A rare hummingbird visits Oak Park

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

Click here to see a video, courtesy of Jerry Goldner.

Eric Gyllenhaal and his sons, Aaron and Ethan, who live on the 1000 block of South Elmwood in Oak Park, are avid birders. Gail Fisher, Eric's wife and the boys' mom, not so much, though she admires their, well, obsession. But that obsession seems to have been rewarded with a first state of Illinois sighting of the rare Broad-tailed Hummingbird in their backyard on Monday.

Here's the account that Ethan, 16, a junior at OPRF High School, posted on a birding blog:

"I was putting the finishing touches to a rough draft of a literary analysis of The Scarlet Letter this morning, and my dad called out a hummingbird from the kitchen. I went over there, with thoughts of a Rufous Hummingbird streaming through my mind. My dad described it as looking fairly Ruby-throated-Hummingbird-like, with not too much noticeable rufous coloring. My brother, however, said it looked like a Selasphorus, maybe a Rufous. This instantly set off alarm bells because that made me think of Broad-tailed. I saw some very dark photos my brother got, which showed the fairly thick outer tail feathers, which supported my guess. Then I saw the bird, got some photos, and was pretty much sure it was a Broad-tailed (the size, throat, and tail all seemed perfect). I had to leave for school and shower in 15 minutes, though. I multitasked like crazy and ended up barely getting to school on time, and forgetting an egg drop project for physics (which my mom was able to bring in). So, hectic morning, and great bird!"

Eric reports he saw "a flash of green and white at the sugar-water feeder hanging near the back door. At a glance it looked like the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that visited the yard late last summer. But it had been almost two months since the last Ruby-throat headed south, and a close look at the photos revealed differences. Ethan said it first. "It might be a Broad-tailed Hummingbird." That was a daring thing to say, since this species had never before been seen in Illinois. So the boys quickly posted an invitation and a few blurry photos on Internet forums frequented by birders, then left for OPRF.

"The first outside expert to arrive was Nick Block, an Oak Parker who works at Field Museum. Standing on the back porch Nick saw the hummer from 4 feet away, and he was convinced. He argued his case online, but demanding birders needed better photos to confirm. Greg Neise of Berwyn arrived with a high-powered lens and got the first clear close-ups. When Greg posted his photos, birders knew for sure that the bird was a new state record. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds nest each summer in the American West and usually migrate south to Mexico and Central America. But this one somehow found its way to south Oak Park.

"The hummingbird returned to sip sugar water throughout the day. Between feeder visits, it caught small insects and rested in neighbors' trees. More birders kept arriving, about 40 in all, driving from as far away as Rockford. Between hummer sightings the humans discussed fine points of hummingbird identification and told stories about their recent birding adventures. For some birders the Broad-tailed Hummingbird was a "lifer" — the first time they had ever seen this kind of bird. Others were working on "big years" for the state of Illinois, trying to see more birds than any other birder in the state. For everyone, it was a "state bird" — a valued addition to their life lists for the state of Illinois. (Some birders' Illinois lists hold more than 400 birds.)

"But why was Oak Park the site for this rare find? Many birds pass through Oak Park during spring and fall migrations. The Gyllenhaals have seen more than 120 bird species on their block. And every year, at least a few Western kinds of hummingbirds head east when they should be migrating south, showing up at feeders east of the Mississippi River. That's why the hummingbird feeder was still filled with nectar in late November. They were hoping that someday a rare hummingbird would visit their yard, and on Monday it finally happened."

By the way, the bird was back on Tuesday, as were the birders.


Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

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Mike Hanline  

Posted: August 9th, 2018 3:03 PM

"The Gyllenhaals have seen more than 120 bird species on their block." Based on the bird feeder I put in my backyard this summer, I became convinced that the only birds that frequented Oak Park were robins, sparrows, and cardinals. How do I tap into these other 100+ species?

Susan O'Connor from Westmont  

Posted: August 9th, 2018 1:13 PM

I live in Westmont and while sitting on my balcony yesterday, an outrageously gorgeous irridescent green hummingbird visited the potted Mexican heather sitting not two feet from me. It nosed at the tiny flowers multiple times before flying off to the grove of trees behind my home. It was GREEN with a dark hood and tail feathers. Needless to say I was absolutely in chanted. Did not move fast enough to get my phone for pics.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: December 6th, 2011 8:21 PM

We saw these birds, sometimes one, often with a partner, at least six times in our backyard this summer. The first time I saw one, I thought it was a locust at first. It is not the first time I have seen a hummingbird, I saw one a few years ago. This is just the first time we saw them so many times. It made me wonder what to plant to attract them because it isn't like we have a lot of flowers. Toward the Fall, they were content just to swoop down to the bluish/purple flowers on the hosta

Shari Hrabec from Bolingbrook, IL  

Posted: November 30th, 2011 4:06 PM

I'm excited to see this also as I feed hummers all summer, however I'm worried about him being here so late in the year, and apparently somewhat lost. I just hope he makes it further south to find bugs and flowers somewhere. Few feeders out around here and freezing temps soon......

Carol Southern from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 27th, 2011 10:46 AM

PS: I just viewed the FANTASTIC photos on the Illinois Birders' Forum taken by Greg Neise. Thanks for the link. You've rekindled my interest in birding!

Carol Southern from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 27th, 2011 10:30 AM

I love this story--I had no idea there were hummingbirds in Oak Park! Thanks, Wednesday Journal, for publishing it; you made my day!

Janet Barnstable from Addison  

Posted: November 23rd, 2011 8:36 AM

Great going Ethan and Eric... AND on time for school too! Now that's as impressive as sighting the hummingbird. May luck follow you!

Ruth Craft Martin from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: November 23rd, 2011 6:58 AM

I love this story. I wish all stories were this exciting .Thanks for noticing the hummingbird and reporting it. Yeah!

Eric Gyllenhaal from Oak Park  

Posted: November 22nd, 2011 8:54 PM

S, any time you see a hummingbird in November you should suspect that it's something uncommon. Northwest Oak Park seems a bit far for our South Elmwood bird to travel, though, since ours has been visiting our feeder every 20 minutes and then resting at least part of the time in view in a neighbor's yard. If you see your green hummer again, try to get a photo! Maybe there are more rare hummers in Chicago-land, just waiting to be documented....


Posted: November 22nd, 2011 8:06 PM

I saw a green hummingbird in nw OP yesterday. Wonder if it was the same one?

Eric Gyllenhaal from Oak Park  

Posted: November 22nd, 2011 7:31 PM

By the way, if you want to read more and see more photos, you can follow two threads on Illinois Birders Forum. Here's the thread Ethan started before school on Monday: http://www.ilbirds.com/index.php?topic=49534.0 here's the thread Greg started a few hours later: http://www.ilbirds.com/index.php?topic=49536.0

Eric Gyllenhaal from Oak Park  

Posted: November 22nd, 2011 7:25 PM

Lynn, that's really cool! What days have you seen it? (700 South Taylor is about a half mile from our house as the hummingbird flies). Eric Gyllenhaal


Posted: November 22nd, 2011 6:52 PM

I'm putting my hummingbird feeder back out, hoping for a visit tomorrow in my yard!

Lynn from Oak Park  

Posted: November 22nd, 2011 6:34 PM

I saw this hummingbird feeding from the 4 hibiscus plants I have on my back porch on the 700 South Taylor block

Toby Brown from Youngtown, AZ  

Posted: November 22nd, 2011 4:39 PM

Nice spot.

Sarah Corbin  

Posted: November 22nd, 2011 2:55 PM

I love it. And this is just the kind of story I like to see.

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