When growing up in Peoria, Ernest Franzgrote was surrounded by bird houses and feeders put up by his family.


 

When growing up in Peoria, Ernest Franzgrote was surrounded by bird houses and feeders put up by his family.


The first hummingbird he identified was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird flitting around the trumpet vine.


"I remember my mother saying, the jenny wren always comes on the same day, April 19th, and I was fascinated by that," said Franzgrote, who eventually left his home in the West Bluff and became a scientist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.


After a 37-year career as a scientist, however, Franzgrote will be speaking in Peoria on Friday night as an acclaimed hummingbird expert who studied, photographed and videotaped more than 200 species of hummingbirds.


"I've always been fascinated by flight, so it's possible ... the connection with the flight of the hummingbirds," Franzgrote said in a telephone interview as he struggled to find some connection between his career and his avocation.


In the 1980s while on temporary duty for NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, Franzgrote was monitoring the development of an unmanned airplane being tested at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. He also began his own exploration into the world of hummingbirds.


Instead of staying at a motel, he booked a cabin that was part of The Nature Conservancy.


"People would travel hundreds of miles to come see the hummingbirds, which I could see from my back yard," he said. "It was cheaper than staying at a motel."


He delighted in the creatures that "weigh less than a penny, more than a dime" with names such as Fiery-Throated, Copper-Rumped, Violet-Capped or Stripe-Throated hummingbirds.


After Arizona, he moved overseas to Costa Rica and Venezuela in his quest to photograph them and videotape them for further study. In 2000, he traveled from Ecuador to Chile to Panama, filming 204 of the 320 known species of hummingbirds.


With all this research, he has produced a 53-minute documentary "A Big Year for Little Birds." This video, which shows not only their behavior, but also their songs, will be presented at 7 p.m. Friday at Forest Park Nature Center and again on Saturday at Illinois Central College, north campus.


The highlights of his video also are featured on the National Geographic Web site.


"The real reason for the visit to Peoria this weekend is to attend a school reunion," Franzgrote said. Saturday is the 60th reunion of the Academy of Our Lady/Spalding Institute.


"On Friday evening, I will be seeing my family at the German American Club," Franzgrote said. "John Mullen (a senior naturalist at Forest Park Nature Center) has kindly agreed to introduce the video so I can visit with my family. Then I will be there to speak after the video."


Catharine Schaidle can be reached at (309) 686-3290 or cschaidle@pjstar.com.


Hummingbird highlights


• What: Video highlights of "A Quest for 200 Hummingbirds in the Year 2000" by photographer Ernest Franzgrote, a Peoria native.


• When: 7 p.m. Friday, Forest Park Nature Center


• Second showing: 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Arbor Hall auditorium at the Illinois Central College north campus on University.


• Cost: Both events are free, but registration is required for Saturday.


• Call: ICC at (309) 690-6863 to register or John Mullen at (309) 686-3360 for more information.