Moth disguised as bird surprises

On a recent beautiful summer day you would have found me sitting outside my house watching the hummingbirds and cardinal babies. Where else would I rather be?

At one point, when I saw movement among the flowers, I thought I had spotted another hummingbird. However, when I really focused I could tell the colours just weren’t quite right.

My curiosity was high and my laziness at a low, so I got up to see what this little bird was. My first step, as always, was to take a couple pictures from a distance in case the little guy flew away. As I got closer, I realized I was looking at some sort of butterfly or moth. After a lot of zooming in, and many more photos, I was able to capture its beautiful stripes, clear wings, and the fascinating proboscis it used to suck nectar out of the flowers. It was so intent on feeding that I was able to get within a few metres of it, and I stayed there for almost half an hour.

The hummingbird moth can often be mistaken for its namesake, feeding on the same nectar the birds enjoy. PHOTO: Ann Brokelman
The hummingbird moth can often be mistaken for its namesake, feeding on the same nectar the birds enjoy.
PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

After sending the photos to my friend Walter, who I call the butterfly king, I realized I had seen a hummingbird clearwing moth (hemaris thysbe). Another sighting first for me, and in my own backyard!

Hummingbird clearwing moths have a wingspan of about 4-5.5 cm. Their wings are mostly clear, with reddish-brown borders and veins. The moth’s head and upper back is a mix of olive to tan, while the lower back and belly are a dark reddish-brown or black. The moth’s chest is a creamy colour or even white.

Hummingbird clearwing moths fly and feed during the day. Adults feed from flower nectar by hovering in front of the flower, just as a hummingbird would, hence the name. This is very different from other insects like bees, which land directly on the flower.

You can find these moths across southern Canada. The hummingbird clearwing moth is not endangered, but they aren’t commonly seen because most people aren’t looking for them, or mistake them for actual hummingbirds.

If you’d like to try to attract a clearwing moth to your yard, it is important to have native plants for them and other butterflies and moths. Ideal plants include bee balm, thistles, milkweed and lilac. Keep your eyes open this August before many of these unique moths start heading south for the winter.


Ann Brokelman is an avid birder and nature photographer   –

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