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Apodiformes - Swifts and Hummingbirds
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Apodiformes - Swifts and Hummingbirds
Families: Swifts, Treeswifts, Hummingbirds
Banding Hummingbords
Tufted Coquette
Trinidad Hummingbords: Tufted Coquette, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Blue-chinned Sapphire, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Black-throated Mango, Green-throated Mango, White-chested Emerald, White-necked Jacobin
  Order Apodiformes - Swifts and Hummingbirds
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  These are small to extremely small birds. All are strong fliers that feed on the wing. They have a short, stout humerus and a long manus (hand) that provides an ideal wing structure for hovering in hummingbirds.
   There have been numerous discussions about their relationships but they have been grouped in most classifications for the past 150 years. DNA evidence suggest that swifts and hummingbirds should be placed in separate orders but they are actually each other's closest relatives (Sibley and Ahlquist, 1990, place the swifts and treeswifts in the Apodiformes and hummingbirds in the Trochiliformes, both within the same Superorder Apodimorphae). Other authorities and the AOU Checklist  keeps the three families in the same order and we will follow that practice for now. Their closest living relatives are probably the Owlet-nightjars (Mayr, 2002). They probably evolved in the Northern Hemisphere.
   Swifts and hummingbirds have a pelvic muscle formula of A. They have a short humerus and long hand, 10 primaries (with the outermost the longest), 6-11 short secondaries, and 10 tail feathers. Nostrils are holorhinal and impervious. The furcula is U-shaped. They have a left carotid. Caeca are usually absent. The hypotarsus is simple and their legs are small and have limited function beyond perching. Their feet are covered with bare skin rather than scales. They have an aftershaft. Flexor tendons are Type 5. here are 13 cervical vertebrae (14 in Chaetura). They have large salivary glands that enlarge when saliva is used in nest construction. They have no crop. All but one genus of swift (Hemiprocne) have a claw on the hand. Their feet are small.
   Typical Swifts occur widely in tropical and temperate regions where flying insects are abundant. There are 99 (100) species placed in 18 genera (Sibley and Monroe, 1990, Clements, 2007) or 94 species in 19 genera (Harris, 2009).
   Tree-Swifts range from southeastern Asia to Indonesia and the Solomon Islands. There are 4 species placed in 1 genus (Hemiprocne).
   Hummingbirds are endemic to the New World - most species are tropical but their total range extends from southern Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. There are 319 (332) species in 104 (109) genera. Clements (2007) lists 339 species.
  Family Apodidae - Swifts
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  99 (100) species, 18 genera. Dickinson, 2003, and Harris, 2009, list 94 species in 19 genera. Worldwide in temperate and tropical regions including many oceanic islands.
   Swifts can be divided into 4 tribes:
      Tribe Cypseloidini (12-14 species, 2 genera Cypseloides, Streptoprocne)
      Tribe Collocalini - Swiftlets (31-32 species, 4 genera)
      Tribe Chaeturini - Needletails (27 species, 7 genera)
      Tribe Apodini - Typical Swifts (~27 species, 5 genera)

   Swifts are among the most aerial of birds, spending most of their life in flight. They are relatively small birds (6-180g) without crests. They have a characteristic shape - with their long, swept-back wings they assume a cresent shape. Our common swift actually looks like a "cigar with wings." It often looks like they are beating the wings alternately but they do not - they simply have a rapid wingbeat.
   Swifts have a deeply cleft gape and the bill is short and broadly triangular. The palate is aegithognathous. Their nostrils open vertically and there is no operculum. Their tongue is short, triangular and not extensile. They have large salivary glands which hypertrophy during breeding to provide saliva for nest construction. They have no crop. They have no caeca. The syrinx is tracheo-bronchial with a sterno-trachealis muscle and one pair of intrinsic muscles.
   Their wings are long - the proximal bones (humerus, radius-ulna) are very short but the hand (carpus and phalanges) is long. The hand also has a claw that may reinforce perching vertically (except Hemiprocne) . They have long primaries and 8-11 short secondaries with 2-3 alular (1st finger) feathers. The tail is short - some have spine-like projections from the tail. Their flanks lack downy or silky feathers, and their plumage is hard. The aftershaft is large. Down is limited to apteria. There are 6-7 pairs of ribs. There are no caeca. They have a gall bladder. The oil gland is naked. They have 13 (14) cervical vertebrae.
   Their legs are short with small feet. The hallux can be directed forward giving four claws that can be used to cling to vertical surfaces. In some species, the inner toe is capable of being directed backward with the toes being paired fore and aft (as in a zygodactyl foot). The tarsi and sometimes the toes are feathered.
   Sexes are alike. Their plumage is usually dull - most are black or dark brown, sometimes paler on the throat and rump. A few show bold patterning and some have white underparts. Migratory species undergo a complete molt while on their winter grounds - if begun after breeding, it is suspended during migration and completed thereafter.
  Swifts are diurnal and feed in flight. They eat insects and some airborne spiders. They fly fast with stiff, rapid wingbeats and glides. Some fly at some altitude, others hunt nearer the ground. They seldom perch except on their nest - they cannot walk. Some roost in large groups at night. They normally fly at 5-14 m/second and can reach 60m /sec. They may cover thousands of miles in their normal feeding flights and may remain aloft at night in the Old World, "sleeping" as they fly (the Common Swift, Apus apus). The Common Swift may cover at least 200.000 km in a year. Swifts nesting in England may move across the continent to feed, especially when storms constrict their food supplies locally - while they do this, the young become hypothermic and essentially hibernate, being able to survive without heat from their parents and food for 10 days or so).
   Swifts are most diverse in tropical regions and need open areas for foraging. Their nesting and roosting habitats vary from forests to caves, cliffs and waterfalls and around human settlements (chimneys, abandoned structures).
   Most tropical and subtropical species are resident. Species breeding farther to the north may be trans-equatorial migrants (our Chimney Swift, Chaetura pelagica) moves to the Amazon basin in winter). Long-distance vagrancy is also common - European species may reach the New World on occasion. Swifts also make bad-weather movements to find temporary feeding areas at some distance from home.
   Swifts often call as they feed and when they are around nesting or roosting sites. The cave-dwelling swiiflets (Collocalia) are able to echolocate using audible clicks.
   Swifts appear to be monogamous. They may be solitary breeders or form small to large colonies. They use feathers, twigs, moss and other fibers to build a nest cemented with saliva from well-developed salivary glands. Edible-nest Swiftlets (Aerodramus fuciphagus) use only saliva. Nests are located on a vertical surface in a cavity or crevice ranging from a hollow tree or cave to a chimney or building. Swifts mate on the wing. They lay 1-7 eggs which are incubated for 16-30 days. Young are altricial, fledging at 4-10 weeks. Both parents assist in raising the young.
The only swift found on Seabrook is the Chimney Swift.             
  Family Hemiprocnidae - Treeswifts
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  4 species, 1 genus (Hemiprocne). Southeast Asia to New Guinea. Tropical and subtropical forest. Considered as a subfamily of the Apodidae by some authors.
   These are larger birds with crested heads or with plumes, They have very long, thin wings and a long forked tail. The bulk of the wings' length is due to their long primaries - the arms themselves are quite short. The head is small with a short bill with a broad gape. They have rictal bristles. The body is slender. Their flanks have a patch of downy or silky plumage and their plumage is soft. They differ from true swifts in the structure of their palate and skull. Their legs are short. They have no claw on the hand and the hallux is directed backwards and is not reversible.
   Treeswifts are gray - ranging from dark to off-white with darker upperparts. Adult males have bright ear coverts but females' coverts are dark. Males have iridescent mantles. Two species have white facial streamers with white tertial patches. The tail is usually held closed but when spread is forklike.
   All species are rapid and graceful fliers. One species flycatches (perch and sally) but most catch prey on the wing over the tree canopy or in the open. They feed on flies, beetles, ants, bees, and other flying insects.
   They are usually quiet. They live in forests, edges, and around clearings. Many forage close to vegetation beneath the canopy. Some may forage over cultivated land and are found around small settlements. They are usually sedentary but two species move nomadically on occasion.
   Treeswifts are monogamous. They build a small cup nest which they glue to a branch with saliva. The single egg is fixed inside with saliva and is incubated by both parents. Incubation lasts ~21-28 days. Chicks are covered with grey down and are fed a bolus of regurgitated food. They fledge in about 28 days. Young may continue to be fed for 3 weeks after fledging.
  Farmily Trochilidae - Hummingbirds
   (or Trochiloformes)
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  319 species, 109 genera (Sibley and Monroe, 1990) - Clements (2007) lists 339 species and Dickinson (2003) and Harris (2009) include 332 species in 104 genera. New World - from Alaska (in summer) to Tierra del Fuego. They are among the smallest birds of the world.
   The group may be separated into two subfamilies:
   Subfamily Phaethornithinae - Hermits. Relatively dull. Iridescence limited to upperparts (if any). Most have a dark face and long central rectrices. Long bills, slightly decurved in most species. Sexes mostly alike.     Wiki 
   Subfamily Trochilinae - Typical Hummingbirds. Caleidoscopic array of colors, shapes, and sized. Bills vary widely. Sexes usually highly dichromic - females often have metallic green upperparts and spangles on their white undersides.     Wiki
   Hummingbirds are among the smallest bird - the Bee Hummingbird, Mellisuga helenae, weighs 2.3 g. The largest hummingbird is the Giant Hummingbird, Pagagonia gigas. is about the size of a Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia (Emberizidae).
    Hummingbirds have long, narrow wings which pivot on a flexible shoulder joint with each beat to yield power on both up- and down-strokes. Thus, they can fly forward, backward, or hover. Proximal wing bones are reduced - the length is provided by the hand and primaries. They have 8 pairs of ribs. Their legs are short and their feet are weak - three toes point forward and the hallux backward (anisodactyl). Their bills are relatively short to very long and slender and may be deeply decurved - adapted to their favored flowers. Two species have serrations near the tip. Their gape is not deeply cleft and their tongue is highly extensile and long, tubular, and forked at the end with structures that draw liquid in by capillary attraction. They feed on nectar but also flycatch a variety of small insects to add protein in their diet. Their nostrils are lateral and operculate. They have 14-15 cervical vertebrae. The caeca are rudimentary or absent and there is no gall bladder. There are 6-7 secondaries and 0-1 alular feathers. The aftershaft is small or absent, There is no claw on their hand. They lay two eggs. Nestlings have a spherical crop. Young are fed insects as well as nectar. Males generally desert early in the nesting cycle.
   Hermits are relatively dull but typical hummingbirds are bright to gaudy. Many males have iridescent gorget and crown patches. Some have crests or long throat and cheek feathers. Some have flight feathers that produce sound in flight (Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are identified by their sound). Some show tail patches used in display. Tails also vary. Some have greatly elongated tails. The male Marvelous Spatuletail, Loddigesia mirabilis, has only 4 feathers - the two central rectrices are narrow and pointed, the other two ar long and curve forward with a bare shaft and spatulate tip.
  Hummingbirds feed by hovering (or perching) at a food sources. Their wings beat at up to 80 cycles/second (10-20 cycles/second in larger species). Hummingbirds have a high rate of metabolic activity even when perched. High concentrations of muscle mitochondria allow rapid energy output for hovering flight. When inactive at night, they may become hypothermic to reduce thermoregulatory energy losses.
   They are relatively pugnacious particularly around food sources. They usually defend large territories that may overlap those of others. Their display flights are highly stereotyped and show off their particular adornments to nearby females. (Hermits form leks and court with vocalizations and low-key displays.)
   Few species actually sing - their voices are generally squeaks or chirps, coupled with mechanical sounds in some species. Hermits are better songsters with simple monotonous calls at their lek.
   The most species of hummingbirds are found in the Andes near the equator but single species range north to Arctic and south to Antarctic regions. Cloud forests contain many species that range into subtropical and temperate areas. Lowland forest, however, has a lower diversity.
   Hummingbirds feed on nectar. Species are adapted to different kinds of flowers and feed in different ways giving rise to widely divergent bill lengths and shapes. Many plants depend on hummingbirds for pollination, depositing pollen on feathers of the head. Most hummingbirds insert their bill into the corolla tube to obtain nectar. A few puncture the base of the tube to gain access. They may also take juice from ripe fruit and sap from nectar wells produced by North American sapsuckers. Insects (gnats, fruit flies, small moths, etc.) are taken on the wing or plucked from foliage; spiders are taken from their web. Insects may also be taken by many. Most insects are captured as the fly - a few may be gleaned from leaves and bark as they hover. They occasionally appear to glean small nuggets of fat from suet blocks. Nestlings appear to be fed almost exclusively on insects and migrants rely on insects to deposit the fat needed for long-distance flights.
   Most hummingbirds are sedentary but a few migrate attitudinally or latitudinally. The Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, migrates from Alaska to southern Mexico - about 3,700 miles round trip. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, may cross the Gulf of Mexico non-stop (600 miles).
   During periods of cold weather or when food is scarce, some species of hummingbirds become hypothermic at night to conserve energy (but none hibernate - they migrate from colder regions in winter).
   Typical hummingbirds are sexually dimporphic. Brightly colored males defend a territory in which they display and mate with females. In monomorphic hermits (Phaethornis), 2 or 3 to 100 males assemble in leks. Each male defends several song perches and mates on these perches.
   Most hummingbirds are polygamous and the female builds the nest, incubates the eggs and cares for the young. In several monomorphic species, males may participate in brood care.
   In most hummingbird species, the nest is a small open cup placed on a small branch, containing plant down, fibers, and moss, often bound together with spider silk. Lichens may be attached to the outer surface. Hermits (Phaetontinae) build pendant nests fastened beneath a leaf. Sylphs, Aglaiocercus, build domed nests. Metaltails, Metallura, build partially domed nests. Some species build on rock faces.
   They lay 1-2 white elliptical eggs (larger clutches indicate egg dumping or parasitism by other females). Incubation begins after the second egg is laid and requires 14-16 (23) days. Nidicolous young hatch nearly featherless and are brooded for the first 8-12 days. Their bill is very short but grows rapidly. Small nestlings defecate in the nest and the female removed the fecal sacs (nest sanitation); older young defecate over the rim. Young are fed insects and spiders by regurgitation from the crop - the female inserts her bill directly into the throat of nestlings to feed them. Fledging takes 18-40 days and young are fed for up to 40 days of age. Some swifts may live for 20 years or longer in the wild. Young remain in the nest and are dependent on their parents for warmth and food during early development.
●  In the Seabrook list of possible hummingbirds, the Ruby-throated and Rufous Hummingbirds are the only species you might see. Consider all of the other species as accidental or hypothetical.
Tufted Coquette

Tufted Coquette, Lophornis ornatus
Asa Wrighte Nature Center, Trinidad
Photo by Ed Konrad
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    Banding Hummingbirds
       Hummingbirds are not usually caught by banders - most use nets designed for sparrows-thrushes and most hummers fly straight through. Once in a while, however, one gets tangled and must be removed. Initially, the Fish & Wildlife Service recommended using a Size 0 band (the smallest), cutting the band to reduce its size while leaving the end digits of the number intact. This often gave a rather jagged band with a poor fit and obviously affected the wearer. Special celluloid bands were developed and hummingbirds can now be banded only with special permission - by those trained to do so and needing the information.
   Handling a hummingbird is, in itself, an interesting experience - it is like trying to hold a bumblebee.
    Banner - Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. Pecos Canyon, NM.