Things have started to calm down after severe destruction due to weather, but it's just another day in the bird world. Many birds have already completed their first brood, while others have just started building their nests. Many had no choice but to start again because of winds or predators.
It was just over a week ago when we spotted a tiny nest in a small cedar globe. Two tiny blue eggs one day, were little red skinned babies the next. The speed at which they grew was remarkable. Their alarming little "cheep" got my attention, and I suspected something was near the nest. I made my way around the trail to find out the nest was empty. I thought there was no way those little bald babies could have left the nest after hatching just over a week ago. The adult Clay-colored sparrows showed their anger towards me while I walked the trail. It wasn't long before I saw a young bird, unable to fly yet, with short wings and tail feathers. I then understood why this particular bird nests so close to the ground, and with only two little mouths to feed it didn't take long to fatten them up.
With our power being out for a few days, Ziggy's "Salt Springs Spa" was temporarily shut down. He's no primitive bird. He prefers serious pampering, and average pond water just wasn't gonna cut it. After a few days without special treatment, Ziggy quickly appreciated the good things in life and took advantage of his now functioning spa.
There are a few other males that wait in line behind Ziggy, but until the time he completes his legacy, no other males will take advantage of his territory. After fighting off a few trespassers around sunrise, this 6 AM bath was the start of what would be a busy day.
Within a couple hours a female showed up. I always question how Ziggy will know if and when a female arrives. This female sat contently with a little tuft of nesting material at the end of her bill. I had no idea that Ziggy sat on an opposing branch only 6 feet away. Within a blink she lunged across the gap towards him. I heard a snap from some kind of contact, and Ziggy quickly initiated his mating dance. A quick 12 inch side to side clicking motion was the display he tried to impress her with. That display then turned into a 20 foot arcing pendulum swing. Ziggy became a little too obsessed with his own display, that she slipped away while he became a little too self absorbed with his flying abilities . It didn't take long before he was back on patrol watching for intruders or ready to put on another display for other arriving females.
That was just a small portion of one day in the birds' world.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. June 18, 2018.
Our pond is well on its way. Actually we had a small pond to start with, but had to be relined due to leaks. Then the waterfall structure was built to suit the pond size. Now the structure is in place at the back of the pond. It looks like a thousand pounds of rocks, but there is a rubber lined wooden structure that takes up a lot of the space. So far we have some rocks in place, but not permanent. A few adjustments have to be made with the direction of the water flow and the water hose, and a little bit of patch work so there aren't any leaks, and then the final assembly. We had a downgrade slope away from our house which made it a bit tricky years back. We had to build it up so that we had a view from the house. It's always great to see the birds bathing from inside the house. They literally come from blocks in all direction to bath and drink. We have a little structure in the middle of the pond, but that may be just temporary. It was supposed to give a bit of moving water until the waterfall was build. Finally some plants are going in to fill gaps. Moss, Buck Bean, Water Calas, Creeping Jenny, Miniature Bull Rushes and Sedum are the main plants to be placed. A couple of these aren't really pond plants, however, we've had incredible success with them as pond plants. All of these are extremely hardy and will survive our COLD winters. Once it's all finished, the water will remain on throughout the season, and we'll wait for the birds to arrive. They already show up to the other water features, but they're definitely taking a look at the new one now. It's already a steady stream of birds that show up every minute of the day for the water, so I can only imagine how many more will be attracted. Something very important to remember is having shallow areas where birds can stand in and bath, or drink. Having a gradual slope in a couple areas of the pond allows them to slowly walk down to the depth they desire.
A few touch-ups over the next month or so and plants will be filling in the gaps, and it'll start to look a bit more natural.
A brilliant laser beam of a metallic red throat lit up as this male Ruby-throat's gorget feathers bee-lined in the direction of the sun. It just so happened my wife and I were right in it's pathway. There can be little more intimidating than having a sharp pointed beak fly right towards your face and then stop abruptly within inches of piercing your eye. With the morning sun just above the horizon, this male's throat glowed like nothing you've ever seen. He did a few pops with his head, and that throat flashed brilliant red. He examined my wife, and then examined myself, and then flew off.
Knowing our Ziggy, this bird never showed any similarities in behavior. Ziggy knows us, and as comfortable as he is with us around, he still has that comfort distance rule that he doesn't break. This one was quite intrigued. He was very similar in size and had the brilliant red throat, but no doubt he was an impostor. It didn't take long to read his behavior and patterns. He obviously tried to avoid Ziggy, however, still hadn't solved his tricks. Ziggy knows his territory and has located a perch within view of each one of his feeders. He has to repeatedly move around the garden to maintain a tight security, but he has it all figured out.
This male actually came very close to us on several occasions, and gave me several opportunities to get a closeup. Although most male Rubies are extremely hard to tell apart, I like to look at the collar/throat neckline. That bottom line of red gorget feathers are like a DNA test for hummingbirds. Approximately 12 red feathers are laid out in a coded pattern that can be very different from one bird to the next. Some may have a very noticeable lower feather in one or more places within the 12. Some may be higher, some lower, and some in the middle or overlapped, and rarely you get the perfect even patterned throat.
This male had the appearance of only 7 large rounded feathers, with a peak of white right under the males beak. The best way to compare the males is to catch them in a relaxed state like this one, when he's simply sitting on a perch with his beak straight ahead.
Is it Ziggy? Not a chance. He's an impostor!
June 7, 2018. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Adult Male Ruby-throat hummingbird
"Hummingbirders" wait for months for their little jewels to arrive, and once they do there's jubilation across the continent. There's a week or two of pure joy, and then things go silent in the garden. Worry and panic strikes every "hummingbirder" out there as it appears their hummingbirds are gone and won't return. Understanding their habits and cycles should give you reason not to be concerned.
Let's compare Robins to Hummingbirds for a minute. When Robins appear in your garden and start to build a nest, they don't travel far from their nesting site to get their materials or to find food. Those traveling distances decrease even more once the young hatch and require food. Even though hummingbirds are much smaller and quite a bit angrier than Robins, they still are birds with the same habits. There is one major difference between them though. Male Robins are always very near their mate. Even when she's gathering materials for her nest, the male is somewhere very close watching out for predators. He has a strong protective instinct. With hummingbirds, it's much different. After the initial mating act, the female remains on her own in building the nest and later gathering food for her young. She is the protector, the food gatherer, and the sole caretaker of the nest. The male will protect his territory with the sole purpose of finding as many mates as possible, to increase the population as much as possible. There's no harness on the males. They live the fast and loose lifestyle. The female hummingbird stays relatively close to her nest, just like the Robin. Eggs need to maintain a proper temperature, and if there's danger nearby, she's there to protect. This is the main reason we don't see many female Rubies after that first week or two of the season. They don't travel far when they have vulnerable little ones in the nest. As for the males, you may get a dominant one sticking around, but he also has the freedom to go away for the weekend without any responsibilities to tend to. Sightings can be very sporadic through this time. The females can sit on the nest for about 55 minutes out of every hour, which tells you why they're not in your garden.
The consistency starts to form when it's feeding time for the newly hatched young, and as the young get older the frequency of hummingbird visits will increase.
Don't lose hope that the hummingbirds are gone from your garden, or that the sightings have decreased. That is very normal, and it's only a matter of time before all the males, females and young will return to your garden to cause a whole lot of chaos.
Ziggy, the Ruby-throat hummingbird, hasn't given up on mating opportunities, nor has he given up his throne. He will continue to hang around, and believe that more females will arrive. There are also circumstances where a female loses her nest to a predator and has to start over. The males will remain around for those opportunities as well.
May 28, 2018. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
It's very hard to describe just how incredible hummingbirds are until you witness their behaviors, realize the distances they travel in a lifetime, and especially when you get up close and really analyze the precious details of a bird that without it's feathers is about the size of a peanut. Then dress up that peanut with iridescent olive feathers and touch up a few precisely on the throat so that when the light reflects off it, you get a display beyond brilliance. This is one of trillions of miracles that hold a shape with such incredible beauty. Now add cells that continue to know where and how far to grow, tissues to form its shape, and precisely place organs inside this tiny little body that will function with purpose. Add little lenses that are far more powerful than humanly made camera lens. Place a unique character inside this little feathered object, and finally, breath life into it. This little bird is basically one tiny piece of trillions of pieces strategically placed on this planet to make it function with perfection, and yet this tiny bird in itself is made up of trillions of miracles alone.
Here he sits with such beauty. He is filled with a fiery attitude while he fulfills a desperately needed purpose on a planet that continuously exudes miracle after miracle. I hope you can see where I'm going with this. This little bird never willed itself wings, they were masterfully placed by a creator with an imagination so far beyond our imagination. When you start to analyze the details within the details, you will see something far greater than a bird. He has traveled thousands of miles to get to a place he previous knew, and now sits, waits and wonders when the next little miracle will arrive to his territory so he can put on a display and impress her like he has so many others.
This is Ziggy. He's a Ruby-throat hummingbird, but not just any bird. May 28, 2018. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
All of us scan our feeders throughout the day and periodically see a hummingbird feeding, but is it the same bird? How many birds do you actually have? That is a question where I'm sure the answer would surprise many people. The females have a mission in nesting and raising the young, so they typically don't stick around the feeders for any time beyond a minute each feed. Then there are the males who have a pecking order. They will battle it out to see who outlasts each other to determine their choice of territory. The strongest and most courageous will pick his favorite location and determine how big an area he wants to defend. The next in line will choose his favorite of what remains, and so on down the line.
Once territories are determined, food can become an obstacle for those who are pushed out of the prime locations. They may be forced to steal what doesn't belong to them, and that could mean risking life and limb to get it. The fact is that many areas are limited for food, so numerous males could be seeking out the delicacy that can only be found in large doses within a feeder, and they may be few and far between. This is the reason I always suggest multiple feeders and well spaced out around your garden. It makes it very difficult for one male to dominate all feeders, and it allows several other males the opportunity to get in a feed with a bit less danger of meeting up with the dominant one.
So which one is the dominant one? Well that is always the one who wants to be seen. He will sit in the open, high atop a tree or post, and let every other intruder know that that's his territory and he's not afraid of anything. He wants to be seen, whereas the other males don't. Fidgety behavior of a drinking male can often times indicate he's scared for his life and will frequently feed in and out of the feeder like a woodpecker. The dominant male is usually far more relaxed. He takes his time feeding and lifts his head out of a feeder just to get a breath of air before overindulging with another glug of nectar. Watch for these habits. One wants to tell the world he's in control, while the others take a quick feed and leave the yard or hide deep in the tree and not atop it.
Here are a few far and near shots of Ziggy the dominant one, sitting as high up as he can to try and detect any thieving intruder or to spot a newly arrived female looking for a mate. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. May 28, 2018.
He returned, and more miserable than ever. I suppose he had good reason. There are multiple males attempting a takeover, but when it comes right down to it, they lack the courage of Ziggy. He has chosen the same perches all around the garden as last year, shows up every time the garden hose comes out, and has dominated every area of the yard. Many other male Rubies have tried a quick intimidation tactic, but all very short lived. You can hear short chirps nearby Ziggy, but as they get within 10 feet, they quickly lose all courage and bolt in the other direction. Ziggy doesn't tolerate it. He has no fear, and up to this point no challenger has had the abilities or courage to push it any further. Ziggy still dominates, and while he has multiple males to frequently chase out of the yard, he still has the stamina to finish what he came for.
Every time I get the garden hose out to water the flowers, he makes an appearance. My wife even had the pleasure of watching Ziggy closeup on the fountain as she was watering the plants. At one point I saw the shadow of a hummingbird on the ground as I watered the flowers. I looked up in the trees around me, but didn't see him. I continued watering only to be startled by the red flashes of Ziggy's throat as he sat on the bamboo stick 3 feet away. I froze to get a good look, and he dropped his head slightly and took a good look at me. I think he just likes giving me the business.
He's thoroughly enjoyed the fountain several times a day, but I still have trouble understanding why he likes bathing at 7am when the temperature is 10C(52F). Since he shows up every time I have the garden hose out, he makes it very difficult to photograph him on the fountain. I did manage a few shots from about 60 feet away.
Finally, I have to share one more quick story. My wife and I sat under the Maple tree and Ziggy sat about 6 feet away. He had little concern for us moving and talking. My wife got up to walk to the house. She was on the deck about 50 feet away when Ziggy flew in the opposite direction. He arched up into the sky about 30 feet, and swooped down and accelerated towards the feeder beyond where my wife was standing. He didn't do a bee line to the feeder, but instead veered off track by about 10 feet to his right. He just had to roast Tracy by inches, enough to put the fear in her and send chills up her spine. If he doesn't have a sense of humor, he sure does like to intimidate. I can't tell you how many times he's done this over the last few years and why he finds it necessary.
Ziggy, the Ruby-throat hummingbird enjoying a morning bath. May 27, 2018. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Living in the northernmost region of the hummingbird's territory makes me one of the last to receive my hummingbirds. The 2 1/2 month wait from the time they enter the Southern United States builds my anxieties to a dangerous level. Winters of the north are far too much for even the fattest goose, and as for me, eight months of torpor would suffice through those negative temperatures.
As many hummingbirds won't survive the previous southern migration, predators, and the northern migration, I sit anxiously and wait for my locals to return. Will it be a new male that establishes territory in our yard, or will it be good ol' Ziggy. The older these birds get, the wiser and more alert they are of dangers. I believe the average age is highly dependent on a few variables. For those that travel the shortest distances, they may gain a few extra years. For those travelling the greatest distances, they'll probably encounter many more dangers in their larger area covered. I not only wait to see my hummingbirds return, but I hope many will be my regulars from the previous year. Most of the time their behaviors are very similar to all the rest, but Ziggy is unique. Although many hummingbird's appear to have A.D.D, Ziggy has a more severe case. They all typically fly in a straight line, and gradually veer in the direction of their intended location, not Ziggy. He appears to change his mind every couple of seconds, which makes his flight pattern even too tough for missile detection, and the reason he got his name.
Will it be Ziggy that'll arrive? Did he survive the past year with all the dangers? Only time will tell.
Adult Male Ruby-throat hummingbird. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. June 2017
Everyone looks forward to receiving their hummingbirds from the previous year, but are you reaching your full potential in hummingbird sightings? People put out feeders according to the times they previously saw hummingbirds, but are they catering to just a select few? To increase your numbers you have to understand there's a greater potential than what many realize. There are 3 significant groups of birds that we have to focus on and not just the few we expect to return from the previous year.
First we have to break down the birds into categories. Your "Locals" are Your birds. They are the ones that specifically use your garden or yard as a significant part of their territory and return year after year, knowing that garden belongs to them. They rely on food in your garden, and know that every time they arrive they'll have sufficient amounts of nectar and protein. They depend on you as a main source of food. They will nest relatively close by, and bring the young when mature. These are the birds we highly depend on as our regulars.
Secondly, we have Migrants. Every hummingbird must feed, and feed a lot on its way to its chosen or "yet to be chosen" breeding territory. The further south you live, the greater number of migrants you'll have because every migrating bird has to travel through the southern regions to get to its territory somewhere north of that. The further north you are, the less migrants you'll attract, as some people will live at the furthest north part of the hummingbirds' breeding territory, with no migrants needing to travel further. Many young males and females from the previous year will go to their previous summer location, but will be forced to find their own territories. This is another group within the migrants that we try to attract.
Thirdly, we get Casuals or Random birds. This is a group of birds that have a already established territories. However, they will always search out regions around their territory for alternate food sources. They won't limit themselves to just one garden, but they will remember every location of significance.
If we put out feeders on the day we normally do earch year, we potentially lose more sightings than what's possible. The hummingbird migration lasts for several weeks, which means many people that cater to their locally arriving birds could lose out on a large number of migrant birds. Many leave a lot earlier than others. Your locals could be days or even weeks behind some that need to get to a region far north of you.
If I could give a few pieces of valuable advice, this would be it.
1. Get your feeders out at least 7-10 days before the normal arriving times of your locals.
2. Create the greatest visibility of feeders and flowers around all sides of your property. No matter where birds are flying, you want them to have clear visibility of food options. Don't just place feeders where you want to see them, place feeders where your greatest potential can be reached.
3. Feeders are valuable! This is not to say flowers are not, but in Spring time when it's entirely adult birds moving north, they know that basically all feeders contain a consistently rich nectar that requires little energy to feed from, but with a huge gain in return. Don't confuse the young birds from the previous year with Spring hummingbirds. Young often times have to figure out what a feeder is before they'll use it, but adult hummingbirds will know their value and rarely refuse one.
I believe that if you apply these tips, you will increase your numbers each year, including building up your local population.
At first glance those piercing little eyes and fiery throat make this little guy look like a fierce little firecracker. It's always so impressive to see brilliant neon flashes of color on hummingbirds or any birds for that matter. It looks like a bit of the tropics when you're so used to dull or bland looking birds in the North. That's probably the reason so many people get excited when they see Goldfinches, Western Tanagers, Rose Breasted Grosbeaks and more. They bring a bit of bling from the South and confirm to us that summer has truly arrived.
Here's my dominant male Ruby-throat hummingbird from the past few years. He looks a bit angry, but was just doing the duck and stretch before flying off. It was a cloudy day, but perfect for capturing his natural colors. He chose about 5 locations around the garden and waited for any arriving females. Hummingbirds are Polygamous and will mate with multiple females throughout the breeding season. They don't pair up with a female or take part in the nesting process either. They do, however, guard their territory like nothing else of their size, and show a fair bit of attitude.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 2015.
Author of Jewel of the North. Please post your comments and questions.