, compare the photo of the PA bird with it's tail spread with this:

    2. The gorget (down to the blue belly). The gorget on Sparkling is more of a teal green, almost slightly blue tinged and the individual feathers appear larger with better definition and darker, more contrasting centres. Green, by contrast, is more of a yellowy green colour with less defined dark centres on these feathers. Additionally, in green the throat blends in to the blue belly patch, whereas on Sparkling it is sharply defined, even on young birds.

    I myself, am firmly in the Green Violetear camp. For me this bird just doesn't fit Sparkling in either of the above mentioned categories, amongst other reasons already mentioned on the BCbirdalert."

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  27. One of the clients on my Northern Peru tour is a Canadian birder who showed me photographs of the violetear as well. A couple of angles did somewhat suggest a Sparkling Violetear, but after looking at more of the photos, it does appear to me to be a Green, for all the reasons that you pointed out. Size of course would be really helpful, but hard to judge from the photos. I can’t explain the dingy coloration, it’s not something I can recall seeing on either species.

    Nick Athanas

    Martin Dollenkamp has photographed a ruler alongside the stem of the red flowered Salvia exserta that the violetear was feeding on in one of his photographs and the measurement of the violetear works out at very close to 41/2 inches, which matches Green and too small for Sparkling. Of course this measurement is from a living bird with the neck kinked and bill angled sideways and not from a prone specimen.


  28. Agree with Avery & Nick and others. No doubt this bird is a taxa of the Green Violetear-complex (now split as Mexican & Lesser Violetear). Certainly not a Sparkling Violetear.

    Dušan Brinkhuizen
    Quito, Ecuador