Thursday, November 14, 2013

Flying Jewels

As if I needed one, I've found another reason to feel deprived wintering in Minnesota: our only hummingbird, the ruby throated, has flown south. Most of my life, they're the only kind I've seen. They are tiny and highly territorial, the males typically spending most of the energy they get from a feeder in driving other hummers away.

I saw one exception to that. Years ago I took my granddaughter tent camping outside Hinckley in St. Croix State Park. A large feeder was hung outside the main building, and perhaps a dozen hummingbirds were swarming it at any given time.

Closer to home, shortly after moving into this house, I had a garden patch filled with Asiatic lilies, with rope circling them about 2 feet off the ground to help prevent the tall top-heavy blooming plants from blowing over in the wind. A pair of hummers, which I decided were a mother and fledgeling, landed on the rope. Mom took a long drink from one of the lilies, then both flew up a little ways, joined bills, and gently spiraled nearly to the ground before separating and landing on the rope again. Junior was getting feeding lessons.

When my folks became snowbirds, I found a whole new world of hummingbirds. Arizona is home to seven species. Mom put out a feeder which attracted a male Lucifer with his brilliant violet purple throat. Between drinks he perched in the spiny tips of the century plant in the neighbor's lot. I tried for pictures, but the light was always wrong.

A first of several trips to the Sonoran Desert Museum included a stop in their hummingbird house. With patience, and the good manners of your fellow humans, you can watch several kinds of local hummers. In February you can even see the parents nesting and taking care of their young in tiny nests make of spider webs and lichens. I fell in love with Rufous (also found in Alaska in the summer) and broad billed hummers. Any trip to the Tucson area almost mandates another stop there.

Steve put out his first hummingbird feeder in Sun City a few days ago. It had to be mail ordered, as the local stores were out, plus I'm fussy about how easily cleaned they are. I hate to kill the birds I'm feeding because I can't remove the black mold that eventually grows on the feeders. It hangs under the patio roof where he can watch the birds while sitting in his favorite chair enjoying his pipe.

I'm getting daily, or several-times-daily reports on activity. At first, the visitors were generic. Could have been females of nearly any of the local species. Tuesday a Rufous stopped by. Yesterday a male Broad-billed was a frequent visitor. Like me, Steve fell in love with the royal blue color.

He wants more feeders.

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