My nectar brings all the birds to the yard.
You know, we really don’t need these hummingbird feeders at our place.
In principle, we don’t need to feed the birds at all. I get that. And when I talk to groups as a naturalist, I often find myself saying, “Create the habitat. Let the plants grow; let the bugs flourish. Then the birds will feed themselves.”
And we do that. In the seven years since we moved to this 3/4 acre property, we have fenced out the invasive deer and allowed the understory to grow back. We have planted native salmonberry, thimbleberry, June plum, and snowberry; we have added pollinator-friendly perennials (and we are now bumblebee central, I’m pleased to say.)
We have added honeysuckle and crocosmia and fuchsia and anything else that looks tubular and gorgeous that might provide nectar for hummingbirds.
And they do seem to appreciate it. It’s a treat to watch them poke their way into a Magellanic fuchsia and tip it back like a fancy soda straw.
But we also have a couple of hummingbird feeders.
Okay, five. We have five hummingbird feeders. And when the rufous hummingbirds arrive (usually mid-March in our area, though this year they were tardy), it’s mayhem. At any given moment of the day yesterday there were at least a half-dozen hummingbirds jostling for positions at the feeders, chasing each other away, diving and calling and waggle-dancing for prospective mates.
Tom is responsible for refilling them and we go through a full bag of sugar every week or so.
The males are aggressive.
We have two male rufous (and a male Anna’s) at the moment. We recognize each rufous as the green-back and the red-back, and they seem to have a bit of an uneasy truce over sharing the neighbourhood.
They are harem breeders, you see. They know that the females are attracted to our place because of the food supply, and their goal is to breed with as many as possible. Males have got absolutely no role in raising the young; the females just need them for their genes. But the competition to contribute those genes appears to be fierce, and hummingbirds are known for their energetic mating dive displays, which in the case of rufous hummingbirds usually ends with a signature “zeeee-chuppity-chup” call. It’s pretty cute.
Hummingbirds are assertive.
Female hummingbirds are pretty aggressive, too, actually. When they’re hungry they’ll back down from nobody for a chance to get a meal (in addition to nectar they eat a lot of aphids and other small insects.) Hummingbirds have good spatial memories and are able to recall—in their tiny brains—which flowers are producing nectar and how often they are likely to replenish. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not particularly attracted to red but will remember the colour of whichever plant is producing nectar. Like many birds, their colour vision is probably more nuanced than our own; they can see into the UV spectrum.
In a month or so, we’ll suddenly see swarms of newly-fledged hummers trying to figure out how to sip from flowers and feeders. They’re awkward and a bit slow but it doesn’t take them long to figure it all out. They don’t have much time; they’ve got a long route ahead of them. Measured in body-lengths, rufous hummingbirds have the longest migration route in the world. Males vacate our area first, and most are gone by late June. Females and young stick around through August, and then it gets very quiet around here, with a few tough Anna’s hummingbird sticking it out through the winter.
A New World Bird
If you live anywhere east of the Rockies, chances are you’ve strictly got ruby-throated hummingbirds, and if you live in Europe or anywhere other than the Americas, you’ve got no hummingbirds at all (though some of your moths look a lot like them at a distance.)
If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing hummingbirds up close, I can’t recommend it enough. Make your way to the west during the late spring and summer, or if you’re the adventurous type, plan a birding trip to Central or South America where the diversity of hummingbirds is just amazing. Bring a camera with a fast shutter speed, and lots and lots of storage. You’ll need it.
Let me brighten your Friday.
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