Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Hummingbirds along the Rio

Yesterday, 4 February 2013, I accompanied trans-Pecos Hummingbird guru, Kelly Bryan of West Texas Avian Research, Inc. and his often-assistant and mutual friend Carolyn Ohl-Johnson down to the river (Rio Grande/Bravo) to enjoy good company and hummingbirds in the hand.

The main objective for the morning was to explore a little further into how much turnover of Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna) (ANHU) there is in south Brewster County.  Kelly has banded, captured, and re-captured an astonishing number of this species this winter and particularly into the new year.

The element far more intriguing is courtship displays of ANHU.  That is courtship displays of ANHU in the state of Texas.  An irregular wintering species in the trans-Pecos, this species is a year-round resident of California up the west coastal edge of the US, and also southern Arizona.  In California, as an example, they are already nesting.

In Texas, there are only three nesting records of ANHU; two in El Paso County and one in Jeff Davis County.

The highlight of the morning at this location was this guy. A new male on the scene:

Anna's Hummingbird, male, Second Year. 
not banded, so a new bird on the scene.

Second Year (SY) refers to the bird is now in its 2nd Calender Year of existence.

the same SY male bird.
Since the new calender year was only a month ago, this guy isn't exactly showing his full pinkish-red gorget (throat) feathers he will sport.

The genus Calypte is among other genera of "helmeted hummingbirds."

Those beautiful pink-red gorget feathers he will eventually completely molt into will also be seen covering the crown.
the crown simply means the top of the head.

Those adult crown feathers will be connected to the gorget by the same color pink-red feathers at the nape, "ears", and cheeks.

When he molts into his full adult-male plumage (at least regarding the feathers around the head), his entire head will be an iridescent pink-red.

The following two pics are of female ANHU:

Female Anna's Hummingbirds do attain iridescent pink-red gorget feathers.  However, they are restricted to a centralized spot at the center of the throat.

This is a picture of another female.  Her central gorget spot still has a ways to go.
In fact, this individual is a SY female bird.

Feathers are scales.  They are just modified scales.  Birds shed/drop old feather and those are replaced by new feathers.  That is a feather molt.

Primary or "flight" feathers are the outer feathers of the wing.  Though sometimes called "flight" feathers, they certainly are not the only ones responsible for the creation of lift.

Hummingbirds have 10 primaries.

Second Year ANHU molt all their primaries except for P9 and P10, the outer two.

Look at the outer two primary feathers.  In hummingbirds, these are P9 and P10.
They are a little more faded in color and worn than the others.  The color may not show in this photo due to light, but the wear is noticeable. The other eight primaries are new and pristine.

This is a wing of a SY (Second Year) Anna's Hummingbird.  All SY Anna's retain their outer two primary feathers, not molting them this go-around.

Anyways, the females at this particular site were recaptures.  The SY male was new and unbanded.

In fact, he chased a female off a feeder while at the same time we were urging him to work on his courtship display flight.  He did not.
He just returned to the feeder he won.  It happened to have a trap around it.

So, will there actually be another nesting record for Anna's Hummingbird in Texas?  Even an attempt?

I don't know.
But if you are down along the Rio Grande, it might be worth it to look up. (And brush up on any hummingbird identification first..)


  1. Very interesting stuff. We have Anna's doing their mating displays already in Phoenix. In fact, they've been at it since mid January at least.

    It is fun to see them in all their different stages of molt. It's quite reminiscent of freshmen year in college, when all the 18 year olds throw hygiene out the window and try to grow out their scraggily, patchy beards to show their machismo.

    1. I hear ya, some of those kids barely have pinfeathers! Come to think of it, Matt's gorget is pretty impressive regardless of molt.

  2. I definitely have my full gorget. I'm a way-the-pants ASY bird. P9 and P10... molted.

  3. Matt, unfortunately I do not get any of the references you just made, though I have an inkling. Fortunately, this does not deprive me of thirding the motion that you do, indeed, have a gorget to make all the hummers quite envious, even buzzing with jealousy.

    Also, I find the way that you vertically ascend and then dive bomb, pulling up at the last minute with a triumphant 'meeeep,' to be very attractive. Or, at least I would, if my name was Anna.

    1. Translation:
      He has his full [beard].
      He's a way-the-pants [after-second-year (plus 30+ years)] bird.
      He has molted his 9th and 10th primary flight feathers.

      ...my goal in life is to stash flowers in his beard. Admittedly, his "meep" loses a bit in translation, as it's a bit too deep for hummingbirds to acknowledge!

    2. Soon enough he'll be able to support a Hummingbird family in hirsute face suit.

  4. Of all the beauty in these hummingbird pictures, the most beautiful is the restraint in the hand that holds the bird...the restraint and the respect.