Saturday, September 7, 2013


Anna's Hummingbird
Rufous HB
After doing crows and Steller's jays for their birding projects, the Shaw group has decided to do something a bit more "Community" minded, getting other islanders involved in their project.  For the next study they would like to target hummingbirds. More on their proposed plan at a later date.

HUMMINGBIRDS  comprise the family Trochilidae. They are among the smallest of birds, most species measuring in the 3–5 inch range. The smallest extant bird species is a hummingbird, the 5-cm Bee Hummingbird. Hummingbirds hover in mid-air by rapidly flapping their wings 12–80 times per second (depending on the species). They are known as hummingbirds because of the humming sound created by their beating wings, which sometimes sounds like bees or other insects. 

To conserve energy while they sleep or when food is scarce, they have the ability to go into a hibernation-like state (torpor) where their metabolic rate is slowed to 1/15th of its normal rate. When the nights get colder, their body temperature can drop significantly, slowing down their heart and breathing rate, thus burning much less energy overnight. As the day heats up, the hummingbird’s body temperature will come back up and they resume their normal activity. Hummers are also the only group of birds with the ability to fly backward. They can fly at speeds exceeding 34 mph. Individuals from some species of hummingbirds weigh less than a penny.  

Hummingbirds are restricted to the Americas from southern Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, including the Caribbean. The majority of species occur in tropical and subtropical Central and South America. There are 328 species in the New World and only 20 grace the United States, most of them found in the Southwest.  
Green-tailed trainbearer- Peru
Of this vast number I have so far seen 52 species: 9 in the USA, 18 in Peru and 24 in Costa Rica.  For the most part one has to wait until they come to you. In CR  I was able to sit on a deck while a dozen or more species came to me all day long, then as the temperature dropped, I was able to watch them rest deep in trees or nestle in orchid greens where they spent the night.

Rainbow starfrontlet - Peru

In Washington state we have only two species west of the Cascade Mountains: the ever present Anna’s and the Rufous  which usually arrives by May and departs for warmer, flower-producing weather by October. Males arrive 2 to 3 weeks earlier than females. Most hummingbirds of the U.S. and Canada migrate south in fall to spend the winter in northern Mexico or Central America. 

Buff-bellied HB

At my brother's in California I have seen the gorgeous Costa's HB and in Texas in February I was able to see the Buff-bellied HB.

In Peru, it is hard to say which was my favorite. Most were found in the mountains or cloud forests. They were like tiny jewels as they flitted from plant to plant, sometimes as close as a few inches from our faces. Without my friend and guide I may not have been able to identify them.

In Costa Rica the very rare Snow-cap was daily under my window feeding on its favorite bush. One day a photographer came from afar to take pictures but alas my friend never showed up. The poor man left after two frustrating hours and no sooner had his car turned the corner then that bird appeared.  While in the north dry coast of CR, we happened upon a guide who showed us the Blue-tailed HB which is not native to CR and had only been sighted once before.

Costa's HB
The Rufous Hummingbird is one of several species that breed in North America and are wintering in increasing numbers in the warm subtropical southeastern United States, rather than in tropical Mexico. The Rufous Hummingbird nests farther north than any other species and must tolerate occasional temperatures below freezing on its breeding grounds. This cold hardiness enables it to survive brief temperatures below freezing, provided that adequate shelter and feeders are available.

The male's jewel-like throat feathers show brilliant, iridescent oranges, reds or violets when light strikes them just right. This throat patch is called a "gorget"  after a piece of medieval armor that protected the throat. Females lack the gorget and have mostly green backs and light bellies.

Green thorntail- Costa Rica
Like other birds, hummingbirds communicate via visual displays. Hummingbirds are very territorial and have been observed chasing each other and even larger birds such as hawks away from their territories.

The earth's changing temperatures due to climate change are affecting hummingbird migratory patterns, causing different species to be spotted in locations well outside their normal range, where it may be harder for them to find food. Also as more and more people feed the HB  they tend to stay year round, in warmer climes.

 HB are considered to be symbols of peace, love and happiness. Ancient peoples held them sacred for their tireless energy and anxiety.  In the Andes, the HB symbolizes the RESURRECTION, as it seems to die on cold nights, but comes back to life with the sunrise.
Fiery-throated HB- Costa Rica

In Native American culture, a hummingbird symbolizes timeless joy and the Nectar of Life. It's a symbol for accomplishing that which seems impossible and will teach you how to find the miracle of joyful living from your own life circumstances.

Everyone loves hummers. Anyone who has fed them on a regular basis knows they are unafraid to approach us and enter into relationship with us. These seemingly tiny and delicate birds are hardy and resilient, teaching us the miracles of God. One of the reasons I like to teach others about birds is summed up in the words of  the Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum:

            "In the end, we will conserve only what we love.
            We will love only what we understand.
            We will understand only what we are taught."

In April of next year I hope to add more HB to my list as I travel to the Mountains of SE Arizona with our Oblates. Think maybe these tiny jewels might be a good project for our Shaw 4- H kids next year?

Very rare Snowcap- CR
White-necked jacobin- CR
Another very rare- Blue-tailed HB- CR

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