Friday, May 17, 2013

The First Hummingbird

This morning I hung a hummingbird feeder on my porch. 
The house I bought is on the edge of a newer development in Ridgway, a small town, formerly a railroad stop and ranching community.  The original "True Grit" was filmed here.  But my house is just north of town where the trees are small, so I didn't expect to see much wildlife here because it is more open grassland.  Maybe some cattle in the distance. 

However every day has been a surprise.  To the west is a pasture with about 60 black yaks.  At night I see deer in the yard, on the road, in the fields.  During the winter about 40 elk fed and slept in the neighborhood.  A few weeks ago a fox crossed the fields, and I watched for several minutes from my balcony as it made its way up the hill.  Yesterday as I drove up to Elk Meadows, a cinnamon colored black bear ran up the road ahead of me, dove off the side and stopped.  I got out and we stared at each other for a minute. 

But, back to the birds.  All winter long bald eagles live along the Uncompaghre river close to the house.  I'd watch for them on my river walks, and the only other birds were ravens and magpies.  With the advent of spring bluebirds flocked in by the score.  There were small houses built for them along the roadside.  Then came the meadowlarks, robins, warblers, sparrows, and hawks.  My sterile- looking neighborhood was alive with birds. 

A few days ago I had coffee at with my good friend Angela at her home up the canyon.  Hummingbirds were at her feeder, and I remember from past years how many there were.  So, I decided to hang a feeder on my front porch, but I didn't have much hope that the birds would stop by.  Within minutes, I had several vying for a perch on the feeder, so I ran in and grabbed my camera.  Although I am my cat were sitting within ten feet of the feeder, they didn't seem to mind.  I brought out my coffee and cereal, sat down and enjoyed the show.

 It's good to have more than one feeder, because hummingbirds are very territorial.  They are solitary birds that keep a small territory and aggressively chase intruders out.  If a bird comes to the feeder it will drink for quite a while unless another bird comes along, dives down and chases it away.  Then the fleeing bird will return and pester the newer one and drive it away.  Some species are worse than others.  When the Rufus Hummingbirds come, they are the worst.  The little wars are very brutal.  I've seen them try to spear or grab each other with their bills, and they often smack right into each other hard. 

The females are as bad as the males, and are aggressive in keeping other birds away from their nests.  The males try to keep others away, so they can monopolize the female for breeding.  I was amazed at how many birds seemed to be attracted to the little feeder.  I put in 1 part cane sugar to 4 parts water, and no coloring.  This is the recommended concentration for hummingbirds.  Other chemicals and colorings are hard on their internal organs.   The birds seem to recognized it instantly and move right in.

While I was sitting on the porch, one bird tried to land on my red ball cap.  It does look somewhat like a red flower or the feeder, I guess.  I had just planted red geraniums around the yard, so the place is looking more enticing every day.

 Hovering above the feeder, the bird checks it out, then comes in to feed

The Black-chinned hummingbird is easy to identify.  
The black head & chin and white collar of the male are distinctive

So far I've seen the Black-chinned hummingbird, males and females, and the Broad-winged hummingbird.  The Broad-winged males have beautiful iridescent red chins and are sometimes mistaken for the Ruby-throated hummingbird.  With the rapid wingbeats, it's often hard to keep your eye on the bird, and it's gone in an instant.  The most common sound comes from the wingbeats, but they often make a little chirp as they battle their way at the feeder.

The birds are extremely intelligent and have the largest brain for their size of any bird.  Watching them, I've seen them observe each other, preen and spread oil from a gland in the rear over their feathers.  After feeding, they will fly up and clean their bills on the branches of the big tree in the front yard. Then they fly back for another drink of the sugar water.  

My next chore is to build a bird bath.  They love a fountain, sprinklers, and water in general.  The house came with a big ugly pile of sandstone boulders.  I've thought of pounding them to bits and hauling it all away, but I've decided to keep them and turn them into a home for creeping plants, moss, and a fountain.  It will be a nice summer project, and I can add some pools, other rocks, and parts to make it beautiful.  Now I've got to find a little electric pump, some cement, and a bit of imagination.  It's amazing how much work these tiny hummingbirds are going to cause me.

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