The Minutest of the Caribbean Bird Kingdom

Caribbean Humming Birds

Fantastic beauty on the wing, they dip, sip, dart and dip again Gently buzzing flashing off their brilliant colours, Wild and curious in all their rainbows.. (Anon)

Its quite amazing how much has been documented about this adorable creature, the size of an EC dollar – sometimes referred to as the Colibri when you consider that its only found in the Western Hemisphere and viewed therefore, in its natural habitat by only a tiny percentage of the global community. Originating in equatorial South America, the majority of Hummingbirds still remain there simply because of the abundancy of suitable flowers their raison d’etre – which bloom year round. But, as with many bird species, migratory patterns expand from the indigenous centre outwards and the Eastern Caribbean has been fortunate enough to attract an interesting cross section of the 328 known Hummingbird species.

In LIAT-land, Trinidad & Tobago claim 13 types, Grenada and Puerto Rico 9 apiece, Dominican Republic 5 and the rest of the Lesser Antilles an average of 3 to 4 per island; some are endemic to the territory, a few are passing visitors. Guyana, with its stunning remoteness, probably has species of Hummingbirds not even recorded yet! These airborne specks are so colourful with exotic names such as Guiana coquette, white necked Jacobin, ruby-throated, Cuban emerald, crimson topaz, herrans thornhill and violet-crowned Hue variations mainly occur on the head feathers and neck area, referred to as the gorget. The plumage here resembles rainbow-like colours of green, purple and red and a chameleon blend of art when in motion. In motion of course evokes an image of hover mastery that has taken thousands of years to evolve.

Besides its helicopter style, Hummingbirds can fly straight up, straight down, sideways and backwards, achieving a speed of 60 mph and can stop in an instant. It can move its wings at an average 53 beats a second, invert them and perform the aerodynamics of an insect, which could support the little known folklore theory that the Colibri at one time were flies that the Sun God converted into little birds. Hummingbirds are considered the prime nectar searchers on the planet bar none.

Blessed with long beaks and tongues they easily pluck this high calorie food from the remote corners of blooming plants, at the same time encouraging efficient flora pollination. Evidently, the colour of a flower is as important as its shape when attracting a Hummingbird. Red petals stand out amongst green foliage making them number one targets; orange, pink, yellow, blue and purple flowers make up the rest of the menu. Most commonly, people view the Hummer whilst engaging a healthy stamen in hover mode of course – but hardly ever in a perched position, probably because of its shyness, minuteness and colour camouflage.

My closest encounter was in Dominica when an Antillean Crested version flew into the bathroom of our recently built house. The bird was uncomfortable in the strange surroundings and began fluttering wildly beneath the exposed rafters – furnishings were not in place, so there was nowhere to perch; windows were open but the little soul couldn’t hone in and eventually, exhausted, dive bombed into a bath-towel on a nearby hook. Its tiny heart was beating at such rate of knots, I was mesmerised. Getting second wind, he/she headed for the rafters again only to repeat the landing.

I decided my presence was not helping and left to get a long distant camera shot. On my return the plucky mite was nowhere to be seen. I swear I heard a little voice say: The Colibri has left the building!

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