By Grayson Guenther, CWC Intern
Every second Saturday of the month, CWC (Coastal Watershed Council) leads River Health Days where volunteers help plant and care for a variety of native plant species to increase biodiversity and habitat complexity and support a healthy river ecosystem. Anna’s Hummingbird is one of the species that benefit from the native plants growing along the river, and one of the many birds you might see if you visit the San Lorenzo River!
Of the numerous avian species observed within the San Lorenzo River watershed, one of the most gregarious and noteworthy is Calypte anna, known commonly as Anna’s Hummingbird. Featuring remarkable shades of iridescent fuschia and rosy-pink plumage spanning from its crown (top of head) down through its gorget (throat and breast region). Anna’s Hummingbird pairs a display of reddish-pink tones with dramatically nuanced hues of metallic copper and bronzy-greens seen predominantly on its wings, back, and tail region. In fact, this coloration may not only appear unique to the human gaze, but is also distinctive biologically, as no other North American male hummingbird species displays a red crown of any sort. Although considered medium sized and even “stocky” in comparison to others in the Hummingbird family (known formally as Trochilidae), Calypte anna weighs slightly less than a quarter-ounce (0.1-0.2 oz/ 3-6 g), or roughly about the same weight as a U.S. nickel. Additionally, it averages roughly the length of a credit card (3.9 inches/10 cm), and displays a wingspan similar to the size of a common popsicle stick (4.7 in/12 cm).
Although originally thought to only be native to California and Northern Baja Mexico, Anna’s Hummingbird has shown to have greatly expanded its range in the last several decades. Populations are now widely present from British Columbia in the North, down through to Arizona in the Southwest. Strangely enough, and in contrast to many other common hummingbird species of North America, Anna’s population has actually been increasing roughly two percent annually since the 1970s. This population increase is hypothesized to be the result of the dense planting of ornamental flowering species into more arid and less forgiving climates, and the residential popularity of hummingbird feeders. Hummingbird feeders have allowed for access to large supplies of sugary food sources during times of year, and within geographic regions, usually uncommon before modern human settlement.
Habitat and Diet
In terms of preferred habitat, Calypte anna tends to prefer open woodlands, coastal and desert chaparral, grasslands, and the foothills and lowlands of mountain slopes. Due to a reputation of adaptability, it is not uncommon to see Anna’s visiting suburban gardens, city parks, and other areas where native and exotic flowering species converge. In the case of our site at the San Lorenzo River, oak trees, like our native California live oak (Quercus agrifolia) and coastal bushes, including the Pacific Blackberry (Rubus ursinus), play an extremely important role as both roosting and nesting sites for the bird year-round. Exotic vining species and human structures also play a role in the urban-wildlife intersection of habitats that the species often navigates and utilize
Anna’s Hummingbird eats more insects than any other hummingbird species in North America and ideally prefers a habitat that provides a diversity and density of insect and arachnid species. Anna’s hummingbirds are not always a common occurrence in human dominated environments where insecticides and biological deterrents prevail. More specifically, the Anna’s diet includes tree sap, flower nectar, and a myriad of insects including midges, leafhoppers, mosquitos, and several small spider species. At the Lower San Lorenzo River, it is not uncommon to find them feeding from the flowers of the native Sticky Monkey Flower (Diplacus aurantiacus) that has been planted for the past several seasons by our staff and many helpful volunteers! In fact, according to Garrison Frost of the California Audubon, “hummingbirds love monkey flowers because they’re a great source of nectar, [and] if you want to attract hummingbirds to your garden, deck, or patio, you can hardly do better than with a monkey flower.”
Native American History
The Amah Mutsun community was originally made up of approximately 20 to 30 contiguous villages stretched across the Pajaro River Basin and surrounding region, including the land that contains the present day San Lorenzo River. Members of these different villages were united by shared cultural practices and tribal traditions, one of them being the shared significance and importance of the hummingbird in their historical creation story of humanity.
To the Amah Mutsan-Ohlone people, the hummingbird plays an extremely important role as the spiritual being and creature that brought fire to the people of the San Lorenzo Valley and surrounding lands. In fact, Mount Umunhum, one of the highest mountain peaks in the Santa Cruz Mountains, derives its name from the Ohlone word for hummingbird – often translated directly as, “the resting place of the hummingbird.” Included below is the story of “How Hummingbird Got Fire,” with a narrated video reading from Amah Mutsan-Ohlone Tribal Band Chairman, Valentin Lopez (included here).
“How Hummingbird Got Fire” (Reproduced with Permission)
“Eagle, Hummingbird, Crow, Raven and Hawk were hungry. There was food to be found but they needed fire to cook it. Eagle sent hummingbird to get fire from the Badger people underground, but the badger people refused to share their fire, and sent Hummingbird away. When Hummingbird returned, Eagle was angry and sent him back. The Badger people saw Hummingbird coming and said, “cover the fire, cover the fire”, they hid their fire and covered it with a deer skin, but the deer skin had a hole in it where an arrow had gone through and Hummingbird reached in with his long- narrow beak. He took out a hot ember and carried it along. But before he could safely put it into his arm pit, it flamed, turning his throat a brilliant red. That is why hummingbird has a red throat, and that’s how there came to be fire in the world again.”