A new hummingbird with unusual bright golden plumage is shocking experts

When researchers found a hummingbird with bright golden feathers, they initially thought a new species had been discovered, but what they actually found was much more unusual.

The bird – found in Cordillera Azul National Park in the Peruvian Andes – is a never-before-documented hybrid of two different species native to western South America: the Rose-throated Glossy Hummingbird, Heliodoxa jularis, and the Red-webbed Glossy Hummingbird. Hummingbird, Heliodoxa branneki. Published earlier this year in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the researchers say the discovery opens the door to more questions about hybridization.

The separate hummingbird species are genetically distinct and typically do not interbreed with each other, according to a press release about the study from the Chicago Field Museum, but “hybrids break this rule.” How common hummingbird hybrids are is unknown to researchers, but they may be the driver of the color change.

“It is not clear how common hummingbird hybrids such as those found in this study are, but researchers speculate that such hybrids may contribute to the diversity of structural colors found across the hummingbird family tree.”

The golden-throated hybrid, center, with its two parent species: H. branickii (left) and H.  gularis (right).

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Both the rose-throated hummingbird and the rose-throated hummingbird have bright pink throats, so the researchers wanted to understand how the two combined could produce a golden-throated hummingbird.

According to the press release, it is rare in the hummingbird family for members of the same species to have dramatically different throat colors, which is why scientists were puzzled when the birds’ DNA matched.

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