The Hummingbird—Our Brilliant Gem

By Jackie Canterbury

You are sitting quietly by a forest stream, or in your yard. A brilliant gem darts and hovers and then disappears. The hummingbird, named for the humming sound of its beating wings, brings a sudden glow to your face. John James Audubon described a hummingbird as a “glittering garment of the rainbow.” 

Hummingbirds are found only in North and South America. They are mostly tropical and prefer lush vegetation and high humidity along the equator. The country that supports the largest number of hummingbirds is Ecuador, followed by Colombia.

The Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds are found along our Pacific coast. The Anna’s remains here all year. In contrast, the Rufous is a long-distance migrant traveling 4,000 miles from breeding grounds in Southeast Alaska, Washington, and Oregon to wintering areas in Mexico. Their return flight is inland over the Rocky Mountains. For that feat they have evolved into the fastest fliers for their small size at 30mph.

The throat feathers of hummingbirds are called the ‘gorget’. The term comes from days of old when a knight-in-armor wore a metallic collar or gorget to protect the throat. The color we see is due to iridescence and the reflection of light. And, the cool part is that individual female Rufous Hummingbirds, for example, can be identified by the individual color patterns on their throat. Though only males have a gorget, females do have patterns of bright color, as shown in these photographs.