Conservation of the Honduran Emerald Hummingbird

January 29, 2013 by  
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There are more than 338 recorded hummingbird species worldwide, and many birding enthusiasts would agree that they are top of the list as the most interesting little birds of the nearly 10,000 bird species found around the world. With their brilliant iridescent coloring, wings flapping in a blur and ability to dart in all directions, or hover in one spot, hummingbirds are extremely entertaining to watch.

Interestingly, the color of a hummingbird’s gorget (throat feathers) is not a result of feather pigmentation, but of light refraction caused by the structure of the feathers. They are unable to hop or walk, but can move sideways while perching. The smallest species is the bee hummingbird, endemic to the main island of Cuba and weighing only 1.6-2 grams with a length of 5-6 cm. Up to 30 percent of the hummingbird’s weight is in the muscles used in flight – the pectoral muscles. With wings that beat between 50 and 200 flaps per second and an average heart rate of more than 1,200 beats per minute, a hummingbird uses an amazing amount of energy and must consume up to half of its weight in sugar daily. They harvest nectar from flowers with fringed, forked tongues that lick 10-15 times per second.

The rufous hummingbird migrates a distance of more than 3,000 miles from its Alaskan and Canadian nesting grounds to its Mexican winter habitat – the longest migration of all the hummingbird species. Some hummingbird species such as the rufous, calliope, broad-tailed, Anna’s, black-chinned and Costa’s are known to inter-breed and create hybrid species, making the birder’s identification task more challenging.

Following the completion of a species status review in 2012, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing that the Honduran Emerald hummingbird be listed as endangered. Endemic to five small valleys in the Central American country of Honduras, it’s estimated that the Honduran Emerald hummingbird population has decreased to fewer than 1,500. With loss of habitat being the primary cause of the decline in numbers, it is feared the decline will continue as land is cleared for establishing plantations and pastures for cattle. The good news for the brightly colored little bird is that the Honduran government is aware of the problem and has formed the Honduran Emerald Hummingbird Habitat Management Area which includes dry forest habitat suitable for the Honduran Emerald hummingbird and may very well turn the decline around.

HummerBird Celebration 2012

August 16, 2012 by  
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Keynote speaker Kevin Karlson will be joining in every field trip of this popular annual event. As an accomplished bird, wildlife photographer and professional tour leader who has published a host of articles for an assortment of magazines, journals and books, Kevin currently writes the Birder’s ID column for Wild Bird Magazine. His program features “Birds on the Wind: The Miracle of Migration”. For more information on this exciting event, please visit the The Rockport-Fulton Hummingbird Website.

Dates: 13-16 September 2012
Venue: Rockport-Fulton
State: Texas
Country: United States

Kern River Valley Hummingbird Celebration

May 21, 2012 by  
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This free unhosted event is held at the Kern River Preserve. Features of the event include bird walks, bird feeding workshops, t-shirt sales and an information booth. For more information visit the Audubon California Kern River Preserve Website.

Date: 11 August 2012
Time: 8am – 2pm
Venue: 18747 Highay 178
City: Weldon
State: California
Country: USA

Amazing Memories of Hummingbirds

March 27, 2012 by  
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Flitting from one flower to the next, their long, narrow beaks perfectly adapted to reach seemingly inaccessible nectar, hummingbirds hover with their wings a blur, their iridescent feathers shining in the sun. New research has revealed that these fascinating little creatures are even more amazing than previously thought. While they may be tiny, it has been discovered that the area of the hummingbird’s brain related to learning and memory – the hippocampus – is the largest in comparison to body size of any other bird, and up to five times larger than that found in seabirds, songbirds and woodpeckers. With the frantic activity of hummingbirds requiring relatively large quantities of nectar to fuel it, it makes sense that this huge memory is likely to be used in pinpointing where the prime locations of this sweet substance are.

It has been noted by researchers that hummingbirds retain this memory of where each feeder is located, both when it is at home and as it travels along its migration path. This ability to remember locations of food sources, and therefore plan their route with precision, referred to as episodic memory, was previously thought to have been restricted to humans. Not only do they remember where all the prime sources of nectar are, field studies reveal that they appear to be able to judge how long the flowers will take to produce more nectar after they have emptied them, and do not revisit those particular flowers until they have something worthwhile to offer.

In addition to field observation, the study included dissecting the brains of several species of wild hummingbirds, as well as related common swifts, using the data to compare with stored data relating to hippocampus development of 77 other species of birds. The conclusion of the dissection study was that the hippocampus of the humming bird is substantially larger than that of any other bird on record, relative to size. Scientists are of the opinion that, given the long distances hummingbirds travel, they cannot afford to waste time or energy searching for food sources, and the brain has compensated for this by developing the hippocampus and facilitating a large memory.

2011 HummerBird Celebration

May 4, 2011 by  
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With loads of activities for the entire family, the annual HummerBird Celebration offers families a great opportunity to introduce children to the joys of the outdoors and wildlife. James Currie of Nikon Birding Adventures TV-fame will be the keynote speaker at the event. Together with Mike Freiberg of Nikon, he will be filming the activities at the 2011 HummerBird Celebration.

Dates: 15-18 September 2011
Venue: Rockport-Fulton
State: Texas
Country: United States of America

Kern River Valley Hummingbird Celebration

March 17, 2011 by  
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The 13th Annual Kern River Valley Hummingbird Celebration is a delightful day for bird enthusiasts. The day will involve learning about hummingbird feeder maintenance, a bird walk and nature walk, hummingbird identification workshop, how to garden for hummingbirds and much more. The Hummingbird Celebration is hosted at the ideal time of year for those taking part to see about six species of hummingbird, including Black-chinned, Anna’s, Costa’s, Rufous, Allen’s and Calliope. Don’t forget to pack a picnic lunch!

Date: 6 August 2011
Time: 8am to 2pm
Location: 18747 Highway 178
City: Weldon
State: California
Country: United States of America

Tropical Birding in January (Part 1)

August 2, 2010 by  
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I stepped outside the terminal of Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, Missouri to a steel-grey sky spitting snow. I groaned, pulled the all-too-thin jacket tighter about my shoulders, and stiffened at the shock of the cold. As I walked to the parking lot the wind drove flakes horizontally across my field of view and stung my hands and face. Staring intently through a curtain of white, I could just discern the outline of a Red-tailed Hawk struggling in the storm at the far end of the tarmac. I instinctively raised my hand to point its position, but there was no one to show the hawk to, nor share the experience with, and I suddenly longed for the warmth of Mexico and fellow bird watchers. I had to stop and smile at the thought because it had not always been so.

I had just returned from my very first itinerated bird watching tour to Oaxaca, Mexico. Never before had I subscribed to such a guided trip, preferring to bird watch on my own, companion only to the wind and wildlife I sought. For most of my life I would not have considered paying an organization to chauffeur me around the countryside, even a foreign countryside, to locate habitat and identify birds to see….that was work I expected myself to do. But after forty-some-odd years of searching the vastness of places and time, I came to realize how isolated I really was. My conversations in the field were limited to “Pishing” or mimicked call notes, and the books I carried with me didn’t respond to queries or arguments. The 10 X 50 WB Swarovski binocular I held in my hands gave in-depth views, but couldn’t assist when I failed to find a native sparrow hidden among prairie grasses. And, no one was around when I chanced to be bitten by a snake, or fall from a tree, bury my car in a snowdrift or become lost. I had to rely on my own strength and ingenuity to overcome those kinds of inconveniences. I slowly began to think it might be more pleasurable to bird watch among other bird watchers. So after many hesitant years, I sighed, submitted to resolution, and signed up to be a member of a birding tour. As with all change, one must first be receptive to an idea before it can be considered, accepted, and finally, acted upon. I guess I was just too hardheaded to come around sooner.

The Tropical Birding tour was guided by Michael Retter, Editor and Technical Reviewer for the American Birding Association. Seven other bird watchers, ranging in experience from beginner to expert, joined me on the fast-paced, nine day tour. I knew none of the other members before the trip, but would know them all well by the time it ended. Sharing long days and long rides in a cramped tour van has a way of encouraging close relationships. The tour was a first for Tropical Birding and the Illinois Ornithological Society as well; never before had the two organizations joined ranks to offer a professional birding vacation to their members. All hotel accommodations, transportation and meals were handled and paid in advance by Tropical Birding, which lessened the individual planning involved, but didn’t diminish the excitement and stress of overzealous bird watching, as I was about to learn.

Our schedule was strict: I’d get up at 4:30 AM every morning, shower, and meet the others for a short breakfast by 6 AM. We left for the field directly afterwards, generally as the sun came up, and spent the rest of the day searching for birds. We would only stop long enough to travel to the next site or have lunch, which was usually eaten while seated on the ground near the tour van. Species actually sighted from the moving vehicle were considered “Bonus Birds.” It took my very sharp eyesight and Michael’s excellent hearing to record Roadside, Harris’ and Grey Hawks, flocks of Groove-billed Anis, Orange-billed Nightingale Thrushes, Mangrove Swallows, Red-crowned Ant Tanagers and Mexican Chickadees from the window as we sped past. Not even a rest stop at a local gas station went without scrutiny, as Blue-grey Tanagers and Yellow-winged Tanagers were spotted perching in a tree near the parking lot as we waited in line to use the bathroom!

We did not return to the hotel following our pilgrimages until well after sundown. Once there, we would review daily checklists, return to our respective rooms to shower and/or change clothes, then re-group for a long, late dinner. Discussions at the dinner table consisted of birds actually seen and those we wished to, travel plans, and other topics of nature. A professor of botany from the University of Illinois was among our group and identified the flora of the many habitats we hiked through. It was not enough for Michael to call out a Blue-hooded Euphonia perched in some tree, or a Bumblebee Hummingbird feeding from a flower….the botanist would actually give us the Latin name of the tree or flower in association with the bird! Another birder started the popular, late night tradition of “My Favorite Bird of the Day”, which required each one of us to specify a single bird, out of the hundreds seen each day, and explain why it was the most special. Each bird watcher, of course, had a favorite for the day, but it was not always the same bird for each person or for the same reasons. It was great fun to hear the individual justifications for a favorite. One tour group member suffered from a poor set of binoculars, and even poorer hearing, and for the entirety of the trip was trumped on species by Michael and me. On the very last day of the trip this particular birder stated his favorite was a Rufous-crowned Sparrow…simply because it was one he had seen that I had not! Our days typically lasted sixteen hours or more, but the personal anecdotes, scientific study and camaraderie quickly made the tour enjoyable for me.

The week-long tour was actually split into two separate vacation sites: the first being at the Casa Arnel Hotel, located not far from the Oaxaca Airport; and the second being at the Hotel Villa Esmeralda near Tuxtepec, which was across the Continental Divide on the Eastern side of the state. While at Casa Arnel, we birded local farm fields, parks, forested hills above town, Zapotec ruins and the courtyard of the hotel. Bird watching at the hotel was some of the most relaxing of the entire trip, as we could sit in the shade, sipping Corona beer, and enjoy such species as Clay-colored and Rufous-backed Robins, Dusky Hummingbirds, and Bullock’s Orioles right from the terrace. Out in the field Michael routinely used recorded tapes to call in birds he hoped for us to see. He had pre-designated sites, with inventoried species that he would take us to. He knew which birds had previously been sighted there and would systematically go down a playlist of songs to lure them within view, one species at a time. Once, quite by accident, Michael played a series of recordings that had a pygmy-owl hooting in the background and called in more birds at that one time than any other! Lesser Greenlets, Wilson’s Warblers, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, Stripe-tailed Hummingbirds, Greyish Saltators, Black-faced Grosbeaks, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a Long-tailed Hermit Hummingbird darted angrily all around us, scolding the invisible villain within their midst.

Daily field trips around Western Oaxaca yielded Tufted and Vermilion Flycatchers, Ladder-backed and Grey-breasted Woodpeckers, Ocellated Thrasher, Red-billed Pigeons, Plain Chachalacas, flocks of Grey Silky Flycatchers, Yellow-throated and Scrub Euphonias. High in the pine-oak mountains overlooking town, the haunting and fluid notes of Brown-backed Solitaires followed in our footsteps. In the early morning light, with apparitions of mist rising off the valleys, their songs gave the forest an almost other-worldly feel. As we hiked the dusty trails in single-file, my tour mates would regularly trade positions to give other members at the back a better chance of seeing birds up front. It was a very polite way of wildlife watching and I was surprised by the etiquette. After the fog broke and the sunlight strengthened, we all caught glimpses of Red Warblers, Grey-barred Wrens, Red-faced and Crescent-chested Warblers, Dwarf Jays, Slate-throated Whitestarts, Red-headed Tanagers and a very curious-looking specimen of Hairy Woodpecker. It looked so differently than the Hairy Woodpeckers of North America that I called Michael over to see it, thinking I had discovered a new species…but it was only a woodpecker I had seen many times before, sporting different colors. Unbeknownst to me, Hairy Woodpeckers of Mexico have dirty-brown breast feathers and less white in the wings.

One bird that we did not see was the famed Oaxaca Sparrow, endemic to the valley that shares its name, after calling upon it nearly every day. Perhaps the Oaxaca Sparrow was on vacation, just as we were, and tired of engaging foreign visitors in the dry, waist-high grasses of its home? We all shared in the disappointment and, as frustrating as it was to not see the bird, it only gives me a better reason to go back to Mexico and look harder.

A slow day spent at the Monte Alban archaeological site to view popular Zapotec Indian ruins was a welcome change to our hectic schedule. The ruins are immense, and their imposing outline can easily be seen from the road outside Casa Arnel, following the mountain ridge of the horizon. They are spectacular, not only in their architecture, history and breath-taking views, but also in the bird species sighted there. Boucard’s Wrens, Ash-throated Flycatchers, White-throated Towhees, Rufous-capped Warblers, Black-vented Orioles, White-bellied Emerald and Berylline Hummingbirds, and a Blue Mockingbird flitted among the ruins and caught our eye. Those are the kind of tourist attractions I like to frequent…ones where you can sight-see, shop for souvenirs, and look for new birds all at the same time.

Tropical Birding in January (Part 2)

Article written by Stacia A. Novy

Accompanying photograph of Grey-silky Flycatchers credited to Michael Retter

Birds of the World

February 9, 2009 by  
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Around the world, birds are amongst the most loved creatures due to their variety, beauty and amazing vocal abilities. They are also popular due to their accessibility, that is, even if you live in a built up city you will still be able to see wild birds.

If you are going to be traveling, you may find it useful to purchase a handbook of the birds of the world. Some of the most fascinating bird species live in Australia and New Zealand. The emu is the second largest bird in the world (the largest is the ostrich). These flightless birds are nomadic, feeding on grains, fruits, insects and whatever else is available as they travel. They are able to run at speeds of 50 km/h. Folklore states that Emus have the ability to detect rain from hundreds of miles away.

The kiwi bird of New Zealand differs from other birds of the world in that its nostrils are at the end of the beak and proportionally it lays the largest egg in relation to its body. It can be compared to a chicken laying an ostrich egg.

The world’s smallest bird is the bee hummingbird from Cuba. It is only 2.5 inches in length (6.2 cm) and weighs a mere 0.06 oz (1.6 g).

On the other hand the largest bird in the world is the ostrich. The ostrich is indigenous in Africa, however it is farmed throughout the world. It reaches 9 ft (2.7 m) in height and its eggs weigh in at about 3 pounds (1400 g).

Another interesting creature in the avian world is the Gentoo penguin. This flightless bird is the fastest swimming bird in the world. Their primary colony is on the Falklands.

Certain of world’s birds are endemic. This means that they are found only in that specific area. For example the helmeted woodpecker, black-fronted piping-guan and russet winged spadebill are endemic to the Atlantic forest. Endemic to the Nicobar Islands of India are the Nicobar sparrowhawk, Andaman cuckoo-dove, white-headed starling and Nicobar Megapode.

From the world’s smallest bird to the largest, from the fastest in air to the fastest in water, they are all fascinating and worthy of our attention.

Wild Birds

February 9, 2009 by  
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Wild birds are found throughout the world. They vary in shapes and sizes from tiny finches to the majestic condors of America.

Each species of wild bird is adapted to thrive in its own evironment. For example, hummingbirds are adapted to feed on nectar from tubular flowers, while eagles are adapted to prey on animals using their strong talons. Ducks are adapted to swimming and vultures are adapted for flight by using thermals.

Wild birds also differ in how they nest. Weaver birds will create intricately woven nests that hang from the branches of trees. Certain birds, such as plovers, will build nests on the ground. Doves will often build very messy nests. Wild birds need to protect their nests and themselves from predators. They will do this by swooping down upon predators whilst issuing alarm calls to other birds in the area. Wild birds will sometimes form mob attacks on predators.

When it comes to breeding season it is important for male birds to establish and maintain their territory. This is done by means of song. Males will also attack intruders into their territory. Wild birds have many strange and wonderful mating displays. Male birds of paradise will perform an intricate dance to attract females. They will sway and bend or stand upright, and certain species will even hang upside down.

It is likely that the wild birds you will see will be those in your garden. To attract more wild birds to your backyard, you may want to provide a variety of feeders and types of food, some shelter and a bird bath.

In increasing number of people are joining the ranks of enthusiastic birders and taking pleasure in viewing wild birds. Perhaps you too would enjoy this popular activity.

Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Known for being the smallest of all birds, the Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) weighs only about 1.8 grams and is about 5 cm (2 inches) in length. The male of the species is smaller than the female and it is only found on Isle of Pines and in Cuba. Unfortunately this pretty little bird is classified as Threatened due to diminishing numbers in more recent years. The decrease in Bee Hummingbird populations have been brought about mainly by loss of habitat due to crop farming, timber felling and livestock farming. These forms of human encroachment have negatively impacted on the subtropical and tropical forests and swamplands that sustain the Bee Hummingbird, causing the bird to be confined to limited suitable habitats.

The male Bee Hummingbird has spectacular coloring. His entire head and throat are an iridescent red-pink and he has elongated lateral plumes. The top of his body is bluish in color while his underparts are a grayish white. These colors only become evident during breeding season and are shed shortly afterward. Non-breeding males have blue spots on their wingtips and black tail tips which helps to differentiate them from the females which have white spots on their tail feathers. The female is less spectacularly colored, having only a blue-green back and grayish underbelly and generally looking somewhat disheveled.

Despite its diminutive size, the Bee Hummingbird is an amazing creature. In flight it beats its wings as many as 80 times per a second. What’s more, when it is involved in a courtship display a male hummingbirds wings may beat as many as 200 times per a second! In order to pump blood around its tiny little body, the Bee Hummingbird’s heart rate is spectacularly fast. In fact, it is the second fastest of all animals. It has less feathers than all other birds, as well as the highest body temperature of all birds, eating up to half its body mass in one day. It also drinks plenty of water – consuming roughly eight times its body mass on a daily basis. The Bee Hummingbird eats mainly nectar and insects, nesting in woodlands, shrubbery and gardens.

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