In mid-January 2010, PBS’s Nature series had a remarkable program about my favorite animal, the hummingbird. The lives of these incredible birds is explored in several “chapters,” each one punctuated by outstanding footage and insightful commentary. (Update, 1/10/17: In late 2016, Nature ran another incredible hummingbird program called Super Hummingbirds.)
Among the many interesting parts are segments on why the black-chinned hummingbird builds their nests close to the nests of Cooper’s hawks, how the male Anna’s hummingbird makes the “chirp” during its dramatic dive (which I covered here in late 2008), and how the birds are changing their migration habits to spend more time on the Gulf Coast, and much more. Nature’s web site has the entire episode on-line for viewing, along with many web-only extras and a link to a collection of hummingbird photos by viewers.
Hummingbirds are found only in the Americas, with the most extravagant hummingbirds residing in Central and South America. This limited range is unfortunately not explored by the Nature program. Was it something about the Americas that led to their evolution, or something else? Every other continent has flowers that need pollination and times of day when insects aren’t active, so why don’t they have hummingbirds? Most of North America has just a few species – the eastern part of the continent has only the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), California is dominated by the Anna’s (Calypte anna), with appearances by the rufous, Allen’s, and a few others. Southeast Arizona, however, is a North American treasury for the winged jewels.In March 2004, I made a trip to see the hummingbirds and other bird life of Southeast Arizona, flying to Tucson, Arizona and then spending time in Sierra Vista (to hike along the San Pedro River, an oasis in the desert), Patagonia (home to a Nature Conservancy preserve), around Tucson’s various parks, and the Whitewater Draw (a small lake about 60 miles east of Tucson). With my limited birding skills, I ended up seeing almost 100 different species during the trip, including six different species of hummingbird*. Four of the species I hadn’t seen before (and probably would never see in California). My guide to finding the birds was “Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona,” a publication of the Tucson Audubon Society, which I picked up at the chapter’s store in central Tucson.
* I saw these six species: Anna’s (Calypte anna), Rufous (Selasphorus rufus), Broad-billed (Cynanthus latirostris), Black Chinned (Archilochus alexandri), Violet-crowned (Amazilia violiceps), and Costa’s (Calypte costae). A chart in the hummingbird section of the book shows that 13 species of hummers can be seen in the region, with a few of them being rare, seasonal or accidental, so I did OK by spotting six.
Photo credit: Photo of a hovering Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) from ingridtaylar’s flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License.