Mexico’s feathered jewels–hummingbirds
By Norman Besman
Photo by Ronny Kahlil
“Mexico is a treasure trove of hummingbirds,” as Walter Meagher, wrote in Wild and Wonderful, a natural history of El Charco del Ingenio. Of the 65 hummingbird species listed in Howell and Webb’s authoritative A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, about half are endemic to Mexico, and many have a status considered at least vulnerable. The Americas and their adjacent islands are the only places in the world where hummingbirds have their native habitat, and for some Mexican species their range is limited to small islands off the Yucatan Peninsula, stretches of land in the southern Baja Peninsula or up in the highlands of the northern Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
The brilliant, iridescent colors we associate with hummingbirds are caused by light refraction from certain of their feathers, primarily in the gorget, or throat area, but such color shifts can be much more widespread, as with the crown of the Violet-crowned Hummingbird. Even many of the names of the Mexican birds in Family Trochilidae are colorful and exotic. The family of hummingbirds includes: Starthroats, Sabrewings, Mangos, Violet-ears, Coquettes and Emeralds.
Red beaks and violet caps
About 10 species are found in the greater San Miguel area, with the Broad-billed and Violet-crowned being the two most common, enjoyed both in the wilds of El Charco, as well as right in town. The former displays a curved red bill with a black tip, a green back, an iridescent blue throat and a green (m) or dusky grey (f) breast. The latter is identified by its iridescent violet cap, a medium-green-brown-grey back and an unmarked white breast (m and f).
Others, such as the Rufous and Ruby-throated, are migratory, wintering in Mexico well south of their northern breeding grounds, and viewable here only in the spring and the fall. The aptly-named Magnificent Hummingbird enjoys San Miguel year around, but in small elusive numbers, sometimes in mixed pine forests, and sometimes in wildflower clearings.
Hummingbirds here enjoy the native Nicotiana glauca (buenamoza, with a narrow bright yellow tubular flower), Mexican false-calico (espinosilla, with a narrow bright red tubular flower) and lantana or Spanish flag (with small, but bright, yellow and orange flowers), as well as other colorful and appropriately-structured flowers planted all over town. They flock to the tubular-flowering organ cactus in January and February, and feed on the open flowers of the prickly pear cactus (nopal) in March and April.
Sipping nectar, weaving with spiderweb
The hummingbirds will seek these and other flowers, which have nectar well-suited to their diet, colors creating a strong impression in their visual range and a shape that fits the birds’ bills. Although the birds must find something to eat year round, the blooming times of many of these flowers tend to coincide with hummingbirds’ breeding seasons.
Hummingbirds are not solely vegetarians, as about 30 percent of their diet comes from insects either caught on the fly, in the same manner as the Tyrannidae (Flycatcher) bird family, or directly off trees, bushes and flowers.
The nests of hummingbirds are constructed in a complex fashion and often nestled into the bends of trees. These nests are tiny structures bound together with spider-web silk that the hummingbirds carefully collect then weave into the lichen, plant fibers and other fine materials they have gathered.
In conjunction with the coming Hummingbird Festival (September 7-8,) we hope to present more articles and information about these amazing feathered jewels of Mexico.
For ticket purchases and sponsorships to this fantastic festival, visit www.audubonmex.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.