Monday, March 9, 2020

Hummingbirds of Arizona: White-eared Hummingbird

White-eared Hummingbird

Size: The White-eared Hummingbird is a small hummer of about 3 3/4 inches.The red bill is slighty shorter than the Broad-billed Hummingbird.

Identifying Characteristics: The white supercilium is always present in both male and female and sets it apart from the other hummers. Other than that it is very similar to the Broad-billed, with red bill, and dark body (although not quite as dark - more green than blue).

Habitat: Pine-oak woodlands and riparian canyons of higher elevation. Rarely found below the oak belt.

Range: Extreme southern tip of Arizona. Abundant in the Sierra Madre of Mexico.

Seasons: April through September.

Where To Find: Probably the most reliable spot is Miller Canyon. Secondary spots are Ramsey and Carr Canyon in the Huachuca's. You might also find it along the Santa Cruz River near Rio Rico Ponds. Further away, Portal is good possibility. 

Comments: This is another rare hummingbird that doesn't come to the US in big numbers. Maybe two or three pairs at the Miller Canyon feeders. 

Although, it is frequently seen it doesn't hang around the feeders all day. It might require a 20 to 30 minute wait to see one. They are strikingly beautiful so it is certainly worth the wait.

The White-eared is also a very assertive hummer with the males aggressively guarding nectar sources.

They will also hover near their food source providing wonderful mid-air photos.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Hummingbirds of Arizona: Violet-crowned Hummingbird

Violet-crowned Hummingbird

Size: The Violet-crowned Hummingbird is a medium-large hummer at 4 1/2 inches with a fairly long one inch red and straight bill.

Identifying Characteristics: This one is easy! It is the only hummingbird with a pure white chin, throat, breast, and belly.  The red bill also makes this one stand out, especially since the other red-billed hummers like the Broad-billed and White-eared are much darker all over.

Habitat: Canyons and riparian woodlands with Sycamores, near water.

Range: Mexico with occasional sightings in extreme Southern Arizona.

Seasons: April through September.

Where To Find: Paton House in Patagonia is the easiest and most reliable place to find the Violet Crowned Hummingbird. Some may stay year round.

Although it can be found occasionally at Kubo Cabins or the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca's, or Cave Creek Ranch in Portal, with some patience it is a sure thing at Paton's in Patagonia.

Comments:  It is a fairly aggressive hummer and usually won't share a feeder with others. Others will typically stay out of its way.

It doesn't "hang out" at feeders. You may need to wait 30 minutes or so.

It hunts insects as a flycatcher would. It bathes by "slam-dunking" i.e. diving from a height and penetrating the water with force.

It has been observed mating in flight. Nests are typically very high and in Sycamore trees, so difficult to find.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Hummingbirds of Arizona: Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Male Rufous defending his territory

Young Male Rufous

Female Rufous showing her central patch

Size: The Rufous is a small hummingbird about 3 1/2 inches with a small and straight bill.

Identifying Characteristics: It's orange. Okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration. The male has an orange crown, back and belly, with a bright orange gorget as seen in the first photo.  In the second photo the male's gorget actually looks purple. And at still other times it will appear black. These "changes" are the result of "structural colorations" of the feathers caused by light as it is refracted by the proteins in the iridescent feathers.  The female is more buff color but has a distinctive small orange central patch as seen in the third photo. The female also has a green back as seen in the fourth photo.

Habitat: Mountain meadows, forest edges; and during migration garden feeders.

Range: Southeastern Alaska to Oregon, migrating through the other western states to Mexico for the winter.

Seasons: Since Rufous migrates through Arizona, it is typically found in March and April, and then again August and September.

Where To Find: Ash Canyon, Madera Canyon,  and WOW Arizona are probably the most reliable spots. Portal, Miller Canyon, and Ramsey Canyon good second choices. They are more often found in mid-level mountainous areas.

Comments: These little guys (and gals) are ferocious. They will choose a feeder and "claim" it, chasing off any would be intruder even though satiated. Males will open their gorgets as a sign of strength or power, females will wave their tail at opponents. Being orange -- rufous in color makes them stand out, and are really quite beautiful to see and watch.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Hummingbirds of Arizona: Plain-capped Starthroat

Plain-capped Starthroat

Plain-capped Starthroat at Paton's

Plain-capped Starthroat in Madera Canyon

Size: The Plain-capped Starthroat is a large hummingbird of about 5 inches, with the longest bill of any hummingbird in the US (up to 37 mm - 1.5 inches).

Identifying Characteristics: What sets it apart, other than its size is lightning bolt stripes on the side of the head and very pale, almost white breast and belly. The male has a red throat, the female has a purple central patch (as seen in the second photo). It is the only North American hummingbird with white on its back (see second photo above).

Habitat: Unlike the large Blue-throated and Magnificent it is found at lower elevations near century plants (as well as lower mountain elevations).

Range: Western Mexico with occasional sightings in Southern Arizona.

Seasons: June, July, August in Arizona.

Where to Find: No location is a sure thing.  It has been seen at Paton's in Patagonia, Montosa and Madera Canyons in the Santa Rita's, Ash Canyon in the Huachucas, French Joe Canyon in the Whetstone Mountains, Agua Caliente, (about four miles from us), Sabino Canyon in the Catalina Mountains, and Portal in the Chiricahua's. 

Comments: This is a very rare hummingbird to the US. (It's not listed in many of the US Field Guides). When it is spotted usually the "birding community" becomes aware and people head out with binoculars and cameras to that spot. You'll need to keep checking the Audubon's Rare Bird Alert and Birding News to know where to look -- provided one has been found. They are not abundant, and may only come to a feeder once every couple of hours.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Hummingbirds of Arizona: Magnificent (Rivoli's) Hummingbird

Magnificent or Rivoli's Hummingbird

Taxonomic authorities have made some changes in the name of this hummingbird over the past few years. Once referred to as the Rivoli's Hummingbird, then changed to the more commonly used Magnificent Hummingbird. It was then determined that the Magnificent had two subspecies, a northern one of Mexico and Arizona and a larger one of Costa Rica and Panama. The northern one is  now referred to as  Rivoli's and the southern one as Talamanca.

There is an interesting article on the coloration of bird feathers in the Cornell Lab Bird Academy. 

"The colors in the feathers of a bird are formed in two different ways, from either pigments or from light refraction caused by the structure of the feather. In some cases feather colors are the result of a combination of pigment and structural colors. The greens of some parrots are the result of yellow pigments overlying the blue-reflecting characteristic of the feathers."

There are three types of Pigmentation: Carotenoids, Melanins, and Porphyrins. These are substances in birds (plants, animals) that are in fact a specific color. A Cardinal for example has red pigmentation.

Structural Colorations are caused by light as it is refracted by the proteins in the feathers. The two types are Iridescent Feathers and Non-Iridescent Feathers. The most obvious example of Iridescent Feathers is the gorget of hummingbirds. And the most obvious example in hummingbirds on our property is Anna's Hummingbird whereby the crown and gorget can look "black" until the sunlight hits them and the red becomes striking. This is obviously very different than a cardinal which looks red regardless of how the sunlight hits its feathers. 

In the Magnificent/Rivoli's Hummingbird notice the purple crown in the first photo, which appears black in the second photo; and the bright green gorget in the first two photos that appears black in the third and fourth photos.

Female Magnificent

Size: At 5 1/4 inches the Magnificent (along with the Blue-throated) is the largest of the North American hummingbirds. Its wings are shorter than the Blue-throated, but bill much longer.

Identifying Characteristics: The male is dark green with iridescent purple forehead and crown, and more of a lighter metallic green gorget. Yet, in a different light, those bright colors disappear.  The female is more dark gray on it's breast, belly, and flanks.

Habitat: Riparian woodland, pine-oak forests, and mixed conifer forests, typically at a higher elevation, but can be found in wooded foothills near water.

Range: Extreme southeastern Arizona and into Mexico.

Seasons: March through October in Arizona Madrean Sky Island Mountains. 

Where To Find: It is a sure find in Miller Canyon, though not abundant.  They are often  seen at Ash Canyon, Ramsey Canyon, Madera Canyon, and Portal feeders, but always seen them at Miller. They are not common to the lower elevations such as The Azure Gate, though we did have one show up late one afternoon.

Comments: These large hummers are fun to watch. They are constantly chasing each other around. They tend to drink from the feeders furthest away, but with patience can be photographed on a tree branch much closer. Usually, there are a half dozen or more pairs hanging around Miller Canyon.