Well here is something that I am so very excited to share. I just spent about 5 hours watching the remaining birds feeding heavily in my yard. There were about 10 Rubies to start the morning, and then I witnessed 5 of them migrate over about 30 minutes. There were still a few that remained including a vocal little one. The sound was a bit unusual for a Ruby, but I really never thought much of it at first. Then when he flared up into the sky and hovered, it appeared to have some buff coloring. I immediately grabbed my binoculars and started to watch for it. There were too many differences from the Rubies to believe it was the same as the others. He did act like Ziggy's kid because he perched on every high point Ziggy did, and acted as though this yard was his. He chased every other hummingbird in sight. This one was a radical! He chased one to the bushes right beside us, and when the other perched, did he ever put on a display. He took a flying start and went up about 50 feet or more in the sky and then did the drop of doom on the other hummingbird. When it neared the ground it created a whistling sound like no Ruby I've ever heard. It was then, I was convinced it was NO Ruby-throat. I got my camera and started taking pics. I managed to get a few pics within 15 feet of him to confirm my thoughts. I'd never heard of Rufous performing this display or making that kind of sound. I still was in disbelief. Could it actually be a Calliope? Calliopes range is about 200 miles or more west of me. They're not like the Rebel Rufous and wander across the country periodically. My guess is that the heavy fires in the mountains have pushed many of them further inland than normal. I'm telling you, this was a moment of a lifetime for me. I get pretty excited when the odd Rufous shows up, but a Calliope? He didn't disappoint. That was a display like I've never seen. He continued this hovering and diving display for about an hour with every hummingbird he encountered. And that whistling dive...Wow! I know the sound isn't a chirp from its bill, but that's exactly what it sounded like as it neared the ground, a whistling chirp!
When you're not expecting a rare bird, this one can look very similar to a Ruby at first glance, but it's buff underside, its shorter tail than wings, and green gorget feathers were the dead giveaway. The chattering and personality was something much different as well.
Juvenile male Calliope hummingbird. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 20, 2018
Nature, in its marvelous design has been given a combination of skills and instinct to make it impressive in so many ways. As much as we'd like to believe nature is intelligent, it's much more obedience that makes it operate so perfectly. Could you imagine a species or more deviating from its purpose and doing what it wants instead. The planet would be one chaotic mess. When one piece within the system decides to go rogue, the entire system would be out of sync. However, nature is given "just enough" independence to make it so very exciting and intriguing without making the rest of the system fail. Take a hummingbird for instance. When it sits around your garden, it has options of choosing what foods it wants, whether it wants to chase another hummingbird to the next county or not, or just sit and chirp a warning to that other hummingbird. It's decisions like this that make each bird unique, but if the hummingbird chose to go north for winter instead of south, it would certainly meet its demise. There are things within nature that can't be explained, so we put terms to it like instinct to explain it in an easy term, but instinct is not a simple explanation. By definition, instinct is a powerful motivation to make nature do something that isn't learned, but instead a built in response to some kind of stimulant. Could it be temperature that makes birds go south? Definitely not! Otherwise we'd have birds traveling south with every cold front that passes through. Could it be the how far the sun passes over the horizon that triggers them? It could be, but why was the system created that way? Longer feeding days, longer growing periods for them to complete their cycle within the allotted time? There are many theories, but the entire system is brilliant and complex, with reasons for its design. If we alter something within the environment, there are always tweaks performed to counteract our influence, which then brings it all back into place again. We can over complicate it or think we know it, but the reality is this - nature is extremely obedient. It does what it's told and when it's told. If it rebelled, the consequences would be catastrophic. But this brings me back to my point - Nature amuses and intrigues us daily, it fulfills its purpose daily, and not because it's all very robotic in nature, but because each piece has been given "just enough" independence to react and behave differently to the same event. If we knew the exact move nature would perform at any given time, it would have no intrigue. But personality, behavior, character, or whatever we want to call it, has been portioned out to "Just Enough", to keep us returning day after day and keep us intrigued and amused for a lifetime.
This Juvenile Ruby-throat hummingbird chose an unusual place to sit and watch all the others fighting. It had many perches to choose from, but perhaps this reminded it of a nest?
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 17, 2018.
For the last 2 weeks migrant hummingbirds have been showing up in my yard. All the adult males have now left my garden and are are probably a few hundred miles or more S.E. of my place. All the adult female hummingbirds have also left, but behind them are still the angry little children they've left to fend for themselves and fight among each other. Even many of them have left my garden over the last couple days. I've witnessed 4 migrating Rubies just in the last 2 days, and with my yard being dramatically emptied out of hummingbirds, I'm sure I've missed far more leaving.
Their migratory behavior is quite a bit different from their regular behavior. They start showing signs that the fighting is less important than just gathering up the layers of fat and storing the energy for what lies ahead. They will travel a whopping 50km/day(31 miles) in flight, and that doesn't inclued the massive leap over the Gulf of Mexico once the get there.
The wonders I always have are probably not much different than all the other hummingbirders - Where are they at this moment? How spread out are they? Which Provinces or States are they currently in? Have they all survived to this point with the many dangers they'll encounter? There are many questions once they leave each of our gardens, and it's pretty much out of our hands at this point. We just have to hope and wait til the following Spring to see how things turn out.
The image is of a young Ruby feeding on the last few Delphinium flowers, while many of those already spent are now developing seed pods. I love the colors and textures in this photo. N.E. of Edmonton, AB. Canada. August 2018
It was an overcast day, and I sat in the garden waiting for Ziggy to show me what he had. It didn't take long and he appeared on his ambush perch. I immediately started snapping pic's and he didn't disappoint. There was nothing to distort his natural colors. The brilliance of a Ruby's throat is quite impressive just on its own. He looked right at me and gave me one of the most brilliant flashes of color I've seen off of him. Even the photo doesn't capture the laser beam of light that passed through the lens.
Direct sunlight can really distort the colors and turn that red throat into an orangy/rust color, but on an overcast day the pic's produce the perfect natural light without shadows. This is also the perfect photo to illustrate the black chin right between the bill and the red throat. He also split his tail slightly to let me know he was aware of my presence.
There were no touch-ups necessary, as he showed me just how perfect he was.
Ziggy, the dominant male Ruby-throat hummingbird. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 2018.
5 am and I woke to the alarm. I looked out the window to see only a hint of light. Today was going to be a day like none other. The night before was chaos in the yard as the hummingbirds fought for food and territory and continued to near dark, so I just knew that the hummingbirds had stuck around through the night and that this morning would be one of the busiest of the season. The excitement was quickly building for me as I made my way downstairs and gathered my equipment.
I opened the door quietly and stepped out into the fresh morning. The silence was piercing. I sat down and tried to see through the darkness, but the only thing I managed to see was the nearby hummingbird feeder. Nothing was moving yet, but within seconds a Song Sparrow woke the morning. It was like an alarm for all the other songbirds. Gradually the garden started to come to life.
As I sat there listening to the odd song, I suddenly heard a "chewp" to my right. It was an unmistakable warning from a woken hummingbird. It let out another "chewp", and then another. Then to my left I heard a "chewp". With every second that passed, the entire yard started to liven up with "chewps". The first one started to speed up and repeat this sound, as did the others. After about 30 seconds it was nothing but a chorus of angry hummingbirds from all corners of the garden, all warning the rest not to touch their own feeder that they had guarded the night before. You can't imagine the intensity of what was beginning. Each hummingbird was vocal from every location in the garden and as they all stretched their wings they got ready for battle .
Within the minute, squeaking and fighting began. I was soon able to see about 5 feeders nearest me, but the squeaking towards the back of the garden was nothing more than audio. I couldn't see what was going on back there but I could hear it all. They all started to move in all directions when a few hummingbirds passed over the house into the garden. It was an ambush. These few split in different directions and headed towards a feeder of their choice. Each one of those feeders were guarded, so the chasing began, and in moments it was chaos once again. The fighting intensified and continued until about 8 am. By then a few migrants had gained a meal and continued on while the ones that remained, sat in guard of their feeders once again, ready for the next invasion.
Ziggy, the dominant Ruby-throat hummingbird male. He's the one that set up territory early in Spring and has remained to be the last male. When there's enough light he moves to this tiny perch low down in the garden. Sometimes a squeak is enough to encourage other hummingbirds to avoid his feeder, but other times he lunges from this little perch in protection of the only feeder he watches. He has now surrendered all of the other 8 feeders to other junior males starting a legacy of their own. August 10, 2018.
After several weeks of hard work by the adult hummingbirds, the young are starting to appear in garden's everywhere. It's a new world with so many colors and the young just can't get enough. They are naive and investigate everything, curious and poke at everything, and a bit foolish when they fly up into the face of the adult males and antagonize them. It's all fun and games until you poke the wrong hummingbird.
It really is quite amusing when you see a young hummingbird test out its intimidation skills. One adult male Ruby was tucked away into a Lilac bush going through an early molt. Nothing was amusing to him. He would feed every 10 to 15 minutes and then tuck back into the bush. He didn't want to bother anyone and also wanted the same respect. He chose one feeder and ignored the rest. Over the next week or two he would regain the strength and fat that he lost over the summer. But one little juvenile showed up, "hmmm, a new feeder". This young one had the choice of several other feeders, but chose this one. He saw the old boy was tucked away and angry, but made it his new challenge. He did a couple fake attempts toward the feeder, knowing he was being watched. If that wasn't enough, he then flared out his tail and inched his way toward the angry male. He inched closer and closer, and was just lighting the fuse. I couldn't help but think, "What Are You Doing!" He reached that point when you could nearly see those new pinfeathers popping out. The adult male simply had enough. Squeakity squeak went on for some time as the grownup was teaching the young one a little bit about respect. Up into the sky, back toward the ground, through the trees, around the bushes, back up into the sky… and it continued. Eventually, the young one managed an escape, and rested deep in the clematis. Within seconds his ADD took hold and his attention was quickly diverted to a secret little treasure found undercover, "hmmm, a new flower".
Juvenile male Ruby-throat hummingbird. July 30, 2018. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
I did a blog last year about trying to encourage young birds to feeders. As much as we appreciate hummingbirds doing their natural thing and pollinating the flowers, there can be a shortage of food in a garden to keep them around for several days. Feeders are one of those flowers that never run out of nectar, and if we can convert them over to the feeders, they'll stick around much longer and get the benefits of both flowers and feeders. Feeders were made to look like flowers in order to attract hummingbirds, but too often the flowers on the feeders look nothing like the flowers in our gardens. When hummingbirds figure out a certain type of flower that they really like, they become single focused and look at nothing but that type of flower. It's only once they mature that they start to realize that you take any opportunity for food that you can find, and when you see any of the nectar filled flowers, you feed from them all and not just remain singly focused on one type.
In this case, a young Ruby-throat figured out that there is nectar deep within the tail of the Nasturtium flowers. The Nasturtiums very quickly became the go to flower. This youngster still didn't know feeders yet, so it was time to place out the "Training Feeder". I have some fake Nasturtium flowers attached to the feeder to try and attract them to the red bottle that they will one day never forget. Too often I've had young hummingbirds feed for a couple days without ever understanding the the sweet gold of the feeders. Many have left without ever realizing the full potential of our garden and all the feeders within. As a matter of fact many people have said that hummingbirds showed up at their yards and only fed from flowers and not the feeders. This is the reasoning. Young birds need to learn feeders just like they have to learn the ins and outs of different types of flowers at how to access the nectar. At some point they'll learn the feeders the further south they go, and the more hummingbirds at feeders that they'll encounter. My training feeders haven't always worked, but in most cases they have. Once they taste the nectar from the fake flower on the feeder, they'll start to recognize the red bottle behind it. That red bottle will have significance every time they fly around the garden noticing the other red bottles everywhere.
The training feeder went up just before this youngster came and sat on the hook that held the feeder. We'll see if he learns.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. July 28, 2018.
A very common question that I get asked is - If I haven't seen a hummingbird until now should I continue with my feeders?
Short answer: Absolutely, yes! First of all, who's to say you haven't had any hummingbirds at your feeders, and you just didn't see them? Those that presume they haven't got any hummingbirds probably look at their feeders or feeder once a day. They are under the impression that just because they're looking at their feeder a hummingbird should be there. If you looked at your feeders once a day, the odds of seeing that one sighting a day would be about one in 2000. Just assume you've had hummingbirds at your feeders. From now to the time that they migrate they will increase their visits substantially. Secondly, the amount of hummingbirds that will go south will be more than double the amount that went north. For every female there will be at least one brood, typically consisting of two young. Many females will do a second brood, and possibly a third, especially the further you go south. The adult male and female are far more structured and stick to a pattern, but the young will become far more adventurous and the curious about the new world they've inherited. They will search out every flower and every garden. That is why this time of year provides the greatest opportunities to see hummingbirds. Don't be too quick to put away those feeders. Change them regularly, and spread them around your yard to gain the greatest visibility. In future years remember this with feeders and flowers. Make every location of your yard a target from every direction around. Their eyesight is spectacular, and food is their mission. Give them every reason to choose your garden over everyone else's, and they will!
Right now I have five or six adult males that refuse to leave the yard. Spreading of feeders has given each one of them the opportunity to dominate their own little region within the yard(it's far different in Spring with mating season). It's difficult and time consuming for one male to control all feeders. The intensity of the dominant Male's anger is lessened this time of year. There is still fighting, but they will slow down as they try to gain calories for that southern trip in the near future.
With the increase of Males in the last week, it's becoming very difficult to tell which one Ziggy is. It's male vs male in so many chases, but they are coming to an agreement as to which feeder belongs to each male. The increase in young birds will cause more chaos over the next few weeks. Some young will compete until they gain a region of the garden. As the adult males start to leave for the south, more young males will take control of the different regions of the garden. Until that time, They'll have to compete with the big boys.
Adult Male Ruby-throat hummingbirds. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. July 23, 2018.
Our first young Ruby-throats showed up July 19th. They didn't appear too young, which means they're probably a few days away from the nest. The mother did show up with them, but they were pretty self sufficient. They squabbled with each other, and even had a few chases with the adult males that are now sticking around to fatten up. This young'n had patches of Rufous coloring in it, which always gets my attention. The rare Rufous are always a treat, but in this case I'm pretty sure it was a false alarm.
Young birds will be drawn to flowers immediately, and spend most of their time in them. A good supply of flowers will keep them around long enough, until they figure out how to use feeders.
Very little about this young one's appearance tells us its a juvenile, but its behavior was the giveaway. It sat in the most unusual locations, and fed side by with its sibling, with the odd squabble in between, and then back to feeding.
The adult males are getting tougher to tell apart as this season really forces changes in their behavior. In one instance a male spotted a young one at a feeder. He flew up with angry intentions, but when he arrived, he gave the impression of "you look like you could be one of mine, but I still don't like you that much", and then flew away. The stern teaching will start quickly, which is vital to the survival of young hummingbirds. Within hours the young will develop the head twitches in search of any threats from all directions. It won't be difficult for them to fight back as the bad attitude is inherent in all young hummingbirds. With myself being at the furthest north portion of the Ruby-throats' territory, all regions should have seen or will see their first young any day. Start to watch more than just feeders. The young are drawn to flowers which are essential early on. It's very common to see 2 young arrive to your garden at the same time. A close bond for the first 4 weeks of their lives, takes a few days away from the nest to develop their independence.
The past few days were really hot after a couple thunderstorms fed the flowers. After the intense winds swept disaster to our yard a few weeks back, you'd never know it by the Delphiniums flowers which are now standing tall and straight as arrows. I always love our garden from June 15 to August 15. As some perennials finish flowering, other types will begin, and it progresses right through the prime hummingbird season.
I wanted to show you our gardens, and how they're starting to shape up. When you first enter our yard you'll see a mass of trees, shrubs and perennials of all sorts, but throughout the garden we actually have many trails 42 inches wide, and in some areas even wider.
What you see is about 1/2 of an acre of a portion of our property. Trails aren't visible from here, but you can see a new bridge that goes over our frog pond, and next you'll see the trails. Through the low growing Junipers is one trail that leads to a patio area at the garden shed.
Next is the starting point into our garden. At the front corner is our bird fountain, and where Ziggy bathes. This trail also takes you to the garden shed patio.
This trail continues to wind in and around the garden shed where there are loads of Delphiniums, Maltese Cross, and other perennials that attract hummingbirds. The trail has many points that lead to other areas of the garden.
Last year we started working on garden stools and benches that would be situated throughout the garden. It gives many opportunities to sit among the hummingbirds and snap photos. Here is one area that is being all redone. A narrow trail with stepping stones will be all cleaned up in a bark trail that leads up to a sitting area. This area will be filled with Bergenias, Hostas, Magic Fountain Delphiniums and Siberian Irises. From Spring to late summer this area will have some sort of tall blooming perennials that get the attention of hummingbirds.
One thing I always love are Coniferous trees. They always remind me of the mountains. After any rainfall, that fragrance of pine fills the air. This trail leads directly through the middle of our garden. We have a mix of at least three types of Pine, some Spruce, and low growing varieties. With a good mix of trees and shrubs we have countless birds nesting in our yard every year. We provide birdseed, hummingbird nectar, and at least five different water sources for birds to drink and bathe.
Finally, I wanted to show the best sitting location in the yard. It overlooks most of the garden while sitting in the cool shade. From this location I'm able to see a good portion of the entire garden. I can see the hummingbirds feeding from the flowers and feeders, and oftentimes catch them rising up from the garden and fighting in the sky.
Well that's it for now. That was a portion of our garden and I hope you've enjoyed it. Now I think I'll just go and sit under that large Maple tree and enjoy the rest of the day.
Author of Jewel of the North. Please post your comments and questions.