Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Calliope in My Yard

Video clip from YouTube by: rleltzroth

Well, it seems I have sprained my ankle for the first time in my life. Not badly; I can walk but it is sore, a bit swollen and a little bruised. I had planned to work in my yard but think I should be off the foot; using a shovel is out of the question. Perhaps I should watch all the cooking shows I’ve missed this summer. Better yet, listen to the wonderful weekend stories on NPR…I love that; especially while working at my computer. Listening while writing somehow seems less wasteful…multitasking makes it better.

And, I’m watching birds in my yard. Guess what I found; the Calliopes are here! Yup, I even got pictures, bad as they are. After the first one, I realized hosing the thick cotton from surrounding cottonwoods off the windows is not enough; I needed to actually clean the windows, too. Still, clean or no, my pictures out the lovely, new kitchen window will never be great. The window is draped with black, nylon netting. The netting has been an incredible solution to the issue of ‘bird strikes’; where a bird follows the reflection in glass to its demise. It’s a heartbreaking sound when it happens and it was happening with gruesome regularity last year. I got a sample of the film offered by a company interested in its use for both advertising and protecting birds in high-rise buildings…but it made my bright, sunny kitchen quite dark, in my opinion. I couldn’t handle it. While the netting is ugly when I actually notice it, most of the time I do not; I look right past it. Unfortunately, the camera likes to focus on it… I should be outside taking pictures anyway, is how I look at things. Today I have an excuse, but let’s talk about Hummingbirds!

Last May an anonymous someone commented on a photo I posted here. I guess this person never wanted to be known, but was insistent I had a rare bird visiting. I contacted some others who indeed agreed with this mysterious person, so I submitted the photo to the Rare Bird Alert. I have no idea if the bird was or was not the Calliope Hummingbird Anonymous believed it to be, but ever since I learned I might at least see one later in the summer I’ve been on the lookout. Today I finally saw a male! I am ecstatic… this is another, confirmable first for me!

The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird in Canada and America; about one third the size of our smallest warbler. According to the Audubon website this little bird is also the smallest long-distance avian migrant in the world! The average male weighs only two and a half grams and has a metallic green back and crown, white gorget with purple rays which spread wider from chin to upper chest. These may be erected to show a "whiskered" effect; the tail is dark. Adult females also have the green back and crown, but with a white throat with dark streaks, buff or pale cinnamon wash on the sides or flanks and dark tail with white-tipped outside edges. She is quite similar to the Rufus female, though much more pale and quite a bit smaller. Field markers include that the relatively short tail does not extend past wings at rest (the only hummingbird which exhibits this) …and that the bill is relatively short, as well.

Watch a really cool video of a Calliope Hummer from the Smithsonian National Zoological Park website.

This little 3” bird, which likes the mountains and is sometimes found as high as 11,000 feet, has been observed in the US coast to coast but is generally found in the northwestern US and into Canada, where it breeds. It winters in west-central Mexico. Like other migrating birds, these little pollinators have shown decreases across the continent. Little information is available on the overall issues that are causing these declines but potential threats include habitat loss, increased use of pesticides, and replacement of native plants by invasive plants. The restricted wintering range of Calliope Hummingbird makes the species more susceptible to natural disasters, diseases, or land use changes that could wipe out significant portions of the population. I look forward to the continued work of those interested in helping migratory birds and keeping corridors of wilderness open for the continued sustainability of our flora and fauna. What you can do. An Important Bird Area for this hummingbird is The Upper McCloud River of Northern California…a special childhood place where my family vacationed and I learned to camp and fish. Keeping this area safe would surely benefit even more than hummingbirds, but it is especially important to these.

The female, typical of all hummingbirds, builds her own nest, incubates eggs and rears young lone. The Calliopes prefer to build nests on overhanging branches, often over a creek or body of water and sometimes in a conifer where a pinecone joins a branch. The nest, about the size of one egg compartment in an egg-carton, is woven with plant fiber, hair and spider webs and decorated with moss and bits of leaves. They are somewhat elastic, and stretch as the nestlings grow. Generally two eggs, the size of coffee beans, are laid; hatching, after about 15-16 days, into chicks the size of fat raisons…naked but for long, hair-like, downy feathers along the back; eyes shut, bill pink and short. The young are fed tiny spiders and other insects for 18-21 days before they are independent. It has been discovered that rescued babies fed only sugar-water for more than about 72 hours, will develop deformities. Do see these tiny hatchlings at a stunning, photographer/storyteller’s site, whose work I adore: Nature Remains.

A pretty good Q&A regarding Hummingbirds can be found here…including the idea to fill larger feeders only as full, early in the season, as birds are apt to finish in 3-4 days. Later in the summer, when more birds are feeding, feeders can be filled fuller due to the larger numbers, but may need to be changed more often if the weather is hot. In ninety degrees or higher, it may be necessary to change nectar every day or so to prevent fermentation, mold or cloudiness; all of which is seriously detrimental to these tiny birds. It is also known that clear sugar solution in a red container is far more healthy than artificial foods with red dye and that yellow on the feeder attracts bees and hornets.

There are some who feel feeding birds will upset their migratory patterns; but this is not true. In fact with weather changing, feeding grounds disappearing and wetlands shrinking, birds face starvation when they arrive too early or too late to find their normal diet of insects, seeds, plankton or fish. According to at least one source, some birds have stopped migrating altogether; leaving them at risk when the next cold winter does strike. But backyard feeding will not, according to the US Wildlife Service (and others; just Google the question), make birds ‘lazy’. Personally, with the wild places disappearing and native plants giving way to acres of lawn, I cannot help but think feeding birds and planting easy-care, low-water, native landscaping would be anything but an appreciated oasis to any bird, anytime. And to me, it brings nothing but delight and awe.

References include:


Bosque Bill said...

Very cool, congratulations! I was so excited when a pair came to my feeder last year and hung around for a couple of weeks. (The male was easy to notice, it took me a while to be able to readily identify the female.) I'm hoping they show up again this year.

Beverly said...

Aw, thanks! Did you happen to watch the Smithsonian vid?

It is way cool in that it shows the bird's ability to raise those 'rays of color' that are described as a whiskered effect...which I have yet to see.

Have you seen that? It's a rather 'shaggy' look; not unlike a mask might be.

Someday I'll get a decent lens or scope for my camera. Wait till you see what I got a couple shots of this morning...albeit not very good; someday I'll get a decent lens or scope for my camera. Course, I'm thinking I should find some photography lessons, too...I really do not know how to force my camera past 'Auto'.

And thank you again for the links to that bird-sound site; it's GREAT!

Bosque Bill said...

Now I've watched it. Seems more like a beard, than whiskers, to me :o) The bird in my yard did not have as large a gorget as the one in that video, though I did see a little of the lifting effect.

By the way, you can hear an Olive-sided Flycatcher calling in the background of the recording. That species typically is at the tops of the trees and is hard to spot, but easy to hear.

Beverly said...

Oh, I would agree: beard; it was others who used 'whiskering'... perhaps "a shaggy-beard look with long whiskering"? LOL Or perhaps it is a 'you say tomatoe, I say tomato' thang! [grinz]

Heyyyyyyyy... are you trying to give away my next post? I'm still trying to rest my ankle (that's my excuse, anyway), so have some time to look for the somewhat plantiff, rather high-pitched sound I've heard two mornings running now. It's almost like a long, raspy "Pleaseeeeeeeeee"...Oh, I would agree: beard; it was others who used 'whiskering'... perhaps "a shaggy-beard look with long whiskering"? LOL Or perhaps it is a 'you say tomatoe, I say tomato' thang! [grinz]

Heyyyyyyyy... are you trying to give away my next post? I'm still trying to rest my ankle (that's my excuse, anyway), so have some time to look for the somewhat plaintive, rather high-pitched sound I've heard two mornings running now. It's almost like a long, raspy "Pleaseeeeeeeeee", repeated over and over and over with perhaps a couple seconds between calls. Of course, I don't hear the 'P' or the 'L' (how IS it folks can spell such a sound?)...but it is plaintive. I’m thinking perhaps it’s that flycatching creature who visits…