The young hummingbirds were just about ready for life in the real world, and their feathers were nearly developed enough to take them from their nest permanently. After they wrestled in the nest that now appeared too small for the both of them to fit, they jumped to the surrounding branches while their mother had one last set of instructions for her young before they would encounter the world of dangers and independence.
You've had it easy until now. I've spent every minute of your lives catering to your every need, and I've just about had enough. The two of you have been driving me crazy and it's about time you learn how difficult life will be. I've protected you from dangers that you aren't even aware exist. Many of these dangers look like you but are much bigger, and they have really bad intentions. They can hover gracefully on the wind but are much slower and clumsy when going through the trees. Just avoid them. There are others that are just a bit bigger than you, and they can be quite annoying. They do this thing called playing, and it serves no purpose. It's where they chase each other around in the trees trying to catch each other, and it just uses up energy, although they do appear quite happy. We were not made for that kind of stuff, we were made to be angry, very angry. You will meet others like yourselves, and they will also appear content in their anger. When they chase you, it's not for fun. They'll mean business and will bite you in the back side if you allow them, and trust me, it hurts. They tend to do this to protect their food source. So when you find something of value, keep them away as well, and do not share.
I've got a few tricks to teach you. You'll know what flowers are, but you'll find these beautiful, colorful things sporadically hung across the country. They don't look like anything else, but they contain a food that never seems to run out... and boy is it tasty! When you find these things make sure you try them out, but watch out for the angry one who watches over them. He always seems to be a bit cranky. Another thing, if you're feeding from one of these fancy things and the angry one shows up, play it cute. Act as though you're not aware you're doing anything wrong. Sometimes the angry one will give you a break, but this won't last.
Son, I want you to dwell on your anger, and don't hold anything back. If you're angry, make the world aware of it. Don't let anyone push you around, and don't be generous with your food. The world revolves around you and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You will become handsome with brilliant colors. Every living thing on the planet will look at you in wonder. Display it proudly.
And to you my daughter, avoid all the nonsense that goes on with the others. Be stealth in everything you do, and avoid those boys. They can be trouble but incredibly charming. They've got lots of color, and are they ever attractive. Whatever you do, don't look at the throat. It's the most brilliantly colored thing you will ever encounter. If you stare at it you will be under their spell. Again, I stress this, don't look at the throat!
I will lose my temper with you very soon. As a matter of fact, you're both getting on my nerves as I speak. I will teach you where the food is, but shortly after you'll be on your own. On occasion, you'll encounter these strange beings that walk around on two legs. They're the ones that hang out those fancy red things. They oftentimes won't see us, but when they do they frequently scream and run in all directions. They're a bit nuts but appear to be nice. However, I'm not quite sure about them yet.
Finally, be angry. Take what doesn't belong to you but do it like a ninja, and for goodness sake, when you live your lives on your own, remember each day - eat lots of sugar before dinner!
A mother Ruby-throat and her two young. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Sitting high over the garden, he can spot any intruder. Whether newly arriving females or those pesky males taking advantage of the yard, he's on the lookout for all of them. In his mind it's all his. "That's my fountain, my feeders and my garden". In his world, "it's all about me". He's competed with all the other males, won the battles, and taken control of his territory. He's no longer afraid of the others, because he's defeated them all. He sits high up, open for the world to see. His intentional visibility is a threat to every hummingbird that attempts to take what's his.
This is the typical situation in every garden worth fighting for. The early arriving males in Spring are attracted to the most irresistible gardens out there. Battles ensue, and the toughest, meanest hummingbird takes control. The losers of all the battles are forced elsewhere, perhaps a garden not far away, just knowing they are near multiple food sources. Also knowing that if something happens to the leader of the pack, they are only too willing to step in and fill the role.
This is Ziggy, the proud male Ruby-throat hummingbird of our garden for at least a few seasons. He's relaxing and doing a morning stretch while he watches over all that's his.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. June 18, 2018.
I'm always fascinated by how every piece of nature is linked together with other pieces to form the perfect system of creation. Each living thing is somehow dependent on another, making everything relevant and useful for the circle of life to continue.
The temptation of sweet nectar is so great within the flowers, that insects and hummingbirds find it beyond irresistible. While the temptation draws them deep within the flower to gather the nectar, pollen gets stuck to their bill and feathers, and gets carried on to the other flowers in order to pollinate them. The flowers could have been created to independently pollinate themselves, but that would eliminate the relationship or need for other living things. With billions of living things on this planet, each and every one of them has a source to fulfill that need.
This juvenile Ruby-throat hummingbird has some Delphinium pollen stuck to its bill just ready to pass on to the next flower. Here is where creation gets even more fascinating - that pollen from a certain color of flower will then affect every seed to soon develop within every other flower it touches. The cross pollination of flowers then becomes spectacular across the landscape as colors of every shade are developed. Not one bird or bee has an understanding of the massive job it's completing, but each one of them is rewarded greatly with irresistible nectar, while we are rewarded with spectacular beauty across the continent.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. July 26, 2018.
I know I have stressed the value of feeders and flowers to attract hummingbirds, but there are multiple things necessary in creating a perfect all-round hummingbird paradise. Once you've attracted hummingbirds to your garden with food sources, they will thoroughly investigate your entire garden. They will seek out trees, bushes, or structures to perch and rest. They will also search out water sources, one of the greatest attractions for birds, and yes, even hummingbirds. Water is an absolute necessity for birds. You may think that because hummingbirds drink nectar that they'd have no need for water, but that's not the case. Hummingbirds will bathe frequently if water sources are available. They take great pleasure in rain baths, where they'll perch on a branch and splay out the wings and tail to catch the falling rain, or even sit in a cupped leaf that's captured the water. Hummingbirds are much like other birds in that they choose a preferred time of day to bathe. My Ziggy would bathe 2 times a day, but early morning around 6:30 am was the most consistent time. I believe he chose times when all the other birds wouldn't use the fountain. Often times it was just above freezing by a few degrees when he'd show up and take advantage. The cold temperature of the air or water wasn't an issue for him. I managed to capture many images or videos of him making use of every feature of our fountain. One thing was always important to him - the water had to be 1/3rd of an inch deep or less. Those are the locations on the fountain that he trusted. If you have water sources in your garden, make sure you have flat areas where the water blankets the surface with some movement. Moving water gets their attention, whether flowing, misting, or showering. Shallow water allows them to touch the bottom with their feet in order to feel safe from drowning.
There are fountains galore out there that have features for hummingbirds with shallow areas, but if you feel creative and want to build one of your own, the hummingbirds won't snub your lack of professionalism. My fountain tends to change a bit each year, as I find new features to add to the project. Keep the shallow or slightly cupped ideas in mind as you build your fountains. You may find many small birds using your it as well as the hummingbirds, and trust me when I say this - you will be over the moon excited when you see a hummingbird using your fountain. And...just because you don't spot one at your fountain each time you look at it, doesn't mean they don't use it when you're not looking.
The water feature imaged has a deep rock about the size of a curling rock. It is hollowed out. The deep water allows every size of songbird to bathe. As the water fills the rock, it flows gently around the curve of it, and then flows back into the drum below it. This is only one of several parts of the water feature that is displayed. There are other flat surfaces with the fountain spout coming up the center of it to gently spill water over all the rocks. I have placed cupped out rocks in various places to capture water, and every one of them attracts bathing and drinking birds.
I can assure you that the amount of birds that start to show up in your garden because of a well designed feature will amaze you. Give it time to attract them, and they will return.
Ziggy, the adult male Ruby Throat hummingbird. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. June 18, 2018.
Though they weren't given the ability to walk like other birds, their feet are a necessary part of feeding and fighting. They have powerful little pipes, and when they're in battles with other hummingbirds, they can scratch, grip and tear like ferocious little kittens.
This young male Ruby-throat made many returns to this Clematis flower, as did others, and although these flowers open up downward, they provide enough temptation to keep them returning. Like monkeys in a cage, these hummingbirds were swinging from the petals desperately trying to extract the nectar. Hummingbirds have sharp little talons, and even though they're rarely seen, they are a necessity for many purposes. Some flowers are very easy to access, but others like this particular Clematis can be extremely awkward. Their talons will often times pierce the petals while their entire body weight is being supported by those muscular little legs.
Typically no one sees the power behind the talons, feet and legs of hummingbirds, and even though they can only shuffle side to side when perched, the grip of those feet are incredibly powerful, even during the most violent winds.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 7, 2018. Juvenile Male Ruby Throat hummingbird.
I sat motionless among the flowers in the garden as the young and mature hummingbirds squeaked and fought over the vast choices of food. As the mature birds claimed the best foods first, the juveniles sampled and claimed what was left. The young birds, unaware of any dangers, danced among the flowers and sampled everything with color. I could almost reach out and gently cup one of these precious little creatures in my hand. Though tiny, their powerful little wings fanned little gusts of wind upon my face.
There are few things in this world that bring such a smile to my face like experiencing a little hummingbird wonderland. There's little that compares. My biggest struggle is between wanting to sit and soak up the experience, and trying to capture every moment on camera. Every time I try to just sit and enjoy those moments, the most precious opportunity makes me wish I had the camera ready to capture it. And every time I'm focused and trying to capture the perfect opportunities, I realize just how much I'm missing outside the view of the lens.
If only I could transfer all the experiences in my head to picture. Between the moments locked in memory and the pictures digitally saved, I have more than a lifetime of wonderful memories. This is where I try my hardest to explain in the greatest detail to others of the incredible experiences I've had. I hope everyone can get at least a glimpse of what I've seen and felt, but in reality, you'd have to sit among the flowers to fully experience one of the greatest joys imaginable.
Juvenile Ruby Throat hummingbird. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 6, 2018.
At first glance this male Ruby Throat could be Ziggy, but it's very difficult to tell one adult male from another. This male slipped in quietly and perched on the branch that held a feeder. He was extremely terrified of Ziggy, but not enough to stay away from the garden with many offerings. He sat frozen on the branch and scouted out the territory before even attempting the forbidden nectar. His feathers were squeezed tight to his body with tense muscles. He knew that around any tree or behind any leaf, the dreaded of all "Ziggy" could strike without warning. He sat motionless studying his surroundings while the temptation of nectar hung only one foot below him.
A relaxed bird will oftentimes ruffle the feathers, not only to regulate its body temperature, but because it has little fear of it's immediate surroundings. This male was tense and ready to burst into flight at any millisecond, but there was no way he would leave the promised land without the satisfying nectar that enticed him to begin with.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. May 25, 2018.
When you go all out for the Spring migration, and prepare your garden with more food options than any other garden within miles, what you get is a male dominated territory. When you provide more than anyone else has, numerous males will fight for the territory. Even though one male will reign supreme over the others, those others still find it hard to resist the overwhelming temptations you provide.
There's only one disadvantage to this situation - the females are far less likely to stick around your garden while the males are showing off, or extremely combatant. You'll still see the female sightings, but they'll find it far too intimidating to just stick around and relax.
Last Spring gave me just a few opportunities to capture one brave girl. After dipping into the nectar, she sat around for perhaps just one last opportunity before nesting would occupy all her time. A piece of evidence remained on her bill of what consumed her time over the previous days. Aspen fluff and perhaps some sticky spider webbing has clumped near the tip of her bill. This was evidence that she was in the process of building her nest.
The more male domination you have around your garden, the less likely you'll have a female nesting close by. The females may choose a nesting ground a few miles away to avoid any intimidation or chaos caused by the males, but your abundant offerings of rich nectar and flower choices will remain in the back of her mind. When the desires reach their peak, she's sure to travel the great distance to fulfill that craving of rich endless nectar.
June of 2018. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
After a cool night there was nothing he wanted more than to relax and soak up some morning sun. His colors were spectacular and every fiber of his being reflected beauty. He sat there quite content contemplating his list of activities for the new day. It didn't take long, however, until an intruder showed up. Even though 10 feeders hung around the garden, there was still not enough to share. It was his garden, his territory and his food. By the expression of his tail it was obvious he was ready to fight. He fanned it out and dwelt on his anger, and at the right moment was ready to burst into action. He had little desire to do this, but it was necessary to protect the flowers, feeders and breeding rights to his territory. He hoped the fanning of his tail was enough to intimidate the intruder, but soon realized it just wasn't. He launched from his sunny perch and accelerated with great speed. It was time to set an example!
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. May 2018
Late last fall a rare sighting of a Calliope hummingbird showed up in southern Ontario. It was a first in that region of Canada. As a matter of fact it would be extremely rare to see one beyond the sight of the Alberta mountains. What I found extremely exciting about this is that only weeks prior, I had the first and only Calliope ever visit my place. I'm located a few hundred miles East of the Alberta mountains. I immediately started to question whether it was the same bird that left my place weeks before. When that Calliope visited my place, I nearly didn't recognize it. I only noticed it around our place for about 4 hours. It took full advantage of all of our flowers and feeders, and acted as though this garden belonged to him. When he did leave my yard it was pretty obvious he would not return. He headed up into the sky and directly east. Weeks later Ontario was filled with excitement over this rare sighting. I would never question it being the same bird if it weren't for the fact that it was my first Calliope that far east of the mountains and also a first for Ontario. I also never heard of any other Calliope sightings East of the Rocky mountains. The chances to me seem pretty good that was the same bird. Unfortunately, I have no way to confirm it. I did compare my images to he ones posted, and the resemblance is remarkable. So, was it the same bird? I wish I knew for sure. What I do find incredible is the distance that they fly over such a short period of time. This is evident by their migration.
I know that other birders are much like myself, and when we see a rare bird show up in our garden, it just feeds the addiction for future years.
Calliope Hummingbird. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 2018
Author of Jewel of the North. Please post your comments and questions.