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June, 2013 | Scuff Productions

Hummingbird Life @ 9336 A big learning year

Bloged in birding,Hummingbirds,Nature,Pacific Northwest by mark Thursday June 20, 2013

After 12-13 years of preparing the simple sugar-water solution that feeds a beloved tiny migrant bird that comes up here from Mexico for a short 3-5 months, I feel like I’ve learned more THIS spring than I expected.

Some facts:
**Portland has year-round hummingbirds, called “Annas” . . . that, until 20 years ago were pretty much ‘valley’ birds…. they would visit the hills in the summer but never stay year round
annas feeding

For an undetermined reason, but thought to be the fact that more homes have been built up here in the hills, and MORE people began feeding the hummers, a few Anna’s slowly began to stay year round….tiny numbers…… By 2013, I wish I could COUNT between Anna’s and the migrant and fun Rufus who make, for their size, the longest migrant trip of any animal on the planet.

**Anna’s are calmer birds than Rufus. Anna’s ARE territorial, just don’t seem quite as much…. When I carry a feeder re-fill to the replacement spot, an Anna will sit there staring at me much longer than the wild Rufus….they may only fly a few yards away to wait until my task is done…. Rufus will seem to disappear up into the fir trees…

**The Migration Pattern is fascinating for Rufus….and itself is, in a tiny way, changing. Begin: ALL of them are somewhere warm in some Mexico regions……..after arriving for winter anytime between September – October, they get restless around February. The males react first and leave…. and until recently, ALL of them began flying up along the California Coast (because first spring blooming is occurring THERE, not inland)…… We likely see none of the first, unless one feeds for a moment and moves on:

But by late March, early April, we’re seeing one or two now and then, already setting up his own mating territory, and he’ll defend it strongly.

Sometimes they’re striking in a photo if the sun reflects that beautiful gorget:
rufus males gone

The FEMALES / Yearlings then leave, and follow the same pattern….. The MOST interesting FACT IS: Territory. The genetics are so hard coded in these tiny miniscule brains, they seek out and usually find not just the are they were raised in, but the same neighborhood, and not just that, but will look for the very SAME Feeder that they used the year before… isn’t unusual to see a hummingbird fly into your yard late March/early April zipping around a spot you had a feeder up the year before. Whew!

The Females arrive here to be met by a few males ALL ready to mate and have to deal with that ‘action’ even before they’ve got a nest ready to go. A nest made of soft forest bits tied together with spider webs, and there’s plenty of webs made by the spring spiders ……. The mating done, and nesting begun, one wonders what happened to your birds? They almost seem to disappear….. then the first hatchlings (both Anna’s and Rufus……now……..) often cause you to put out MORE feeders than earlier…..(We will have 10 up for the 2-3 month peak period ) and from that late-May period, you learn to love these little birds.

Once fledged, the youngsters are on their own because Momma Rufus and Dad mate AGAIN for a 2nd nesting! There is NO mistaking seeing a fledgling at your feeder…..almost larger than the parents because of her fluffed feathers, this kid looks cold:

However, the MOST Astounding THING I’ve learned THIS year comes from the Anna’s Hummingbirds, proving they’re finally here in greater numbers than I’ve known. The first time I had NO idea what that high 2-3 second loud chirp was, but followed the sound to watch a male diving straight down from somewhere between 100-150′ toward a female, and drawing himself up just short of reaching her, in a posture with all wings, tail-feathers spread….the tail feathers causing the chirp. This mating behavior was repeated for 3-4 weeks for us both…..and considering it’s luck to see it by being in the right place at the right time, this was THRILL summer for me if that was all that happened. It was astounding to watch….this SO TINY creature doing such a powerful thrilling straight up climb, preparing, and diving straight down, curving up at the bottom….with that distinct “CHIRP”….. I couldn’t even find a you-tube on the web (of any quality) that equaled what we repeatedly witnessed. Lucky us, yes.

The males… NOTHING to help with ANY child rearing or nest building. They stick around to mate. Once the 2nd mating’s done, they are GONE! That’s about to happen right here for us…..the males we’re seeing now are mostly juveniles, whose colors aren’t quite to brightly developed and they’re not yet so aggressive.

The migration partern back to MX? NO, NOT back down to California…the blooming’s done there now…..These males head east, often right along the Gorge and highest mountain ridges (wherever the blooming’s happening and/or insects are around)…and eventually move DOWN the spine of the Rocky Mountains back into MX. The FEMALES? Once their 2nd nestlings are fledged, they TOO leave (JUST ADULTS)……following that pattern. Then the unbelievable happens. Late August or so, the young juvenile Rufus kids leave here, and Alaska, Canada, ON THEIR OWN, flying down that same migratory pathway the adults made with NO guide, NO help at all! It’s an amazing science fact!

We’re then left to leave up 2 feeders for the winter…….having moved from .1 quarts a day in February, to .2 in March, to .3 – .4 in April, but by Mid-May, will explode up to 5 quarts per day when the Rufus are here, and first hatchlings are at the feeders…….
cold hummers

By Mid-June, that drops to 2.5 quarts for another very short few weeks (aided in part by all the flowers blooming and insects flying around), and by Sept 1, we’ll be back to .2 or .3 quarts…… What a time it was.

The birds feeding behavior is affected by the nesting, the weather, and how many birds are here. When we get cold snaps, they’ll gang up at feeders and at cold evenings, will seem to draw a truce about territory….even sometimes one hovering or sitting on another’s shoulder while it drinks, and when that birds pulls out the beak, the hoverer feeds:

Maybe the crowd’s gotten bigger each year because yard plantings, experience has made us better bird attractors…. much of this is sure big thanks to dear friend Nancy Grossenbacher who taught us all the basics…. It IS a joy to see these tiny birds in the yard, not necessarily at a feeder but at flowers, after insects, and hovering everywhere in the evenings.

One of the best life experiences of living up here in the Rain Forest.

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