Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Calliope hummingbird sighting sparks excitement

STACEY COLE January 24. 2014 10:42PM

I must confess my excitement last fall when I read that a Calliope hummingbird had been seen in New Hampshire. Of the more than 300 hummingbird species only one, the ruby-throated, is commonly seen here. However, in recent years, the rufous hummingbird occasionally is observed. I was fortunate to have photographed a rufous several years ago in Hopkinton, but, sorry to say, I have never seen one since.

In mid-January, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Tremblay Jr. of Manchester enclosed several excellent photos of the Calliope hummingbird that arrived on their deck Oct. 6, 2013. This tiny little bird remained with them until late November. (The last photo was taken on Nov. 10.) In visiting with Mrs. Tremblay over the telephone, I learned that they first saw the Calliope hummingbird clinging on one side of a hummingbird feeder. It appeared to be trying, but was not successful in drinking. On the opposite side of the feeder a female ruby-throat was drinking.

Interestingly, after watching the ruby-throat drink for a while, the Calliope fairly quickly learned how and proceeded to do so on its side of the feeder. The Calliope also spent time feeding in Mrs. Tremblay's flower garden. It especially enjoyed the nasturstium blooms to obtain nectar.

I inquired her opinion of the size difference between the two birds, and she replied the Calliope appeared to be three inches in length, roughly about half the size of the ruby-throat.

Arthur Cleveland Bent in his "Life Histories of North American Birds," published by the U.S. Printing Office in 1940, wrote of the Calliope hummingbird:

"This tiny mite is the smallest member of the group containing the smallest North American birds. Grinnell and Storer state 'that its average weight is only about 3 grams (one tenth of an ounce) which is about half that of an Anna hummingbird, or a kinglet ....' The length of the male is about 2-3/4 inches and that of the female is 3 inches. But it is a hardy little midget and a long distance traveller, migrating from northern British Columbia to Mexico City; it spends its summers in the Canadian zones at high altitudes in the mountains and at lower levels further north.

"Its generic name was well chosen, (Stellula) little star, for the long, narrow, metallic purple feathers rise and spread, under excitement, above the narrow white background of the gorget, like a scintillating star. The choice of specific name (Calliope) was not so fortunate; Calliope was the name of eloquence, and this is a very silent bird."

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Bluebirds in December were inquired of by a Salem reader who wrote in part: "I am writing to tell you of an interesting bird sighting on December 24th, at my house. I saw three eastern bluebirds! I have also seen these bluebirds here during the summer and fall. I am not sure if bluebirds are a rare bird sighting, but in my 38 years of living in New Hampshire, I had never seen one until this summer. Do you know if there have been more bluebird sightings in New Hampshire?"

Eastern bluebirds, historically, have been referred to as "harbingers of spring," in our Granite State. From early in March throughout spring and summer bluebirds were frequently seen nesting is so-called "bluebird houses."

There was a period of years, however, when these lovely members of the thrush family, (Sialia sialis) were not as abundant as they had been. Happily, in recent years, these once common birds have gained in population so that they have been recorded more and more frequently and, strange as it may seem, in increasing numbers, during NH Audubon's Annual Winter Bird Surveys which this year will be conducted on Saturday-Sunday, Feb. 8-9. Next week we will give details on how to participate.

In commenting on so-called "winter bluebirds and American robins," NH Audubon's Senior Conservation Biologist Dr. Pamela Hunt has reported: "American robins and eastern bluebirds are no longer signs of spring in New Hampshire. ... It seems likely that these two will continue to grace our winter yards in large numbers."

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Reminder to our readers: Due to publication requirements each column is written three weeks in advance.

Also, unfortunately, I am no longer able to write letters as I did for years. However. I still answer letters in the column, and if you wish an immediate answer, either to a question or information about my book, please enclose your telephone number. I will return your call as soon as possible. Your name or number will never be released by me without your permission. Thank you.

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey, 03446.

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