Franklin County seems to be the new “in” resort for exotic hummingbirds.
About this time last year, a broad-billed hummer traveled along the coast causing a stir from Magnolia Bluff to St. James. Last month, a buff-bellied hummer was the hit of the Christmas Bird Count and now another celebrity has turned up at the same local feeder in Apalachicola frequented by the buff belly. We can’t give you the address because these A-list hummingbirds demand their privacy when they visit the Forgotten Coast.
The Calliope hummingbird is the smallest bird that breeds in North America. The genus name, Selasphorus, means “little star.”
An adult Calliope hummingbird is three to four inches long with a four inch wingspan, and weighs no more than one-tenth of an ounce,
These birds are glossy green on the back and crown with a white breast. Their bill and tail are relatively short. The adult male has wine-red streaks on the throat, green flanks and a dark tail. Females and immatures have a pinkish wash on the flanks, dark streaks on the throat and a dark tail with white tips.
Like most hummingbirds, they lay their eggs low in shrubs. Nesting usually occurs at high altitudes in the Rocky Mountains. The winter range is small, which renders the Calliope vulnerable to disease outbreaks, landscape changes, and severe weather.
These birds feed on nectar from flowers and sap from holes created by sapsuckers. They may also catch and feed on small insects and spiders. They are important pollinators for some plants including columbine, Indian paintbrush and other tubular flowers.
The Calliope hummingbird is the smallest long-distance migratory bird in the world. They travel more than 5,000 miles from the northwestern U.S. and southwestern Canada to south-central Mexico every year.
The Calliope is normally a mountain bird but like other rare hummers spotted in the area, this little traveler may be seeking a new home in response to landscape and climate change in its normal range.
On Feb. 1, Mary Wilson, a member of the Hummingbird Study Group, traveled from Alabama to Apalachicola to band the little visitor.
She said the Calliope was a male born this past summer. It weighed two and a half grams. The bird is not a state record. About 30 banded in Florida. She said she banded a rufous hummingbird in Eastpoint and a ruby-throat in Apalachicola during December.
“We’re trying to get the word out to people to leave feeders out during the winter,” she said, “And to war them that cats are a danger to hummingbirds.
Wilson believes sighting of unusual hummingbirds in the area has increased because more people are looking, more people recognize unusual birds and more people leaving feeders out during the cold months.
Information on where Calliope hummingbirds occur and in what numbers is vital to conserving the species. Help in monitoring this and other species by reporting your sightings to eBird, a project of Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at www.audubon.org/bird/ebird