Surprise! Broad-billed Hummingbird in Chicago

Monday, May 3rd started out as a dreary morning in Chicago, with less-than-ideal conditions for photography. However, I was joined by Nathan Goldberg (@my_creative_nrg) in the field and headed to a Chicago birding hotspot called LaBagh Woods, so we were motivated to push through the drizzle and see what we could find.

It Started Like Any Other Day of Birding in Chicago

Though the weather was poor at first, the day improved as the sun got higher in the sky and birds began to come out. As we explored, we found numerous warblers, vireos, orioles, and other passerines to point our cameras at. We eventually arrived at a certain area of the preserve when Nathan suddenly called out that he’d seen a hummingbird fly in to investigate us. Once he lifted his binoculars, he let out a shout that it was not the expected Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but an incredibly rare and off-track Broad-billed Hummingbird.

A Strange Time to See a Broad-billed Hummingbird in Chicago

Broad-billed Hummingbirds are normally found in the mountains of Mexico, and their range only reaches the United States in far Southeastern Arizona as well as a bit of New Mexico. To find one in May in migration away from a hummingbird feeder was not only bizarre, it’s almost unheard of.

Nathan wasn’t able to snap a photo after the original sighting, but about an hour after the first encounter (as well as numerous phone calls to friends) we were able to relocate it along one of the main paths through LaBagh Woods. The hummingbird behaved this time, and we were able to share the sighting with many local birders who rushed to get a view of this wayward gem.

Broad-billed Hummingbirds have shown up in Illinois twice prior to this encounter, once at a backyard feeder near Peoria back in November of 1996 (which many birders were able to see) and a second time in September of 2017, again at a backyard feeder near Springfield. The 2017 bird was not available for birders to visit and see, making this sighting at LaBagh all the more meaningful and 3rd ever in Illinois history!

A Hummingbird’s Short Vist

To both Nathan and my surprise, this hummingbird not only stuck around the following day, but birders and photographers were actually able to find a food source (a pair of flowering buckeye trees) the bird took a liking to and became reliable to see daily. Following the find of these flowering trees, one could come to LaBagh throughout the week and always find a crowd of 20-40 people with cameras at the ready, waiting for the special visitor to come and feed.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and while this lost gem pleased hundreds of birders and photographers with its presence, it was nowhere to be found throughout the day on Wednesday, May 12th. I can only hope he headed back to his more typical haunts in Arizona or Mexico, but we likely will never truly know.

Renewal for LaBagh Woods in Chicago

What we do know, though, is that its visit to Chicago has drawn a lot of attention to the incredible restoration work and habitat at LaBagh Woods. This forest preserve has been a focal point for many in recent years in the city, and the Chicago Ornithological Society has been working hard on restoration efforts to turn this preserve back into a healthy and thriving ecosystem. LaBagh Woods sits on the North Branch of the Chicago River, making it all the more meaningful as an ecosystem for birds and mammals alike.

When planning a trip to Chicago, I encourage all to add LaBagh Woods to the list of must-visit natural locations in the city. With numerous miles of trails to explore, it will only be a matter of time before another special bird turns up here!