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Monday, July 28, 2014

Hummingbirds

I like birds. I like that they're the only known living descendants of the dinosaurs. I like that they can fly. I like that they are extremely diverse, with at least ten thousand different species throughout the world. I frequently mention them in my  posts. I'm especially drawn to crows and hummingbirds, probably because they're the easiest to observe due to them being everywhere. And while I could wax poetic about my admiration of crows, this post is about hummingbirds because, since I'm on summer vacation right now, I've been spending a considerable amount of time lounging around in my backyard where they frequent and the crows do not.
They've taken up residence inside the hedges and in the Magnolia and Bottlebrush trees. They spend their summer days in my backyard emitting high pitched, squirrel-like sounding chirps, busily searching for nectar, and pollinating our gardens - they're the bees of the avian world. I've done my part in keeping them around by hanging a hummingbird feeder and consistently refilling it with sugar water.
I enjoy watching them as they go about, their wings making humming sounds as they zoom back and forth from feeder to shelter. Sometimes they seem really rambunctious and fly so close to my head I worry that they may stab me in the eye with their sharp, tiny beaks. Kaya also seems concerned; Bear does not. The hummingbirds are especially active in the morning and early evening, I'm not sure where they go the rest of the day (cue tiny GoPro).
Of course it's not all hummingbirds, there are plenty of backyard birds to see but none get as close as the hummingbirds. I was entertained by two small birds (Sparrow? Swallows? I have no idea...) on my neighbor's roof who perched a few yards apart from each other and then inched closer and closer together until they were side by side - bird flirting. Still, the real stars of the show are the hummingbirds. After some research I think the species I've seen in my yard are Anna's Hummingbird (appropriately named), Rufous Hummingbird, and the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
During these daily observations I realized that hummingbirds are fiercely territorial and aggressively defend "their" food source. Not only are these tiny animals vigorous, they are very brave as well! No wonder the Aztec God of War is often depicted as a hummingbird. If you look closely at the series of photos above you'll see what a hummingbird showdown looks like. Sometimes they get so confrontational with each other that they bump into the window, which worries me because hundred of millions of birds die every year due to collisions with building and windows so I decided something needed to be done. 
I bought another hummingbird feeder and installed it on the other side of the house. The feeders I have are called HummZingers. I like them because they are the easiest to clean. In the past I used the long, narrow feeders that you can find at most home improvement/garden stores but it was difficult to clean, even with a long bottle brush, and wound up having to get recycled after a year's worth of use due to mold (during the warm spring and summer months it's important to check your feeders for mold every few days because it can be dangerous to a hummingbird's health) growing in unreachable corners. With the HummZinger I just pop off the top, swipe the inside with a sponge, and done, no more mold. I could not find a HummZinger anywhere in San Diego so I ordered it online.
The birds quickly started using it and there have been fewer fights and no more bumping or pushing into the windows. There is concern that the red dye typically used for nectar might be harmful for hummingbirds to consume so the recipe I use is really simple (and affordable!): one part white sugar to four parts water. I usually do 1/4 cup of sugar mixed with 1 cup of water. Then I warm it in the microwave for 30 seconds, stir to mix, and let  it cool slightly before refilling the feeders. Please note that brown sugar, raw sugar, Turbinado sugar, and honey are also harmful to hummingbirds so just make sure you use white cane sugar.  Thanks for reading, now go feed some hummingbirds, I promise you'll enjoy watching them and they're good for your yard. Happy Monday!

2 comments:

Name said...

White cane sugar? They sure do not have many dietary needs! Put a hummingbird on a bike and Bear might show some interest.
Pop

Carolita said...

Weeee! A hummingbird-size GoPro!!!
Bird flirting is so cute!
One of my professors in college told me the hummingbird was a symbol of the Chicano movement!
And you got AMAZING action shots! Woah! All that action going on and Bear...
Then there's Kaya with her little bird-admiration contribution: flamingo toy!