Cuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco 8


This tiny bird was in the Abaco coppice, well off the beaten track. Nearly two miles down a notably unbeaten track, in fact, that later was to lead to a puncture-and-@$%^&*-I-forgot-my-cellphone drama. Trauma, even. The hummer knew perfectly well that I had crept up behind it, but it had presumably seen few bipeds. It would not have known of their urge to bulldoze wild habitat and turn it into massive unsold developments, as has happened a short way up the coast… So it just carried on with what a bird has to do to keep itself looking presentable, while I, feeling rather rude and intrusive, took some quick pictures before leaving it in peace. Rather than sell these intimate studies to Hello!, OK!, Chirpy! or Tweet!, I am displaying them free for your enjoyment.Cuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco 1Cuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco 4Cuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco 6Cuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, AbacoCuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco 5Cuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco 2Cuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco 7a

In addition to the Cuban Emerald, the Bahamas has its own endemic hummingbird, the Bahama Woodstar. In the faltering early days of this blog, I posted about them both at BAHAMA WOODSTARS & CUBAN EMERALDS: THE HUMMINGBIRDS OF ABACO At that time, I was not really a ‘birder’ at all, and had only a very basic camera, so my own pictures were… very basic. But you may be interested in some of the info in the post about these two species, so I mention it in passing.


Today is the 1st birthday of this blog, on the very day that the hit count passes 37,000. I started out last April, with faltering steps, into the mysterious world of the blog – setting it up, getting ‘stuff’ posted, finding out about birds, creatures, shells and much else from scratch. The learning curve has modified slightly and has a less vertiginous ascent. We are now mostly under control here at Rolling Harbour HQ… It’s been a year of Parrots, Whales, Hurricanes, Mars Probe Booster Rockets and other beachcombing mysteries. As year 2 begins, huge thanks to the many who have contributed so far, or generously given advice and (mainly) constructive criticism along the way, or simply taken the time to have a look. Especially if you came back for more…

Here to celebrate the day is the Official Rolling Harbour Collection of  some of the “Essential Facts” that have appeared in various posts over the previous year. It is, needless to say, essential reading. Amaze or alienate your friends with your esoteric knowledge of the length of an adult male manatee’s intestines…


  • 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…)
  • There are many collective nouns, including a “bouquet”, “glittering”, “hover”, “shimmer”, and “tune” of hummingbirds
  • On the TCI, the Bahama Woodstar is known as ‘The God Bird’ 


  • The 4 species of Sirenia are the West Indian, Amazonian and West African manatee; and the Asian / Pacific dugong. 
  • Fossil remains of Florida manatees date back 45 million years; their closest living relative is the elephant
  • Manatees are also known as Sea Cows. Some say sailors who’d been at sea for too long took them to be mermaids, a mistake I doubt they made twice…
  • They can weigh up to 1,300 lb and measure up to 13 feet. Females are larger than males. Baby manatees may weigh 65 lb. Adult intestines can reach 45 meters which would take Usain Bolt 4.31 seconds to run past (if straightened out, obviously)
  • Accurate population estimates seem to be impossible to obtain, varying by season and by year for no apparent reason. Overall,  the picture is of a declining population, with extinction likely without further protection
  • West Indian Manatees can move freely between extremes of salinity, and may be found in warm shallow coastal waters, in estuaries, or migrated into rivers to freshwater springs (as in Florida). They cannot survive below 15°C (60°F). They have a propensity to hang around the warm-water outflows of power stations
  • Manatees have some intelligence and demonstrate discrimination and task-learning similar to dolphins.Their eyelids close “in a circular manner”, though I can’t quite picture this. They have only 6 teeth in each jaw, which are replaced throughout their lives
  • They breed every other year. Gestation lasts 12 months, and it takes a further 12 to 18 months to wean the calf. A single calf is born. Apart from mothers with a calf or males showing off to females, manatees tend to be solitary creatures
  • They are herbivores, eating many plant species, such as mangrove leaves, turtle grass, and types of algae. An adult manatee can eat up to 10% of its body weight per day. They have been known to eat small amounts of fish from nets
  • Half a manatee’s day is spent sleeping in the water. The rest of the time they graze in shallow waters. They swim at 3 to 5 mph, faster in short bursts. They may live up to 60 years (surprisingly, given their punishing daily schedule)
  • The oldest manatee in captivity is Snooty, at the South Florida Museum. He was born at the Miami Seaquarium on July 21, 1948 and came to the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, Florida in 1949


  • Murex are highly carnivorous with rasping teeth, and drilling equipment for boring into the shells of their prey
  • A determined Murex may take up to 5 days to drill into its prey
  • Murex also use their foot to smother prey, or to crush it by using suction power
  • They eat clams by hoovering them up with their foot and smashing them on rocks to get at the occupant
  • They happily eat sea-floor carrion and sea-kill
  • Murex act in packs to carry out raids on unsuspecting beds of clams, which they feast on avidly
  • They are sexually wanton. Females store sperm from different males for many months, eventually producing embryos with different dads (I’m not making this up. I would like to have done so)
  • Cannibalism occurs. The kids are equally prone to extreme delinquency and are happy to eat each other when peckish
  • Some species of murex secrete a fluid that is believed to be used to drug their prey into paralysis
  • That same fluid (Murex / Mucus) is also used as a dye, ‘Tyrian’ or ‘Royal’ Purple, which can be ‘milked’ from a living murex (the Aztecs & Phoenicians did this). I’ll pass on that…
  • Potcakes are a mixed-breed dog of the Bahamas & TCI, named after the layer of dried rice and peas in  the bottom of cooking pots, traditionally fed to stray dogs
  • Appearance and colouring varies considerably from island to island. Mostly commonly they are (mainly) brown, have smooth coats, cocked ears, and long faces. Adults typically weigh from 45 to 50 pounds (20 to 23 kg)
  • Potcakes have a wandering tendency. There are many strays on every island – often considered a nuisance. Volunteer organizations re-home strays,  and offer free spaying and neutering
  • Potcakes are often used for hunting hogs. Some are trained to locate fish through  scent on the water and the cries of feeding sea birds
  • Potcakes may originate from 3 canine types: (1) dogs brought by the Arawak  to the Bahamas; (2) terriers protecting supplies from rodents on ships to the Bahamas; (3) Dogs that arrived with Loyalists during the Revolutionary War
  • In the 1970s the potcake dog was officially recognized in The Bahamas as the “Royal Bahamian Potcake”. In February 2011, they were accepted by the Bahamas Kennel Club in the category ‘Group 9 Non-Registered’
  • A potcake dog named Amigo has been the mascot of the Humane Society of Grand Bahama. He ‘served as an Ambassador of Hope for homeless animals’ until his death in 2007, and appeared on TV
  • Potcakes have featured in a set of special-issue Bahamas stamps (as have Bahama Swallows)


  • Traditionally, it was used for making British Police Truncheons (now made of soft fluffy pink fabric to reflect new caring policing methods)
  • Its physical qualities made it widely used in shipbuilding (though presumably not the whole ship, which would sink instantly)
  • Cabinet-makers, stone-carvers and gem-cutters all use the wood in their crafts
  • LV has many engineering uses. The wood is self-lubricating and is ideal for bearings. The 1st nuclear submarine had some of these
  • The world-renowned  UK fishing rod maker Hardy’s made a famous ‘Greenheart’ rod
  • LV has medical uses, including for arthritis; and its bark / shavings allegedly make a nice cup of “tea”… (Any evidence of this?)
  • A 1920’s calypso song “LignumVitae” was sensationally saucy for its allusions to the bark tea’s prophylactic quality in addition to exploiting the phallic connotations
  • Gabriel Garcia Márquez incorporates uses for the wood in two of his novels (neither of which I have read. Oh dear. The guilt)
  • Pete Seeger, singer / songwriter, made the neck of his banjo from LV
  • The wood is also connected to mauve tiling, vitamin glue, anti-evil gum and the ‘vigilant emu’ by anagrammatic chance


  • It takes approximately six years for a Scotch bonnet to mature
  • The shells grows 2 – 4 ins long (5 – 10 cm), showing distinct growth stages
  • Scotch bonnets live on sand, usually in fairly shallow water (but see below)
  • The more a Scotch bonnet eats the more elaborate its shell, the glossier its sheen & the brighter its colours (research suggests this doesn’t work for humans)
  • Divers frequently find Scotch bonnets at depths of 50 – 150 feet (15 to 46 m). Specimens have been found in depths up to 308 ft (94 m)
  • Shipwrecks provide a good habitat for this species
  • Crabs are its main predators, crushing the shell to get at the occupant. Since the snails’ main defence mechanism is to withdraw into their shells, they urgently need to evolve a new tactic
  • The empty shell of this sea species is often used by hermit crabs
  • In 1965 the state of North Carolina made the Scotch bonnet its official state shell, in honor of the Scottish settlers who founded the state


Most common (1 in every 1 – 25 pieces found): clear, Kelly (‘Irish’) green, brown, blue, purple

Less common (1 in every 25 – 100 pieces found): jade, amber, lime green, forest green, ice / soft blue

Uncommon (1 in every 50 – 100 pieces found): other green shades

Very uncommon 1 in every 200 – 1000 pieces found): citron, opaque white, cobalt, cornflower blue and aqua

Extremely rare (1 in every 1000 – 10,000 pieces found): grey, pink, teal, black, yellow, turquoise, red

Rarest of all (1 in every 10,000+ pieces found): orange



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 

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…

  • 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