THE HUMMER’S TALE: A BAHAMA WOODSTAR’S RESCUE ON EXUMA


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THE HUMMER’S TALE: A BAHAMA WOODSTAR’S RESCUE ON EXUMA

This blog usually stays pretty close to base on Abaco, with occasional forays to other parts of the Bahamas. Inagua for example, for amazing photos of the annual FLAMINGO banding. Now it’s time for a visit to Exuma. In July, a resident of Stocking Island emailed me asking for advice about a rescued hummingbird that had arrived on her porch and could not – or would not – fly. Caroyln had nursed her – a female Bahama Woodstar – for 5 days and was worried about her (lack of) progress.

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Being an amateur in these matters, and some 4000 miles away, I wondered how much I could usefully contribute. However for the next few days Carolyn and I kept in touch and exchanged ideas. The bird was apparently uninjured, was able to feed a bit and to drink sugar water from a syringe. However without being able to fly, her chances of survival were minimal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Eventually the hummer start to practise some fluttering, which was a good sign. That’s her above, in the widow behind the greenery. We worked on various ideas to encourage a flying instinct. I suggested putting her on a low box to see what happened… If the fluttering worked to any extent, a gradual increase in take-off height might do the trick.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This seemed promising, except that the bird’s left wing fluttered twice as fast as her right wing. This suggested some sort of lack of co-ordination that might explain why the natural instinct to fly was somehow surpressed. However by Day 10 we had progress, if not actual lift-off.

By now the bird was starting to look less bedraggled and a lot stronger. My suggested names (‘Hummy’; ‘Humela’) didn’t find favour; Carolyn simply called her ‘Baby’. A potential fruit-fly factory on a banana was constructed.photo

At times, Baby was somewhat passive, but it’s possible that Carolyn’s tuneful mockingbird was a confusing element… You can see she was well catered for, with sustenance, fresh air and a nice view.

The next stage was to devise an outdoor flight plan. There had been strong winds, but by Day 12 they had abated.  It was time to see what Baby could do in the fresh air, with tempting flowers all around. She had had some indoor twig perching practice. Her fluttering was stronger: maybe launching from a low branch outside would be the answer. Or the ground?

Mmmmm. 3 failed attempts. Not encouraging. And Carolyn needed to leave Exuma imminently. Luckily, a new life for Baby was at hand with a family in Georgetown who were able to supply a happy ending, having cared for hummingbirds and being perfectly set up with a screened porch with shrubs, flowers, feeders… and fruit flies. Hummer heaven. I am waiting to hear the very end of the story… did Baby ever fly, or is she so pampered in her new home that there is no need for her to budge? And when I get some news, I will post it here.

Bahamas Map  Exuma

ABACO BANANAQUITS – MORE DISPATCHES FROM ‘CUTE BIRD’ CENTRAL


A couple of months back I posted about Bananaquits on Abaco – specifically, at the Delphi Club. I featured images of a recently fledged bird, still with its ‘too big for my face’ orange-based beak. You’ll find other bananaquit information there, including audio of their call. I won’t repeat it all here – to see that post CLICK BANANAQUIT 

The small bird below looks like a slightly older juvenile – an early teen, let’s say, before the troublesome stage. There’s something very sweet about its feathers. It’s still more like fluff. This one is growing into its beak, which has also lost the very bright orange at the base.

This handsome adult was a regular at one of the feeders at Delphi. The base of its beak is red as opposed to orange (I don’t know the technical term  for this bird part. Is ‘mouth’ too simple? Someone tell me, by all means, via the comment  box). Bananaquits enjoy the hummingbird feeders, which their narrow curved beaks seem to manage. There, they are not pestered by the (very greedy) black-faced grassquits and the larger Greater Antillean Bullfinches who enjoy the other types of feeder available and take priority in the pecking order.

Finally, this bird was a distance shot. At the time, it looked  larger than a bananaquit – more Loggerhead Kingbird-sized. Before I had downloaded the image and could see it clearly, I’d wondered about a mangrove cuckoo. Then I saw at once that it didn’t tick the right boxes. So I decided it must just be a huge bananaquit with an orange rather than yellow front. If it’s anything else (a rare hybrid spindalisquit?), please say so!

ANNA HUMMINGBIRDS ON A HANDHELD FEEDER – VIDEO


ANNA HUMMINGBIRDS ON A HANDHELD FEEDER

A brilliant hi-def video by the excellent ornitho-artist blogger BIRDSPOT. A very effective combination of the visual, amazing sound, and keeping very still. I realise you are highly unlikely to encounter one of these hummers on Abaco. But you might. Although they are normally found on the west coast of North America and inland from there, they have been regularly seen well outside their usual range, for example in Alaska, New York, Newfoundland and… Florida. So it’s only a matter of time before one slips across for a quick vacation in the northern Bahamas. Best not a pair, though. They are apparently very territorial, and the poor endemic Bahama Woodstar has enough trouble fighting its corner with the migrant Cuban Emerald… (credit: BIRDSPOT with thanks for use permission)

BAHAMA WOODSTARS & CUBAN EMERALDS: THE HUMMINGBIRDS OF ABACO


THE HUMMINGBIRDS OF ABACO

At last I have got round to the hummingbirds. It’s quite simple. There are only two species of hummingbird on Abaco. The endemic variety is the Bahama Woodstar, one of only 3 endemic bird species on Abaco (the others are the Bahama Yellowthroat and the Bahama Swallow). The settled migrant is the Cuban Emerald.

               BAHAMA WOODSTAR                                    

 Calliphlox evelynae

Male and female Bahama Woodstars  (Photo Credit: Phil Brown – and VG too)

These hummingbirds are found throughout the Bahamas. They do not migrate, although are occasional vagrants in SE Florida. They breed all year round, the main season being in April. The female lays 2 elliptical white eggs, which she incubates for 15-18 days. As with humans, the female is mainly responsible for childcare while males go drinking at the nectar bar and hang out with their mates.

This BW was one of a small group at Hole-in-the-Wall. They were completely unconcerned by our presence, and we could get within arm’s length of them. Woodstars, though tame in human terms, can be aggressive and territorial. They are plentiful throughout the Bahamas except on Grand Bahama, Abaco and Andros. Significantly those are the only islands where the Cuban Emerald is found in any numbers. As with the native red and import grey squirrel problem in the UK, the migrant emerald is aggressive towards the woodstar, which is consequently rare where emeralds are abundant.

Here is their call (credit Jesse Fagan Xeno-canto)

Addition April 2012 Here is a seriously cute female Woodstar photographed by Ann Capling at Bahama Palm Shores, close to Ocean Drive – a really pretty little bird

At Delphi, you’ll frequently see emeralds, especially now that feeders with sugar water have been hung up for them. The pool area is a very good place to watch them. But there are occasional woodstars to be seen as well – in the coppice on the drives for example, and even on the feeders. The vague blur to the left of the feeder below is a woodstar in the millisecond between me pointing the camera and it flying away… Don’t bother to click to enlarge it – it’s a useless photo, I know, but it is evidence even at the lowest level

CUBAN EMERALD Chlorostilbon ricordii

                                        

There’s probably a great deal to be written about the emeralds, but not by me. Or not now, anyway.  The little you need to know from me is already covered above, and I haven’t yet discovered whether their childcare arrangements differ significantly from the woodstars. Probably not. So I’ll put in a selection of photos, and remark that it is strange how quickly they can change from sleek and slender birds to small rather cold and dispirited looking bundles of feathers. Both states are depicted below. Here’s what to listen for (credit Xeno-canto.org) 


Delphi – pool feeder

Delphi – pool feeder

Delphi – pool feeder

Delphi – far side of pool

Delphi – near pool

Delphi – front drive

Delphi – front drive

All the above birds were photographed at Delphi. We saw emeralds elsewhere, of course – in the pine forest, flicking across the logging tracks; on other Cays. The best sighting was during our day trip reef-snorkelling and island-hopping with Kay Politano, when we had an excellent lunch for 14 at Cracker P’s on Lubbers Cay (see future post about this and the island-hops). There was a bird feeder by our table, to which emeralds came and went throughout the meal. Here are some photos – I wanted to get them hovering, and kind of succeeded. More or less.




This link may or may not result in you hearing an emerald’s call. Let’s see if I can make it work…
http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/LNEEOOWCQR/Emerald_Cuban_feedingcall_10122010_0831_0075.mp3

HUMMER FACTS
  • The colourful throat of a (male) bird is known as a ‘gorget’
  • Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards
  • There are 320 species of hummingbird worldwide
  • The smallest is the bee hummingbird of Cuba, at 2″ for an adult
  • John Gould, the c19 ornithologist and artist, invented many of the names to reflect the varied and iridescent colours of the birds.
  • Hummingbird wings beat as much as 75 times per second
  • Hummingbirds have the highest metabolic rate of any warm-blooded creature; also the largest hearts (proportionately, obviously…)
  • On TCI, the Bahama Woodstar is known as ‘The God Bird
  • There are many collective nouns, including a “bouquet”, “glittering”, “hover”, “shimmer”, and “tune” of hummingbirds