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These Female Hummingbirds Masquerade as Males

Illustration by Jillian Ditner
Download this White-necked Jacobins comparison
White-necked Jacobins. Illustration by Jillian Ditner.
From the Winter 2021 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

Hummingbirds are one of the very few known groups of birds in which females of some species develop male-like plumage patterns. In the case of the White-necked Jacobin, a small tropical hummingbird, about 1 in 5 females molts into plumage that’s virtually indistinguishable from males’. All juveniles look like males, too.

Research by Cornell Lab of Ornithology PhD candidate Jay Falk suggests that looking like males may give females (and juveniles) an advantage at securing food resources, as other hummingbirds may be less likely to tangle with a male which they perceive as more aggressive.

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