Shallow Thoughts : tags : hummingbirds

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 19 Apr 2020

H is for Hummingbirds

I'd been delaying this entry, hoping the hummingbirds would show up. I only have a couple of them right now: a male broad-tailed and a male black-chinned. I hope things will perk up later: in midsummer the rufous and calliope hummingbirds arrive and things usually get a lot more active. But meanwhile, I have an H entry to write.

[Rufous hummingbird showing off his copper throat] The black-chinned hummingbirds we have here now have a beautiful purple throat. With, yes, a little bit of black there. Why womeone would look at a bird with an iridescent purple throat with a small black border and name it "black-chinned" is beyond me.

Unfortunately, this purple throat is even more sensitive to light angle than other hummingbirds' colors, and I haven't been able to get a photo that really shows it. Hummingbird feathers -- and particularly the feathers of the males' colorful throats -- have a structure that diffracts the light, creating beautiful iridescent colors that only show up when the sun is at just the right angle. If you watch a male black-chinned hummer at the feeder, its throat will look black most of the time, with occasional startling flashes of purple. You have to take a lot of photos and get lucky with timing to catch the flash. I'll get it some day. Meanwhile, here's a lovely black-chinned hummingbird photo from Arizona.

So instead, here's a photo of a male rufous hummingbirds, which will show up later in the summer. Rufous are a lot easier to photograph. Their brilliant copper-colored throats show up from a much wider range of angles, and rufous males are even more territorial than other hummers, so once one decides it owns your feeder, it will pose in the sunlight for most of the day, ready to chase any pretenders away.

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[ 20:02 Apr 19, 2020    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Tue, 14 Jul 2015

Hummingbird Quidditch!

[rufous hummingbird] After months of at most one hummingbird at the feeders every 15 minutes or so, yesterday afternoon the hummingbirds here all suddenly went crazy. Since then, my patio looks like a tiny Battle of Britain, There are at least four males involved in the fighting, plus a couple of females who sneak in to steal a sip whenever the principals retreat for a moment.

I posted that to the local birding list and someone came up with a better comparison: "it looks like a Quidditch game on the back porch". Perfect! And someone else compared the hummer guarding the feeder to "an avid fan at Wimbledon", referring to the way his head keeps flicking back and forth between the two feeders under his control.

Last year I never saw anything like this. There was a week or so at the very end of summer where I'd occasionally see three hummingbirds contending at the very end of the day for their bedtime snack, but no more than that. I think putting out more feeders has a lot to do with it.

All the dogfighting (or quidditch) is amazing to watch, and to listen to. But I have to wonder how these little guys manage to survive when they spend all their time helicoptering after each other and no time actually eating. Not to mention the way the males chase females away from the food when the females need to be taking care of chicks.

[calliope hummingbird]

I know there's a rufous hummingbird (shown above) and a broad-tailed hummingbird -- the broad-tailed makes a whistling sound with his wings as he dives in for the attack. I know there a black-chinned hummer around because I saw his characteristic tail-waggle as he used the feeder outside the nook a few days before the real combat started. But I didn't realize until I checked my photos this morning that one of the combatants is a calliope hummingbird. They're usually the latest to arrive, and the rarest. I hadn't realized we had any calliopes yet this year, so I was very happy to see the male's throat streamers when I looked at the photo. So all four of the species we'd normally expect to see here in northern New Mexico are represented.

I've always envied places that have a row of feeders and dozens of hummingbirds all vying for position. But I would put out two feeders and never see them both occupied at once -- one male always keeps an eye on both feeders and drives away all competitors, including females -- so putting out a third feeder seemed pointless. But late last year I decided to try something new: put out more feeders, but make sure some of them are around the corner hidden from the main feeders. Then one tyrant can't watch them all, and other hummers can establish a beachhead.

It seems to be working: at least, we have a lot more activity so far than last year, even though I never seem to see any hummers at the fourth feeder, hidden up near the bedroom. Maybe I need to move that one; and I just bought a fifth, so I'll try putting that somewhere on the other side of the house and see how it affects the feeders on the patio.

I still don't have dozens of hummingbirds like some places have (the Sopaipilla Factory restaurant in Pojoaque is the best place I've seen around here to watch hummingbirds). But I'm making progress

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[ 12:45 Jul 14, 2015    More nature | permalink to this entry | comments ]