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Master Naturalists: HummerBird Celebration offers enjoyment for its 25th anniversary

By Paul and Mary Meredith
Sept. 19, 2013 at 4:19 a.m.

Calliope hummingbirds are rare in the eastern U.S. bird migration through the Coastal Bend because they are West Coast birds.  This female Calliope was spotted in a Rockport park Saturday and was still there Sunday.  We know its gender because a male's throat would be streaked in iridescent wine red to reddish purple, a showy display to attract females like this one.

The 25th HummerBird Celebration in Rockport offered folks who visited it multiple enjoyments.

And, as usual, you never know what you will see or learn there.

Very special hummer

Not all the really great things happened early. On Saturday morning, a Calliope hummingbird was spotted in a local park. Some lucky photographers were able to get a picture of it.

Directions for how to find the bird went something like this: "Go to Zachary Taylor Park, find the only Magnolia grandiflora in the park, look up in the tree's branches to find the only magnolia cone/pod with red seeds in it. The bird is right behind it."

We were able to share one of those photos this week. Photographers who got a shot of the Calliope were all thrilled because it is rare here. A summer resident on the West Coast, their migration to Mexico barely touches the Big Bend area. HummerBird visitors were thrilled just to know a Calliope was there.

What you see when you spot a Calliope

Calliope hummingbirds are very small, 2.75 inches to 3.25 inches, the smallest breeding bird in the U.S.A. A Calliope has a very short black bill (1/2 to 5/8 of an inch), very short tail and unique spade-shaped feathers in the center of its tail.

It often cocks its tail upward, perpendicular to its body while hovering at flowers or feeders.

And it's generally quiet - not like those hummers that scream "chee-chee" at us when we go to our garage to make sure the car is locked or to take out the garbage.

Calliope gorgets

"Gorget" refers to the area of refracted iridescent coloration on the throat of adult male hummingbirds.

Calliope gorgets are wine red to reddish-purple over white background. The individual feathers are very long, narrow, pointed and convex at corners. Another description is the male's gorget as a "white gorget with purple-violet rays, which can be raised to give a whiskered effect."

Calliope females and immature males may also have gorgets. Theirs are not nearly as colorful as the adult male Calliopes'.

A Lucifer hummingbird

Kelly Bryan, master bander at 2013's HummerBird Celebration, shared pictures of and information about West Texas hummers. A photo of a Lucifer hummingbird was the most dramatic.

The Lucifer is not much known in Texas outside the Big Bend area. It has a long, forked tail (1.14 inches to 1.30 inches) and a decurved bill.

Decurved means that the bill curves downward. The adult male Lucifer has a long purple gorget.

When he's courting a female Lucifer, he extends/ fluffs out his gorget feathers. His gorget then looks rather like a lion's mane.

Courting the female, he hovers in front of her with the sun to his back and moving his wings very, very rapidly; spreads his forked tail; rocks back and forth, showing off his bright plumage for her. Then he zooms straight up as much as 100 feet, then dives - straight down past her, one time.

Our next celebration(s)

Next for us in the hummingbird/hummer area is next year's (2014) HummerBird Celebration. We would also like to attend the Davis Mountains Hummingbird Festival in Fort Davis on Aug. 21-23.

Next week is another of our favorite celebrations, Hawk Watch (Celebration of Flight) at Hazel Bazemore Park in Corpus Christi.

Raptors like hawks, bald eagles, falcons and ospreys by the tens of thousands fly over at the migration's peak.

Sources: Hummingbirds of Texas, C. E. Shackelford, M. M. Lindsay, C. M. Klym. 2009 (With Their NM and AZ Ranges) (sightings updated); Hummingbirds of North America, Williamson, S.L.; Information from the speakers at the 2013 HummerBird Celebration

Paul and Mary Meredith are master naturalists. Contact them at paulmary0211@sbcglobal.net.



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