Published On: Fri, Feb 21st, 2014

BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND: Humming a Sweet Tune, the Cinnamon Hummingbird

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Cinnamon Hummingbird, Amazilia rutila,,Colibri Canela (Spanish), X ts’ini’um (Mayan)

Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired,” zoologist, photographer, and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 53 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her column, published on the 7th and 21st of each month, features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and beyond. Contact: all4birdies@gmail.com  All rights reserved, © Cherie Pittillo

ZZZZZOOOMMM!

What was that?

Buzz! Buzz!

Hmmph; there were two of them.

Ah, it’s a Cinnamon Hummingbird chasing another Cinnamon Hummingbird from its territory. They looked like insects as they flew so fast. Rarely do I see a second hummingbird penetrate the invisible-walled fortress of my zippy neighbor’s domain.

Cinnamon Hummingbird

Cinnamon Hummingbird

For several years I’ve observed this cinnamon-fronted beauty search our tamarind tree in the mornings for insects. Recent research indicates that many species feed more on spiders and insects rather than nectar. Or depending upon habitat and season, the primary food may switch to nectar.

Also scientists learned that the hummingbird tongue, about twice as long as its bill, contains several tubes and flaps. If the nectar forms a shallow pool, the tongue goes into the flower a short distance and extracts out the sugary-liquid with capillary action. If a deep reservoir of nectar is available, the entire tongue opens up into several parts to make a fluid trap to collect that nectar.

Tongue of the Cinnamon Hummingbird is twice as long as its bill.

Tongue of the Cinnamon Hummingbird is twice as long as its bill.

I tried a hummingbird feeder for awhile in my backyard.  The typical recipe is four parts water to one part refined sugar with no red coloring. The red dye may contain additives harmful to the hummingbird. Although the feeder didn’t attract hummers, it did attract honeybees and ants. Those insects crawled inside the glass container and drowned. After multiple insect deaths, I removed it.

The Cinnamon Hummingbird is the only species in most of the Yucatan Peninsula with a cinnamon throat and underparts. On first glance it seems larger than the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a migrant here, and it is. It slightly weighs more than a penny and is about as long as an iPhone is high, 4.5 inches. A bronzy-green back and rufous tail feathers complete the simple outfit. The Cinnamon lacks the flashy iridescence on its throat like the male Ruby-throated. The bill of a male is red with black tip while the female’s upper bill is mostly black. I still have a difficult time identifying the sexes unless the female sits on her nest.

Throat feathers lack iridescence on the Cinnamon Hummingbird.

Throat feathers lack iridescence on the Cinnamon Hummingbird.

Cinnamon Hummingbird bill is black and red.

Cinnamon Hummingbird bill is black and red.

This species is usually solitary except for mating.

The promiscuous male performs a swinging up and down flight to attract a female, he mates, and then he leaves to seduce another female. A female may mate with other males, too. Guess this species really is a swinger. No monogamy exists.

The female constructs a cup-like nest of vegetation and cobwebs. It’s about the size of half a walnut shell. She lays two eggs, each are green pea-size, and incubates them. When hatched, each chick is as tiny as a penny. As the young grow, the nest expands due to the stretchiness of the spider web. Instead of nectar, the mother feeds the chicks  insects or spiders for protein.

Female Cinnamon Humminbird sits on nest in agave.

Female Cinnamon Humminbird sits on nest in agave.

These hummers are common and widely distributed from Mexico to Costa Rica and found in grassy fields, haciendas, villages, forest edges, backyard gardens, cities, and the coast. They search for flowering trees, shrubs, flowers, and air plants (epiphytes). Epic fights occur over feeding territories.

This stretching activity by a Cinnamon Hummingbird could be a territorial signal.

This stretching activity by a Cinnamon Hummingbird could be a territorial signal.

As a child I remember someone asked me, “Why do hummingbirds hum?”

I replied, “I don’t know.”

“Well, they hum because they don’t know the words.”

It turns out the humming noise derives from the wing beats at 20-30 times per second. The call sounds like this: http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/6105

I could say the life of the Cinnamon Hummingbird is not hum drum due to its relentless food search, territory protection, and promiscuous life style.  Maybe it is humming after all.

Cinnamon Hummingbird searches for nectar.

Cinnamon Hummingbird searches for nectar.

Happy Birding!

DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about this species: A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, Sal a Pajarear Yucatan Guia de Aves, Birds and Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula, A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica,http://www.avianweb.com/cinnamonhummingbirds.html

http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/lifehistory?p_p_spp=255736

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/migratorybirds/webcam/hummingbirds.cfm

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=2031

Mexico Travel Care

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