Rufous Hummingbirds

Rufus Hummingbird Courtesy US FWS, Roy W, Lowe, Photographer
Rufus Hummingbird
Courtesy US FWS,
Roy W. Lowe, Photographer

Who doesn’t love hummingbirds! I’m always amazed how a tiny life form with a brain smaller than a pea is capable of such amazing intelligence and behaviors. In fact, a hummingbird’s brain is proportionally larger in size to their body than that of any other bird. And like the corvid family (jays, magpies, and crows), research has found that hummers have an amazing memory.

Now is the seasonal peak for hummingbird activity with young birds fresh off the nest. One of my favorites, the migrating rufous hummingbird, may join the milieu on their long distance marathon as they make their way from as far north as Alaska to winter in Mexico.

The feistiest hummingbird in North America, the brilliant orange male and the green-and-orange female are relentless attackers at flowers and feeders. These fearless competitors will challenge even the largest hummingbirds of the Southwest, which can be double their weight, and often win the contest! Rufous Hummingbirds are wide-ranging, and breed farther north than any other hummingbird. Look for them in spring in California, summer in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and now in the Rocky Mountains as they make their annual circuit of the West.

Rufous Hummers have the hummingbird gift for fast, darting flight and pinpoint maneuverability. Like other hummers, they eat insects as well as nectar, taking them from spider webs or catching them in midair.

Rufous Hummingbirds breed in open areas, yards, parks, and forests up to timberline. On migration they pass through mountain meadows as high as 12,600 feet where nectar-rich, tubular flowers are blooming. Winter habitat in Mexico includes shrubby openings and oak-pine forests at middle to high elevation.

They may take up residence (at least temporarily) in your garden if you grow hummingbird flowers or put out feeders. But beware! They may make life difficult for any other species that visit your yard. If you live on their migration route, the visiting Rufous is likely to move on after just a week or two.

Regarding feeders, make sugar water mixtures with about one cup of sugar per quart of water. Food coloring is unnecessary; table sugar is the best choice. Change the water before it grows cloudy or discolored and remember that during hot weather, sugar water ferments rapidly to produce toxic alcohol. If you are among those who have these dazzling sprites of amazing life stop by, consider yourself fortunate indeed!

This is Jack Greene reading for “Wild About Utah”

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy US FWS, Roy W Lowe, Photographer
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Strand, Holly, Hummingbirds in Utah, Wild About Utah, UPR/Bridgerland Audubon Society, Sept 3, 2009, http://wildaboututah.org/hummingbirds-in-utah/

Kervin, Linda, Gardening for Hummingbirds, Wild About Utah, UPR/Bridgerland Audubon Society, June 5, 2014, http://wildaboututah.org/hummingbirds-in-utah/

Liberatore, Andrea, Hummingbird Nests, Wild About Utah, UPR/Bridgerland Audubon Society, June 14, 2012, http://wildaboututah.org/hummingbird-nests/

Hummingbird Society, http://www.hummingbirdsociety.org/index.php

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufus Hummingbird Courtesy US FWS, Roy W, Lowe, Photographer
Rufus Hummingbird
Courtesy US FWS,
Roy W. Lowe, Photographer

Who doesn’t love hummingbirds! I’m always amazed how a tiny life form with a brain smaller than a pea is capable of such amazing intelligence and behaviors. In fact, a hummingbird’s brain is proportionally larger in size to their body than that of any other bird. And like the corvid family (jays, magpies, and crows), research has found that hummers have an amazing memory.

Now is the seasonal peak for hummingbird activity with young birds fresh off the nest. One of my favorites, the migrating rufous hummingbird, may join the milieu on their long distance marathon as they make their way from as far north as Alaska to winter in Mexico.

The feistiest hummingbird in North America, the brilliant orange male and the green-and-orange female are relentless attackers at flowers and feeders. These fearless competitors will challenge even the largest hummingbirds of the Southwest, which can be double their weight, and often win the contest! Rufous Hummingbirds are wide-ranging, and breed farther north than any other hummingbird. Look for them in spring in California, summer in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and now in the Rocky Mountains as they make their annual circuit of the West.

Rufous Hummers have the hummingbird gift for fast, darting flight and pinpoint maneuverability. Like other hummers, they eat insects as well as nectar, taking them from spider webs or catching them in midair.

Rufous Hummingbirds breed in open areas, yards, parks, and forests up to timberline. On migration they pass through mountain meadows as high as 12,600 feet where nectar-rich, tubular flowers are blooming. Winter habitat in Mexico includes shrubby openings and oak-pine forests at middle to high elevation.

They may take up residence (at least temporarily) in your garden if you grow hummingbird flowers or put out feeders. But beware! They may make life difficult for any other species that visit your yard. If you live on their migration route, the visiting Rufous is likely to move on after just a week or two.

Regarding feeders, make sugar water mixtures with about one cup of sugar per quart of water. Food coloring is unnecessary; table sugar is the best choice. Change the water before it grows cloudy or discolored and remember that during hot weather, sugar water ferments rapidly to produce toxic alcohol. If you are among those who have these dazzling sprites of amazing life stop by, consider yourself fortunate indeed!

This is Jack Greene reading for “Wild About Utah”

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy US FWS, Roy W Lowe, Photographer
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Gardening for Hummingbirds

Heuchera, hummingbird host. Courtesy and Copyright Jim Cane, Photographer
Huechera
Courtesy & © Jim Cane, Photographer

 
Penstemon hummingbird host Courtesy and Copyright Jim Cane, PhotographerPenstemon eatonii
Courtesy & © Jim Cane, Photographer

 

At long last, summer has returned as have the hummingbirds who zip around my garden, visiting flowers and chasing off intruders. (Kevin Colver: Songbirds of Rocky Mountain Foothills. Broad-tailed Hummingbird) Hummingbirds are a delight in the yard and so we plant flowers specifically to attract and feed them. In general, hummingbirds prefer long tubular flowers especially those that are red, orange or violet. But not all these flowers are created equally.

Hummingbirds visit flowers for their nectar which fuels their flight. Their long tongue reaches well beyond the tip of their needle like bill when they lap up nectar; capillary action then draws the sweet liquid up tiny grooves along the length of the tongue.

Floral nectar evolved to attract potential pollinators. The floral nectary is generally found inside the flower, at the base. When probing for nectar, floral visitors brush by the reproductive structures. Pollen adheres to parts of their body and then at the next flower of the same species, some pollen sticks to the female stigma. This transfer is pollination.

Many nectar-rich flowers grow well in Utah gardens. In the xeric garden, Penstemons are a good choice, as are Red Hot Pokers and Zauschneria, sometimes called Hummingbird Trumpet. In more moist sites, red flowered Heuchera is popular. Some red flowered cacti and Trumpet Creeper are good choices, as are Agastache and many Salvias.

Watch which flowers hummers visit. They will check out many blooms, but the ones they routinely return to are the ones yielding generous nectar. Many flowers produce little or no nectar, including some that look to us like good hummingbird flowers. Also, many horticultural hybrids and doubled flowers produce paltry amounts of nectar.

To encourage hummingbirds to remain in your garden, you can grow trees and shrubs for cover. Nectar is only part of their diet. For protein, they regularly eat insects and spiders small enough for their tiny bill so a garden free of insects is not desirable. They also appreciate a place to perch where they can digest, wait for a tasty insect to fly by and keep an eye out for potential rivals. So grab your trowel and lets feed those hummers.(Kevin Cover: Songbirds of Rocky Mountain Foothills. Broad-tailed Hummingbird)

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy
Text: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Hummingbirds and How to Attract Them, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/hummingbirds/

Hummingbirds 101, The Hummingbird Society, http://www.hummingbirdsociety.org/hummingbirds-101/

Hummingbird Nests

Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Selasphorus platycercus
Copyright © 2010 Michael Fish

Glacier Lilies
Erythronium grandiflorum
Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore

Adult Black-chinned Hummingbird
incubating eggs in nest
Archilochus alexandri
Copyright © 2010 Lyle Bingham
(cell phone through spotting scope)

Young Black-chinned Hummingbird
with beak hanging out of nest
Archilochus alexandri
Copyright © 2010 Lyle Bingham

The hummingbird feeders at Stokes Nature Center are a busy place this time of year. Little bullets of metallic green zoom in and out jockeying for position, while others rest or await their turn in the branches of nearby box elder trees. The birds are a great source of wonder and amusement for staff and guests alike.

June signals the start of nesting season for Utah hummingbirds. At this point in the year, the birds have mainly recovered from their lengthy migration from places as far away as Central America, and are ready to focus on their next set of challenges: establishing a territory, courtship, mating, and rearing young.

Hummingbird nests are a wonder all their own. Tiny and cup-like, they are generally found affixed to small branches near riparian areas. Nests are constructed primarily of plant materials and are lined with plant down such as the fluffy seeds produced by cottonwood trees. Materials used on the exterior of the nest vary from species to species. Black-chinned hummingbirds use leaves and flowers, while Broad-tailed hummingbirds are partial to decorating with lichens or shredded bark. Regardless of the exterior appearance, hummingbird nests have one important material in common – spider webs. Hummingbirds collect the webs and use them to plaster the outside of the nest, which serves two important purposes: acting as a glue that holds nest materials together while at the same time providing some flexibility that allows the nest to stretch and grow with the developing young.

Nests are occasionally constructed on the foundation of last year’s home, and two eggs around half-an-inch in length are laid and incubated by the female for about 16 days before hatching. Young will fledge and join their mother at your feeder about 20 days later. If nesting is successful, the family migrates south in the fall and will return to the same general area next May.

Finding food in early spring, however, is becoming more of a challenge each year to hummingbirds in the American West. A recent study published in the journal Ecology shows that hummingbird migrations and spring flower blooms are becoming out of sync. Broad-tailed hummingbirds in particular rely upon the nectar of petite, yellow glacier lilies – one of the first flowers to bloom in spring. Scientists have found that due to global temperature increases glacier lilies are blooming about 17 days earlier than they did in the 1970’s. The birds, however, haven’t altered their migration timing and so often arrive to find the flowers already in full swing. If this trend continues, scientists predict that within the next 20 years, the birds could miss the glacier lily bloom entirely. Hope lies in the hummingbirds’ ability to adapt– either by migrating farther north to places where lilies bloom later, or shifting their own migration time to match the changing bloom dates.

Photos of glacier lilies, Utah hummingbirds, and their nests, can be found on our website, www.wildaboututah.org. Thank you to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

For the Stokes Nature Center and Wild About Utah, this is Andrea Liberatore.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright 2010 Mike Fish
            Courtesy & Copyright 2010 Andrea Liberatore
            Courtesy & Copyright 2010 Lyle Bingham
Text:     Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon.


Additional Reading:

Harrison, H. H. (1979) Peterson Field Guides: Western Birds’ Nests. Houghton Mifflin Co: Boston

Ehrlich, P.R., Dobkin, D.S., Wheye, E. (1988) The Birder’s Handbook: a field guide to the natural history of north American birds – The Essential Companion to Your Identification Guide. Simon & Schuster/Fireside Books: New York.

National Science Foundation press release, 05-30-2012, Where Have All the Hummingbirds Gone? Retrieved online at: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=124345&WT.mc_id=USNSF_51&WT.mc_ev=click

Live Webcam of black chinned hummingbird nest:
http://www.livestream.com/hummingbirdsociety

Nature News, Evolution News and Views, David Klinghoffer, The Genius of Birds: Watch a Hummingbird’s Tongue in Action – See more at: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/06/the_genius_of_b073491.html