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NatureSpeak Articles

Rufous isn’t just a name for dogs

Another sign of spring was recently sighted in the Sea to Sky corridor. This animal has flown thousands of kilometres from either southern California or central Mexico to spend its summer in our area. On March 27, Bobbi Sandkul of Pinecrest Estates south of Whistler spotted a Rufous hummingbird ( Selasphorus rufus ) at her feeder.

Our local area is a summer home to three species of hummingbird; the Rufous, the most common, is sighted here throughout the spring and summer and occasionally in the early fall. Rarely sighted in the Sea to Sky are the Calliope hummingbird (Stellula calliope ), which is North America's smallest bird, and the Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna ).

The male Rufous hummingbird weighs about 3.2 g with the female being slightly larger and heavier at 3.4 g. This dimorphism is common in most hummingbird species. They are approximately 9 cm in length. This size-to-weight ratio means the Rufous has the most efficient energy usage amongst North American hummingbirds.

The male Rufous hummingbird has non-iridescent rusty brown or "rufous" coloured plumage on the top of its head (crown), tail, and sides. His back may also be rufous and/or green and his breast is white. He has a bright, iridescent, reddish-orange throat patch, which is known as a gorget. The female Rufous has green plumage on both her crown and back. She is rufous coloured only on her sides and at the base of her tail. Like the male she has a white breast but also has white at the tips of her outer tail feathers. Both the male and female juveniles have the colouring of the adult female, which can make identification difficult in the late summer/early fall after the young have hatched. Later they will molt and the male juveniles will lose this colouring.

The adult Calliope hummingbird, whose scientific name translates into "beautiful little star" is only 8 cm long. At birth they are about the size of a human fingernail. Adult males weigh 2.5 g and females 2.85 g, which is about as much as a quarter. Like the female Rufous hummingbird, both the male and female Calliope have an iridescent green back and crown. The male has a yellow breast and flank. He has a white gorget, and unlike all other North American hummingbird species that have solid coloured gorgets, the Calliope’s is streaked with purple feathers that can be erected to display a "whiskered" effect. Unlike the male, the female Calliope has a buff coloured underside and flanks. Her white gorget is freckled with dark spots. Like the Rufous, both female and male Calliope hummingbirds have dark tails; the female having white tips on the outer feathers.

Lastly, Anna’s hummingbird is the largest of the nine species found on the West coast of North America. Males of this species weigh slightly more at 4.3 g than the females’ 4.05 g. Anna’s are about 10 cm in length. Both the male and female Anna’s hummingbird also have green backs and flanks similar to both the Calliopes and female Rufous, but unlike these species they have a grey breast. Also, like the other two species both sexes of Anna’s hummingbird have dark tails with the female having white tips on the outer feathers. The male Anna’s has an iridescent, bright rose-red crown and gorget. The female and juveniles instead have a green crown and grey gorget that has thin dark streaks and/or bright red spots.

So keep your eyes and ears open for our local hummingbird species as they return to our area for another summer season full of reproducing, feeding and fighting. But don’t worry if you have problems identifying them as even ornithologists have trouble especially with females and juveniles. For ID assistance see Stay tuned for an upcoming Naturespeak with more interesting info on these tiny marvels.

Oh and if you can beat Bobbi Sandkul’s early season sighting of March 27th, please contact me using the information below.

And finally an update on the recent Mad Grouse on Whistler Mountain? Article. Thanks to Geordie, Joan and Eric for contacting me and positively identifying the enraged Blue grouse on the Khyber. Thanks as well, to all those who recounted tales of his crazy dive bombing, ski jacket attacking and even head pecking antics!

Upcoming Events:

Whistler Naturalists Speaker Series — Getting By or Flying High: The Challenges of being an Alpine Animal with Dr. Kathy Martin. The former president of the Society of Canadian Ornithologists, the University of British Columbia’s Dr. Martin is the only scientist in Canada devoted to the study of alpine birds. Species living in our local alpine ecosystems not only have to contend with extreme weather conditions, but manmade environmental stresses, such as air-borne contaminants from urban centres, nitrogen deposition from nearby farming areas and recreational pressures from heli-skiing and/or backcountry camping as well. Event will take place Thursday, April 22nd at 7:30 p.m. at MY Place (doors open at 7 p,m). Admission by donation; children free.

Monthly Bird Walk — The next bird walk will take place Saturday, May 1st. Join Whistler experts in the monthly update of our feathered locals and migrants.

Written by: Sorcha Masterson


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