Even though these birds are born with the worst attitude of any living thing on the planet, they still don't know what they're in for when they arrive to a garden full of angry hummingbirds. They get poked and knocked around, and at first they are very unsuspecting of it, but soon they get just fed up with a bullying before they start to fight back.
Although sweet looking on the outside, these birds are ready to ignite on the inside. They are raging little firecrackers within just a couple days away from the nest.
It often seems very cruel how the adults rough up the young birds so quickly in their life, but in understanding how quickly they have to mature and be prepared for dangers, there is no better way. Many of these birds go from mini jellybean size to migrating south on their own within a mere 5 to 6 weeks.
This juvenile male Ruby Throated hummingbird just sat back and watched all the others fight over the feeders. He appeared as though he wanted nothing to do with the gong show around him.
It certainly does make you wonder how many of these birds will conquer their battles and return the following year.
August 2016, N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta.
If you were driving down the streets in your neighborhood, how visible would your place be compared to all the others? Now think of it in terms of how a hummingbird would see it. Do you have much color? Do you have a few small flower pots or large masses of color that would draw the attention of any hummingbird? When a hummingbird is searching out new territory, it is on high alert with eyes wide open. Is one small pot of flowers worth the effort, or is it even visible from a few houses away? The amount of food has to outweigh the amount of energy a hummingbird will consume to find it, otherwise they would all meet their demise. We should all consider this when creating a hummingbird garden. A few flowers look nice but are they worth the effort for a hummingbird? Not only flowers, but do you have multiple choices of feeders for them?
Their survival is dependent on food. Few choices means few birds. Many choices means many birds. When a hummingbird realizes that it has choices between 12 feeders all condensed within 1 yard with large visible clusters of flowers, or the garden down the street with one pot of flowers and one feeder, I can assure you its choice will be simple as to which garden it'll spend most of its time.
Although hummingbirds are drawn to Mass, and not for their anger issues, they are drawn because of their will to survive. Give them a reason, or should I say several reasons to return.
All Ruby-throats that will be migrating to our yards over the Spring will be adult birds. They will primarily search out feeders, and remember them for years to come. Later on, as the young leave the nest, it will be confusing to identify the young from the adults. There are actually many ways to differentiate between them, and here's a couple. Once you know the good flowers for hummingbirds, and you see a bird show up at an unusual or less common one, it should tell you this is not normal. This Calendula is very low on the priority chart for hummingbirds. However, this young bird is clueless to what's good and what's not. All the young birds see colour and it looks like a Candyland Playground. They will fly and feed from them all, and then determine which ones require a return visit. Also, look at the feet hanging down. Young birds develop coordination for the first week from the nest and use their feet for balance, and will be seen in just about everything they do. As time passes, their feet will tuck in tighter and be seen far less often. At first glance, this bird appears like an adult, but knowing how to tell them apart, should quickly tell you this is a young bird. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta 2015
Thousands of miles traveled and numerous battles every year with such a tiny set of wings is nearly impossible to understand. This little bird was constructed with abilities beyond imagination and the courage to intimidate every enemy it encounters. Even the wind is no competition for these razor-like wings that slice through currents and storms at ridiculous speeds. They are a miraculous little creature that was pieced together with utter brilliance. The tail feathers can fan out at any speed and brake this bird to a halt within inches, and can manipulate its shape to make turns of nearly 90 degrees in an instant.
We can be astonished at how these birds can move, but totally overlook all the working components within this tiny little creature. It's truly spectacular how they were constructed, and then decorated with the most beautiful iridescence.
Adult Male Ruby-throated hummingbird, 2016. N.E. of Edmonton, Albera.
WHAT TO EXPECT THIS SPRING.
People become very disappointed when the hummingbirds they had early in the season have disappeared. The sightings are reduced greatly and people question if they've lost their birds.
Early on hummingbirds go through the mating process. When that's complete, they go into nesting mode. Some people may have the males stick around, and some won't. The females change their focus from feeders to nest building, incubating and raising their young. If you're lucky enough to have a female nesting nearby, then you'll see her much more frequently. If she's nest a distance away, she may only make daily trips back to your feeders, or even less frequent.
This is where it's vitally important to keep up with the feeder changing and cleaning. The hummingbirds may not be spending all their time in your garden, but when they do show up from great distances away, they are in real need of fuel(nectar), and fully expect to see their food source where they left it. Just know that these females are still showing up, although less frequent, but still checking to see if their food sources are available for when they bring their young from the nest.
Overview: Early on we get more sightings and more birds sticking around. Then the females will disappear for a lengthy 40-50 day period, where the males may or may not stick around. Finally the males, females and young will all show up before their southern migration. They will stock up on food and fatten up in the gardens that supplied them with food through the Spring and Summer.
Knowing this process will help you understand that they will show up again, and in greater numbers. Just make sure you don't give up on your part in changing and cleaning feeders. 2015 N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta. Juvenile Ruby-throated hummingbird.
While some people have been receiving hummingbird sightings for some time now, there are many in the south who are feeling a sense of hopelessness, and many in Canada who are still waiting for their first arrivals. We've all seen the videos where countless hummingbirds are squabbling over multiple feeders. Many see these videos and wonder what they're doing wrong to not be able to attract just one.
The fact is this, many people live in a direct migratory route, and this would apply commonly to those along the West Coast where Rufous and Anna's hummingbirds travel up a much narrower path than the Ruby-throats. The mountain divide funnels the Rufous and the Anna's through a much narrower channel. The Ruby-throats travel up the eastern half of the divide, which widens the further you go north. This has a direct impact in different ways for those that live on both sides of the mountain divide. Some of these birds may cross over the mountains and wandered into the other's territory, but the vast majority stay on their own side. You'll see the opposite effect when they start going south. The western half widens and the eastern half narrows. Overall, the width of the migration path of the western hummingbirds is much narrower than that of the Ruby-throat's on the East side.
Knowing this, residents on the eastern side of the divide should understand the population gets scattered across a larger area, forcing us to fight over lesser numbers. This is what separates the dedicated from the part time "Hummingbirders". Those that invest the time, change the feeders and plan out the perfect hummingbird garden, will see greater results than those who put out a feeder and pull it down after the first two weeks with no success.
For those who think they're doing something wrong when they see only a few hummingbirds as apposed to those who have hundreds, don't just assume that. Some regions can be incredibly successful in just having a few birds based on the population for that region.
While some may smile over a yard full of hummingbirds, there are some embarrassing happy dances, pirouettes and back flips going on in some neighborhoods over the appearance of just one hummingbird. Some of these people can be seriously nuts, but that's what a single hummingbird can do. You may not have great numbers, but that can be improved over time. Give them reasons to keep returning and they will!
This is one of the nicest looking Adult Male Ruby-throated hummingbirds I've seen. He has the perfect appearance, with no blemishes. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta. 2015.
This wasn't the first time this happened, but it was the first time I witnessed every detail up close, from start to finish. I just had to share so people understand the importance of feeders with hummingbirds. A lot of people still tell me that their hummingbirds don't go to feeders, but there's really a simple explanation.
Many of the hummingbirds in my yard had already graduated to the mature food, but this little guy was a recent arrival to our garden. He was only about 1-2 days from the nest and was very familiar with the wide assortment of flowers blanketing our garden. He kept returning because of our massive choice in nectar rich flowers. He would return especially to the Nasturtium vines, but would see many birds fly overhead to this red object directly above him. He would squeak every time others would show up, but only to keep them from his flowers.
Then someone flipped the switch. "What is that thing that all the others are interested in?" He flew up and seriously admired every feature about this object, but never stuck his beak in the flower. He tried it again in about 10 seconds, but this time he noticed the flower. He approached it cautiously, but only got within 4 inches of the flower and turned away. Within another 10 minutes he attempted it again. "There's got to be something special about this thing that I'm just not getting?". This time stuck his beak in very quickly, but pulled back just as fast. I could then see that little tongue licking it's bill like never before. He analyzed the taste and with NO hesitation inserted the beak again. He believed he found a goldmine. He sat in the flowers, tried to perch on top of the feeder, and licked it from top to bottom. Life was different from this moment on. Like with other hummingbirds, the feeder now became top priority. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta. 2015.
For residents of the Eastern US and Canada, we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Ruby Throats. These birds are much like many of the others in terms of the process that takes place each Spring. The males typically arrive earlier than the females. They locate a territory that's well suited in terms of food sources, structure of trees, water sources, and quantity of all these things. If you have a great layout, you will have more territorial battles between the males. The supreme feathered gladiator will rule over this territory and await the arrival of the females. Many people are under the assumption that hummingbirds pair up, but it's not the case. Hummingbirds are polygamous, so this one male will find as many mates as possible. This is his primary role in continuing his strong DNA. The females will arrive days after, where this anxious male will be carefully scouting over his territory. He has to balance out his activities between chasing away intruding males and charming the females.
It's truly the most exciting time of year for both "hummingbirders" and hummingbirds.
Adult Male Ruby-throat hummingbird. N.E. of Edmonton, AB. 2015
Many regions across the Northern US and all of Canada still have yet to receive their first sightings of the Ruby Throat hummingbird. This is where is pays off significantly to have feeders up when they arrive. Many first time males will be making the northern journey for the first time in search of territorial grounds. By their first year they are all familiar with feeders and will start to plot coordinates in every region, all the way north to where they plan on spending their summer. New birds as well as the regulars will stop by several yards looking for feeders and a good choice location to attract all the females, soon to follow. There is NOTHING more valuable in Spring to attract hummingbirds than feeders. This is what can separate your garden from all the rest. When they spot a feeder at this time of year, it's almost a guarantee they will feed from it. All these adult birds are mature and know the value of feeders, unlike the young later in the season that reject feeders due to lack of understanding them.
Know your arrival times, and have feeders up 7-10 days before these expected dates. This will guarantee every early bird will have feeding opportunities after this long northern migration.
Adult Ruby-throated hummingbird. 2015. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta.
I always talk a lot about flowers and feeders to draw hummingbirds to our gardens, but there's other things you can add to make your garden even more enticing to hummingbirds. It's true that hummingbirds are attracted primarily by food, but once you have them using your place as a common residence, they'll start investigating all the features you provide.
Hot weather oftentimes sends them in search of fountains and water features, and they experience temperatures just like we do, and are very uncomfortable in hot weather. Because of a hummingbird's size, they can make use of the smallest amount of water, and bathe in a cupped flower or leaf, or simply splay out their wings and catch the falling rain drops. But if you give them a perfect birdbath, it gives them options they can use throughout the dry conditions. The less options available to them within a particular region will make your water feature even more enticing. Birds need water, and if they have few options nearby, they will fly miles to find a water source.
We came across this big steel drum. We couldn't let it go to waste so we used it to manufacture our own fountain/birdbath. Many birds use it throughout Spring and Summer, including the hummingbirds. There are literally hundreds of ways to make a hummingbird bath and hundreds of options out there to buy, but I believe there are few common criteria to make it ideal. First of all, misting, sprinkling or gently running water draws their attention. Secondly, make sure they are able to perch in various locations without a fast current, and thirdly, make sure those areas where they can perch are no more than about 1/4 inch deep. They will commonly skim across the surface of the water trying to feel the bottom. Once they gauge the depth, they will eventually settle and bathe. One thing I've done to further entice them is to place large red jewels in various locations throughout the birdbath. They reflect light from just about every direction and we'll get the attention of any hummingbird. You can find these red jewels at Dollarama. There's about 25 or more in a package.
Whatever you do to attract hummingbirds to your garden, I believe a water feature is essential. Not only does it attract hummingbirds, but other birds as well. Another item I've added to my fountain is a shepherd's hook with a perch on it(not displayed). The perch sits about 12 inches above the water.
You can get so creative in developing a hummingbird bath, and trust me, when you finally see them using your creation, you will be over the moon excited!
Author of Jewel of the North. Please post your comments and questions.