Archive for the ‘Hummingbirds’ Category

Five Rare South American Bird Species Given U.S. Endangered Status

December 2, 2013

From The Center for Biological Diversity |

SAN FRANCISCO— In response to decades-old listing petitions and a series of lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated four rare bird species from Colombia (the blue-billed curassow, brown-banded antpitta, Cauca guan and gorgeted wood-quail) and one Ecuadorian hummingbird species (Esmeraldas woodstar) as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“Protecting these vulnerable tropical birds under the Endangered Species Act will give them a better shot at survival and attract attention to the urgent need to protect their remaining forest homes,” said Jeff Miller, a Center conservation advocate. “Tropical deforestation is threatening to drive so many of the planet’s most amazing birds extinct.”

A campaign to protect scores of the world’s most imperiled bird species began in the 1980s, when worried ornithologists began submitting Endangered Species Act petitions to protect more than 70 international bird species. Although the Fish and Wildlife Service had determined by 1994 that most of the species warranted protection, the agency never responded to the listing petitions. After a quarter-century, legal protection had been provided for only a handful of the species, and at least five of the 73 had gone extinct.

The Center filed lawsuits in 2004 and 2006 that jump-started the foreign-species listing program. The Service then determined that more than 50 of the bird species warranted listing. So far 36 of the bird species have been protected as endangered or threatened.
Listing international species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act restricts buying and selling of the imperiled animals, increases conservation funding and attention, and can add scrutiny to development projects proposed by U.S. government and multilateral lending agencies — such as the World Bank — that would destroy or alter habitat.


The blue-billed curassow (Crax alberti) is the world’s most threatened species of cracid, a family of beautiful crested game birds found primarily in Latin America. This large, mainly black bird is the only curassow with distinctive blue bill ornaments, earning the species its common name. Very little is known about this bird in the wild due to its rarity; while at one time its range stretched 41,000 square miles, it’s now restricted to only a fragmented, 806-square-mile forest area in northern Colombia. It has been severely hurt by a rapid increase in deforestation over the past decade through agriculture and other industries. About 98 percent to 99 percent of this amazing bird’s habitat has been lost, and there are thought to be fewer than 2,000 individuals left.

The brown-banded antpitta (Grallaria milleri), like other antpittas, is a secretive bird with a low population density and high habitat specificity — a nearly flightless, ground-dwelling species found only in the Neotropics. This antpitta, endemic to the central Andes of Colombia, has been severely harmed by a rapid increase in deforestation due to agriculture and human encroachment. In 1992 researchers considered it locally extinct, if not extinct throughout its range. Although it was rediscovered in 1994, there are thought to be only a few hundred brown-banded antpittas remaining in four isolated populations.

The Cauca guan (Penelope perspicax) is a rare forest bird found only on the west slopes of the west and central Andes of Colombia. This large, mainly brown-gray bird is similar in appearance to a turkey, thanks to its thin neck and small head with a dewlap — a flap of skin that hangs beneath the lower jaw or neck. The Cauca guan requires large territories for foraging, but today it’s relegated mainly to small patches of forest, since most of its preferred dry-forest habitat has been eliminated and is highly fragmented. The species’ range has been reduced by 95 percent since the 1950s as a result of agriculture production and human settlement. Historically, this magnificent bird was considered common; now it is thought that only 250 to 1,000 Cauca guans are in existence.

The gorgeted wood-quail (Odontophorus strophium) is a small, secretive, ground-dwelling bird endemic to montane subtropical forests on the west slope of the eastern Andes, in the Magdalena Valley of Colombia. The species has declined due to deforestation from logging, conversion of forests to agriculture, coca growing and drug eradication efforts using herbicides. Fewer than 500 of these ‘‘forest partridges’’ are now believed to remain, in fragmented habitats.

The Esmeraldas woodstar (Chaetocercus berlepschi) is a tiny, mysterious hummingbird with striking violet, green and white plumage, endemic to Ecuador. Little is known about this range-restricted, forest species, as it seems to disappear from known locations during nonbreeding months. Its preferred evergreen forest environment is one of the most threatened forest habitats in the Neotropics. The remaining habitat for the species has been reduced by 99 percent and is severely fragmented due to rapid deforestation as a result of logging and agriculture clearance. The Esmeraldas woodstar was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1990 — after not being sighted since 1912.

Read about the Center’s International Birds Initiative.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


Hummingbirds and War

August 9, 2011

Rufous Hummingbird -Photo by Tom Spross. Used with Permission(we hope).

Throughout human history animals have been unwittingly – and probably unwillingly – used as weapons of war. Hannibal crossed the Alps on elephants to attack the Roman Empire; pigs were used to frighten the elephants; mules were used as recently as WWII as military transport; camels are still used in desert regions to this day; since at least the time of the ancient Greeks, dogs have been used to kill opponents, sniff out hidden threats, blow up tanks, and carry messages; monkeys have blown themselves up in the service of mankind’s wars; and, of course, horses have carried people into combat since the invention of stirrups. Nor have sea-dwelling animals escaped warfare duties. Dolphins and sea lions are used as sentries and mine-detectors and the U.S. Navy and probably others research dolphins and whales to improve submarine propulsion and sonar.

Flying animals have not escaped either. In the Spanish Civil War pilots used turkeys to fly fragile supplies to gentle landings; bats have carried small incendiary bombs; and pigeons have carried military messages for centuries.

Hummingbirds had, until now, escaped military service.

But in what is a major feat of engineering, a hummingbird robotic spy-drone exists. It’s a fake hummingbird with a video camera in its throat. Apparently it can stay aloft for as long as ten minutes, allowing it to fly to a target and send video back to troops. It flies, hovers, and lands pretty much like the real thing.

And, based on the YouTube segments, the thing even resembles real hummingbirds.

(Better video is here but you have to sit through a commercial first.)

So, we have a question. The Pentagon has spent $4,000,000 dollars on this bird but the United States is not currently at war with any Western Hemisphere nation which is the only place hummingbirds live. Don’t you suppose a Taliban terrorist in Afghanistan might be suspicious when a bird he’s never seen shows up in his back yard and stares at him?

Perhaps the Pentagon relies on terrorists not being birders?

Aztecs would see this development as perfectly natural: They believed that hummingbirds were the souls of departed Aztec warriors. But we suggest you flee if you ever see a hummingbird drone in your backyard.

Hummingbird Watch

April 12, 2011

We’re on Hummingbird watch here today. A friend who lives not far from us had his first one yesterday.

Have you any idea how much time can be wasted, how much work procrastinated, while staring at a Hummingbird feeder?

A lot.


Hummingbird Migration

October 12, 2010

Recently we advised you to leave your hummingbird feeders out for a couple of weeks after you’ve seen the last one. We’re at that stage now but a friend and neighbor was over Saturday and reported that she had seen one that morning. So, we’ll leave them out a bit longer even though it seems that we may have seen the last of them until the Northern Hemisphere tilts back toward the sun next spring.

As we noted in that last hummingbird post, they’ve been at this migration business a lot longer than humans have been around to watch. Here is D.H. Lawrence on the subject of hummingbirds:

Primeval-dumb, far back
In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed,
Humming-birds raced down the avenues.
Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.
I believe there were no flowers, then,
In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation.
I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.
Probably he was big
As mosses, and little lizards, they say were once big.
Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.
We look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of Time,
Luckily for us.

Find the Hummingbird

September 26, 2010

We spent some of last week in the southern Rocky Mountains. The willows along the river banks are beginning to turn and most of the hummingbirds are gone. But not all. Here is one keeping the junco company in the willows.

Leave Your Hummingbird Feeders Out

September 13, 2010

It’s that time of year again, when the hummingbirds are heading south and well-intentioned humans living in North America want to know whether to take down their feeders so the little birds will know it’s time to leave.

We won’t keep you in suspense: Leave your feeders out and full of fresh syrup until at least two weeks after you see the last hummingbird.

Hummingbirds have been at the business of migrating far longer than we humans have been at the business of feeding them. We don’t know how long hummingbirds have migrated but fossil evidence establishes a rough time frame: Between 12 and 25 million years.(The oldest known fossil is about 30 millions years old and they began dispersing from South America sometime after that.

On the other hand, modern humans are only a quarter of a million years along and we only been feeding hummingbirds for 100 years or so. (We appear to have affected some migration: A small number of Ruby-throats seem to have adapted to the warmth of the Gulf Coast states in the U.S. and people there who leave feeders out all year. Those birds are skipping the arduous trip across or around the Gulf of Mexico each year. All the rest still make the trip and are not fooled for a moment by warm autumn weather.) When the hours of sunlight and the angle of the sun inform them that winter is on the way, they know to leave and will leave. No self-respecting hummingbird is going to get caught in Minnesota for Thanksgiving. She’ll be basking in Costa Rican sun by then.

The hummingbirds you see at your feeder today may not be the same birds you saw yesterday. If the conditions were right last night, one batch left and another arrived at your feeders. Heading south, they need all the energy they can store and your feeder will help them along the way. The last migrants will welcome your aid.

So, keep your syrup fresh and your eyes peeled and enjoy the last of this year’s hummingbirds. You’re doing no harm by leaving your feeders out. In fact, you’re helping.

Attila the Hum

July 23, 2010

Rufous Hummingbirds have returned to our backyard and the Black-chinned Hummingbirds are not altogether happy about it. To say that a Rufous vigilantly protects whatever feeder or feeders it chooses to protect is an understatement, like calling Attila the Hun, “irritable.”

The backyard is livelier now.

The Hummingbirds Return

April 7, 2010


It is spring and we await our first hummingbird here at the Fat Finch. Hummingbirds, according to the Aztecs, were the reincarnated souls of dead Aztec warriors. There was a time, about a century ago, when many humans believed in  transmigration of souls into animals. The American writer Don Marquis used his fictional cockroach Archy to poke a little fun at the belief. Archy was a cockroach that lived in the newsroom at the New York Sun newspaper where Marquis worked. Archy had been a human who wrote free verse and, when he died, transmigrated into the body of cockroach as punishment. He communicates by throwing himself bodily on the keys of Mr. Marquis’s typewriter. He can’t capitalize anything because of the necessity of holding down the shift key on the typewriter at the same time striking the key of the letter to be capitalized. Nor did he waste energy or time attempting punctuation.

Aztec Jaguar Warrior on his way to Hummingbird Status

Marquis wrote during Prohibition, that time long ago when alcoholic beverages were banned in the United States. It was also a time of wide-spread belief  in ghosts and spiritualism.

But some things haven’t changed in the intervening century: We still love hummingbirds, even if fewer of us believe in ghosts. Here from his poem entitled “ghosts”

you want to know
whether i believe in ghosts
of course i do not believe in them
if you had known as many of them as i have
you would not
believe in them either
perhaps i have been
unfortunate in my acquaintance
but the ones i have known
have been a bad lot
no one could believe in them
after being acquainted with them
a short time . . . .

i remember talking to one of them
who had just worked his way
upward again he had been in the
body of a flea and he was going
into a cat fish
you would think he might be
grateful for the promotion
but not he
i do not call this much of an advance
he said why could i not
be a humming bird or something
kid i told him it will
take you a million years to work your
way up to a humming bird . . . .

Archy was not so ambitious as to try for a hummingbird. He was content with something less exalted:

personally my ambition is to get
my time as a cockroach shortened for
good behavior and be promoted
to a revenue officer
it is not much of a step up but
i am humble . . . .

The revenue officer Archy refers to is not the tax man but the revenue officer who spent his days and nights trying to eradicate boot-legged liquor in those far off days when the government tried to protect us from our vices.

Working our way up to hummingbirds, we’ve put out our feeders. Some Broad-tails have been seen on the outskirts of our city and we’re ready for our first visitors. They’ll arrive any day now. The seasons here march along; the Sandhill Cranes replaced by hummingbirds until autumn, when the cranes fill the void left by departing hummingbirds, the skies bringing year-round joy.

Leave Your Hummingbird Feeders Up!

September 8, 2009

hummingbird-8The question arises in the United States and Canada each year about this time: Should we take down our hummingbird feeders so the hummingbirds won’t stay too long and get caught in the cold weather?

The answer is: Leave your feeders up!

The urge to migrate far, far outweighs a bottle full of sugar water. Your hummingbirds will leave when their biological clocks command them to leave, no matter how much food is still available for them. It is likely, in fact, that the hummingbirds at your feeders today are not the same ones that were there two weeks ago. Hummingbird migration has already started and the birds you see today are likely migrants passing through rather than the ones who spent the summer with you.

And, of course, their food supply is dwindling now. Colder nights and cooler, shorter days mean fewer bugs, their primary source of protein, and less nectar from flowers which they also eat in abundance even if human supplied sugar water is available.

But your sugar water is especially helpful to them as they migrate southward. They need immense amounts of energy to migrate successfully and they need to add to their body weight substantially. If you leave your feeders up until the last one has flown through, you will help them maintain that weight for as long as possible and help provide a needed energy boost for the next leg of the journey.

Hummingbird-4For those of our readers who live in the Gulf Coast region of the southern United States, you should leave your feeders out all winter: You may be treated to Ruby-throated Hummingbirds some of whom no longer migrate any further south than your region. Warmer winters and hummingbird feeders have lured some of that species to stay for the winter in your temperate region.

But for the rest of us, it is not yet time to take down our feeders. There are migrating hummingbirds who will thank you to leave them up, with fresh syrup, for a few weeks more.

Territorial Tourist

August 19, 2009

The Rufous Hummingbird guarding one your hummingbird feeders today may not be the same Rufous you see tomorrow.  They are heading south now and most don’t stay in one place long, but they take over the territory in all their layovers.  This guy protected a Schrodt feeder for four or five days, but has now departed.  We expect a replacement guard any day.


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