A Bird in Hand…
Happy New Year to all of you! I hope you had a fun and safe New Years Eve.
In the past three editions of Mike’s Monday Pics I focused on Jamaican endemic species but I purposely left one species of hummingbird found there, the Red-billed Streamertail, which is the National Bird of Jamaica.
We saw the Red-billed Streamertail primarily on the west side of Jamaica, although it is found throughout the island. In many respects it resembles the Black-billed Streamertail: it has two long flowing tail feathers, it’s about the same size, and it is a hummingbird. In fact, they were considered two different species until 2010 when they were combined by the birding powers that be as one “Streamertail” species, and then separated again by the same birding powers in 2022. I thought that might have been the case because when I entered my Jamaican pictures in GreatBirdPics I could only select “Streamertail” as the species from the database that was loaded into the website in 2019. But I digress.
One of the first, and most fascinating looks at a Red-billed Streamertail was at the Steward Town Private Reserve, about 90 minutes away from Montego Bay. As we were walking down the road our guide Jay stopped an pointed out a bird moving about on the leaves of an overhanging tree. The branches looked like ferns with small leaves growing closely together. The bird was laying atop of the leaves and shaking about – it was taking a bath! The Red-billed Streamertail spread its wings and tail, settled on the dew-covered leaves and fluttered on the leaves to wet itself. From our vantage point below we were only able to see the silhouette of the bird but as we moved up the path and looked back we were able to see the Streamertail taking is bath. If you look carefully at the second image you can see some dew drops flying up as the bird flutters amid the fronds.
These weren’t great looks at the Red-billed but a peak at a special moment in their lives. I did get a better picture of the Streamertail later so you can see the detail and tail of this hummingbird. The first two pictures are of the male and the third is of a female.
The first day of our tour our Field Guides guide Jay told us that on the last day we would have hummingbirds land on our hands. “Yeah, right” I thought. On the afternoon of our final day in Jamaica we were taken to the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary, which had beautiful views of Montego Bay from its location on the mountainside. I walked out of the van and walked onto a large covered wooden deck and was immediately surrounded by hummingbirds! One flew up a foot in front of my head and hovered there for a few seconds while at least 5 others buzzed around me. They were mostly Red-billed Streamertails with a few Mango Hummingbirds mixed in. Then it got really interesting…
The caretaker for the Sanctuary then passed out airline liquor bottles filled with sugar-water and a small hole punched through the cap. He demonstrated how to hold the bottle in one hand and to position your index finger of your other hand about 5″ away. Soon enough a hummingbird came to feed.
Sometimes they just hovered around the bottle but if you were patient (and still) enough they would perch on your finger while they fed. What an amazing feeling!
The Caretaker said it took about seven years for the birds to become habituated with humans enough to be fed by hand. It was certainly an exhilarating experience on our wonderful birding trip to Jamaica!
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