Caliope 1.jpg

Paul Polk took this photo of a calliope hummingbird in his Santa Fe backyard. The calliope hummingbird is the smallest long-distance avian migrant in the world, and we have the joy of seeing them in our area.

Hummingbirds are among the most beautiful and fascinating birds in the world. They truly are the smallest of birds, and yet there are 330 species. Remarkably, they are found nowhere else on the planet except in the Americas.

Seventeen species of hummingbirds visit New Mexico each year on their migration trails. Identification of the many species is most easily done by the males’ distinctive, iridescent throat patches, with colors ranging from red, purple, green, blue and orange.

The hummingbird is nature’s helicopter. They can fly forward, backward, left, right, hover motionless and even fly upside down. Hummingbirds have extremely short, weak legs and are not able to walk or hop but make up for that with their amazing flight ability.

They have the fastest heart rate (1,260 beats per minute), the fastest wing beat (up to 80 times per second), the fastest metabolism and the largest heart, in proportion to body size, of any bird. A large heart, but a small brain, the smallest of any bird — about the size of a BB. It may be small, but it’s exceptional in that hummingbirds can navigate 2,000 miles to migrate back to the exact same feeder year after year.

Hummingbirds (black-chinned and broad-tailed) typically return to Santa Fe in late March and early April from their spring migration (23 miles per day) from Mexico. They are “loners” and migrate alone, perfectly timed with the blooming of hummingbird pollinated food plants. They gain up to 40 percent in body weight to meet the physical demands of migration.

In addition to black-chinned and broad-tails, other species seen in Santa Fe include calliope and rufous, along with rare sightings of broad-billed, Rivoli’s, Anna’s and violet-crowned.

Hummingbirds have quite the appetite, ingesting up to eight times their body weight in solid and liquid food every day. As for liquid food, their forked, grooved tongues lap up nectar from flowers and feeders at an amazing 12 times a second. Get your feeders out!

As for solid food, they use the flexible tip of their bill to capture insects and insect eggs. They love spiders.

Male hummingbirds tend to be highly territorial and often migrate north in the spring a week or more in advance of females to establish their territories for the season. Males also leave incubation of eggs (one to three) and rearing of young to females and begin moving south on the fall migration at least two weeks before the females and young. The flight south must take place well in advance of the cold weather, not because they cannot tolerate cold (as low as -40 degrees), but because of rapidly diminishing food supplies at that time of the year.

Due to the long migration, the female and baby hummingbirds left behind will need to fill up on energy to help them make their arduous journey. Do not take down your hummer feeders until you have not seen a hummingbird visit it for two weeks. The stragglers are usually the weakest and need every bit of help we can offer.

Enjoy these wonders of nature over the next six months until fall migration once again begins in September and early October.

Ken Bunkowski and his son, Matt Bunkowski, are co-owners of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Fe and look forward to sharing the joy that birds bring into our lives.

(2) comments

George Wilson

There is nothing more relaxing than sitting in a comfortable chair and watching hummingbirds at our feeders. Sometimes they hang around for days at a time, but they are always fascinating.

David Ford

Yup! Agreed. Even when the orange rufous show up and add all that drama.

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