Throw Back Thursday: I thought we knew Hummingbirds by Tom Wood
I thought we knew hummingbirds. Living in the self-proclaimed ‘hummingbird capital of America”, authoring numerous articles and a couple of books on hummingbirds and more than twenty years of research on these little jewels in Arizona had us pretty comfortable with hummingbirds. We love introducing others to these small wonders and watching the looks on birders’ faces as they watch a feeder with six or eight species visiting. For someone from the eastern U.S. where often the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only option or, better yet, foreign visitors that had never seen these New World birds it can be a jaw-dropping experience. Recently we had an opportunity to have our own jaw-dropping experience at feeders in the real hummingbird capital, Ecuador.
You don’t need to look in the field guide (a huge tome), to know these are some amazing birds – just look at their names: Tourmaline Sunangel, Booted Racket-tail, Glittering Emerald, Shining Sunbeam, Golden-tailed Sapphire. I could go on and on. Over 140 species of hummingbirds are found in a country the size of Colorado. Some, like the improbable Sword-billed Hummingbird or Wire-crested Thorntail, look like they were designed by Dr. Seuss. Our North American hummingbirds, with a few exceptions, only hint at the extravagance the iridescence of hummingbirds can achieve.
Hummingbirds are tropical creatures and, in Ecuador on the slopes of the Andes, they reach their pinnacle. We marvel at the migrations of “our” hummingbirds but these tropical hummingbirds have no need to make a long migration. Everything they need: flowers, insects and shelter, are available year-around. We visited several lodges at a variety of elevations and drainages and each valley or mountain ridge seems to have its own mix of species. Watching the feeders at one of the mountain lodges was almost a religious experience for the hummingbird aficionado.
This has been a banner year for hummingbirds in southeastern Arizona. Or perhaps I should say this has been a good year for hummingbird watchers. Fires and drought have impacted the wildflowers and insects that hummers depend, on causing birds migrating to Mexico to frequent new areas and feeders in record numbers. They are resourceful migrants and, by next year when they return, hopefully conditions will have improved. As we watch them go and begin the winter task of compiling and analyzing data from our banding study, forgive me if my mind wanders to Ecuador.