BACKYARD HUMMINGBIRD ANTICS
By Shani Friedman
Well, the heat has finally relaxed its iron grip on the Southwest. Fall is here, bringing us cool nights and warm, but not blazing hot, days. Walking the dogs can happen later in the day, not at the crack of a summer’s dawn. Night falls earlier. Moreover, fall migration is on. Beautiful Anna’s, Costa’s and Rufous Hummingbirds attend our hummingbird feeders. Jon thinks he saw a tiny Calliope recently, but it moved on and has not been seen since.
This morning I walked out on the back patio with my coffee. The crisp air sent me back indoors to put on some socks and shoes. After the dogs finished their early AM greetings, I settled down in a chair to drink my coffee.
The first bird sound that impressed me was the high-pitched squeaky tweedle of an Anna’s hummingbird perched high in the large acacia tree that holds most of our backyard hummer feeders. Anna’s is the only hummer that actually sings. This plucky male soon flew to a feeder, singing a simple chip note as he flew. He landed on an Aspects Mini feeder. As he drank the nectar not consumed by our nighttime nectar eating bats, he liquidly chirped away.
Soon enough, I heard another squeaking warble. A female Anna’s flew in, nearly colliding with the feeding male. The chase was on. They disappeared from view high above the wall that surrounds the backyard.
As soon as the first two birds zoomed away, another Anna’s came in. Its gorget, flecked with iridescent red, indicated that it was a female or an immature male. Hastily it drank, and a good thing that it was quick to feed because a very determined male Rufous Hummingbird buzzed in and chased the Anna’s off.
A female Rufous showed up. Maybe because they were the same species, or maybe because they were so hungry that they did not notice each other, both were drank from the same feeder. The truce was soon broken, and they both flew above the feeder and tried to establish just who owned the feeder. They chased each other. The female circled around and returned to the feeder. The male dive-bombed her. Round and round they flew, furiously trying to feed, but unable to let the other one come near.
Meanwhile, several redheaded Anna’s flew in and perched up in the mesquite and acacia trees. Their squeaky warbles filled the air. They went to a feeder on the other side of the acacia tree, and drank while playing their hummingbird rules of keep away.
All day long these hummingbird skirmishes continued. While the behaviors are aggressive, I only once saw any actual physical contact. Not one bird suffered any injury.
After I finished my coffee, I had to water the plants in the yard, fill, and clean the birdbaths. Someday I plan to hook up the ornamentals to a drip system, but that has not happened yet. As I sprayed the water to fill up the moats around the lemon tree, droplets of water became tiny prisms, separating the sunlight into a mini-rainbow over the cactus garden planted between the tree and me. A female Anna’s flew up to the spray of water. I froze in position as it flew up and down both sides, then above the water. It perched in the branches of the dwarf lemon tree. Then, it flew in and out of the water until it was soaking wet, so wet I was wondering how it could still fly. When its bath was finished, it perched nearly in the middle of the lemon tree and preened.
Maybe the most amazing hummingbird behavior I have ever seen occurred several years ago when we were living in the Tucson Mountains. The hummingbird feeders hung in a Palo Verde tree west of our small porch. Around the base of the tree, aloes grew thick-so thick that snakes and lizards often took shelter there. One day, I was on the porch reading. Hummingbirds were there, feasting on the nectar we provided. Suddenly, the dogs started barking and pointing their noses through the wrought iron fence towards the aloe under the tree. At first, I saw nothing. The dogs kept barking. Finally, I saw it-a small rattlesnake coiled with its head reared back amongst the aloe. Two hummingbirds were flying at the snake. They repeatedly flew maybe 30 feet up, and dive-bombed the snake. Their harassment tactics worked. The snake never struck at them, and eventually uncoiled and slithered back into the thick growth of aloe, and then out into the desert.
I hope you have seen some of these intriguing hummingbird antics. If you feed hummers or have a hummingbird garden, you surely have witnessed hummingbird wars yourself. Maybe a hummer has flown right up to you and investigated a red hat or shirt you wore. The more I watch hummingbirds, the more I want to watch them. They are one of nature’s most unusual and interesting creations!