After all the hard work planting flowers, everything has been starting to look really good around the garden, but lately something fishy has been goin' on. Each morning one or two more large leaves of the nasturtium plants have been found lying beside the spindly stock, now having to regenerate more leaves. Nothing eaten, simply chewed off. Those mice are at it again!
Meanwhile, Gunner, our dominant little Top Gun hummingbird has been on fierce patrol. He watches from morning until night, ready to spring into action. Occasionally his anger will be provoked by any other bird that merely moves or chirps in the wrong fashion.
So after noticing our hard work being chewed off and discarded for no reason, action needed to be taken. I pulled out the mouse traps! No one messes with my plants, and no one messes with a hummingbird flower. For those that are unaware of my specialty skills, they include catching mice like nobody's business, and making hot dog buns fresh from scratch. How are these two things related, you might ask? I was forced to sacrifice a small piece of hot dog bun for the mousetraps, and that doesn't make me very happy! So, I lined up three snapping mousetraps, side by side. I broke that scrumptious hot dog bun morsel into three even pieces, and forced each moist little morsel into the little claw on the trigger of the mousetrap. For those that have a mouse problem, NOTHING works better for catching mice than fresh or stale bread that's been moistened with a few drops of water. Don't mess around with cheese or peanut butter, or anything else, JUST BREAD! It works like nothing else! Anyways, back to my anger issues. I had three traps lined up and loaded with fresh bread, and I began the delicate process of setting the triggers, kinda like doing open heart surgery. My anger for those mice was high level, as were my nerves, as I performed the procedure of setting hair trigger traps. One trap complete! Two traps complete, and only one to go. My hands began to shake, and the sweat ran down my brow. " Hold it together man, you only have one remaining"! With my hands shaking and my nerves twitchy, I loaded up the spring on the final trap, ready to set the trigger. It was then that an intruding hummingbird entered into Gunner's airspace. Now, if you've ever heard two hummingbirds at high speed change direction really quickly, it's like a powerful whistle or screech of a jet at mach speed. So as I was setting the trigger on the trap, with ultra sensitive nerves, Gunner and the intruder performed the high tech maneuver within inches of my head! That whistle from their quivering feathers screeched pass me so fast, and with such a piercing whistle, that I tensed up with the loaded trap in my hand, and two loaded right next to it. It's not like my life passed before my eyes, but it was like a vision of missing digits did. My wife laughed, while I needed some serious time to wind down. I'm happy to say that all my fingers remain intact, and Gunner has been warned of his fancy air maneuvers.
Image is of Gunner, our adult male Ruby-throat hummingbird keeping guard over his garden and territory.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. June 20, 2020.
It was a morning following a night time rain. Fragrance filled the air, and song filled the garden. Although I've had countless mornings in the garden that were beyond wonderful, this one was indescribable, but I'll try. There were about 25 species of birds, some in multiple pairs, that packed the garden, each one trying to outdo the other, that all together created chorus of magnificence. My senses of smell, sight and sound were in overload. The winds were calm, so every chirp, squeak and melody echoed throughout the garden, while every blooming lilac flower filled the air. Every blade of grass held glistening little diamonds of raindrops, and every living thing in our garden was glad to be alive. I sat there with the biggest smile, knowing that if this was the very last morning I'd encounter, it would be worth it. Not to be outdone by the others, little Gunner put on the show that would top it off with greatness. After a quick splash in the fountain, he bounced from leaf to leaf among the Delphiniums, to soak up and splash about in every cupped Delphinium leaf that held some puddled rain. Although I sat a distance from him, I managed to see it all play out.
June 12th, 2020. Northeast of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Image - adult male Ruby throat hummingbird
For those of you who take a lot of pictures, you can understand just how difficult it is to get the perfect capture. The location, background, the way your subject is standing, how the light reflects off the subject, are all important. But to get every piece right at the same time, can take thousands of attempts before you get it right, or until that opportunity presents itself. With the last several years of Ziggy, I tried endlessly to get the perfect capture, and although he gave me so many opportunities, there were very few that were perfect. This new male, "Top Gun", named by a friend, was shortened to "Gunner", also named by a friend, is one awesome little bird. His personality, quirks, and character closely resemble Ziggy, but with a few differences. He sits in various locations around the garden, oftentimes very close to us. We can be working below him while he watches guard from 15 feet overhead. We have learned his perches, and preferences, and he rarely leaves the yard. He's become the new owner that guards from intruders. He sits, stretches, and poses, and gives me unlimited photo opportunities, and even though the possibilities are endless, it's still difficult to get the perfect capture. This is one where he's not only sitting, but with the body sideways while his head facing me, with a perfect light reflection, while his wings are twisted to the side during a stretch, and his tail is fanned out. It's one of the better captures that I've managed to get over the years. I could have hundreds of thousands of pictures of him sitting in the trees looking great, but this one is for the wall.
Male Ruby-throat hummingbird, north east of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. June 5th, 2020.
For years he entertained us, and populated many parts of the country with his feisty little offspring. He gave me photo captures that filled my memory and digital album. He gave us reason to plant thousands of flowers around our garden. He inspired myself and many others to appreciate those things in life that are invaluable. He fought for our garden because he knew his family of the North would thoroughly provide for him. He gave it his all for several years, but his time had to end, but not without leaving a legacy that is unforgettable. He was a trooper, a fighter, and a little friend that I miss in the garden. He would sit close by and show up at watering time, sometimes sitting on a branch or flower pot just feet away. I would turn the hose on him and provide is daily shower. He never hid away, but made his presence known. Now his time has ended with a legacy that will live on, and perhaps one of his offspring to carry on the tradition. This little guy is "Top Gun". He's a little spitfire already making a presence. After becoming familiar with the garden, the fountain was just a little too much temptation. He firmly grabbed the edge, did a bottoms up, and took the plunge.
Male Ruby-throat hummingbird. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. May 25, 2020.
**The second capture is of Ziggy from 2019.
Ziggy's arrival was Swift and unexpected. I knew at some point he would show up within a few days, but he flew past me, close enough to hear the wings, and then perched a short distance in front of me. It was like he remembered me and was excited to say hello. I stood and watched him while he sat and watch me. After our brief hello, he flew to the fountain, took a well-needed bath after the long flight, and then prepared for his three month stay. I know many of you have heard this story last year, but to me it seems like it was just yesterday.
This was one of many visits to the fountain of his dreams. Sometimes he would visit it several times a day. This year some changes have been made to his fountain, with improvements that I'm sure he'll enjoy.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Spring 2019.
The season begins with the adult male hummingbirds choosing a territory suitable for all their needs. Many of these males will return from previous years to the gardens they love, while many young males from the previous year are now of age to start a legacy of their own. They will search out quality locations that contain all the needs required for the breeding season to be successful. What we have to understand is that they will seek out a garden, or several within a small area, that contain an abundance of food, shelter, water, and let's not forget a few luxuries. If they see enough goodies within your garden, it will be incentive to stick around and wait for the females to arrive. The better your garden, the more males you'll have competing for that territory. Ultimately, one will win out, but the sweet desires throughout that garden will be temptation enough for the runners up to keep returning.
You will know by the number of males that stick around your garden, just how good it is. It's not you, but they, who will determine the quality of your garden.
Think like a hummingbird, and don't limit yourself to good enough. Increase your flower selection, especially those they love, and have multiple feeders. Add water features, hummingbird swings, and color to get their attention. Spread out feeders from corner to corner, and let them know that they have more than enough reasons to stay in your garden over the rest.
This is my Ziggy. He's one of about four male Ruby-throats that stick around each Spring, but he's earned the title for the past few years.
June 8, 2019. North east of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
After another harsh winter, of cold temperatures and heavy snow, I was disappointed to see that part of my bird fountain had disintegrated to nearly a powder. It did, however, give me another opportunity to recreate something that would work for all our returning songbirds, and hummingbirds. There are fountains and birdbaths of all sorts, available in all shapes and sizes, but they don't always have the features most desired. I'm one of those people who are always saving bits and bobs, thinking that one day they will be of use or value. We had a birdbath that developed hairline cracks, and after a day or two all of the water would drip out, pretty much making it useless, or so I thought. Its size and shape made it perfect for the drum of my fountain. It didn't need to hold water for days because that portion of the fountain would fill up and gently spill over the edge. Not only did it increase the bathing space, but now it allows for a couple different birds to bathe at the same time. It took a bit of time to strategically place various sizes of rocks in the drum, making sure that everything was relatively level, with no water running outside the drum. Now that it's all complete, you can see different aspects of our fountain. The flat stone that I created on top allows water to spill over and run down over the rocks. Most of the water runs into the main portion of a birdbath. Once it fills up, there's a constant flow of water gently flowing over the edge in various places. I know, without a doubt, that the songbirds will be taking full advantage of this over the coming days. I know that Ziggy, our male hummingbird, will also be proud of this one. I will be certain to collect photos over the coming months.
To give yourself the greatest odds of attracting hummingbirds, it's necessary to strategically place feeders that will increase your odds. Some regions are fortunate enough to see generous numbers of hummingbirds while others have to invest an enormous amount of effort just for the potential of having one solitary hummingbird arrive in their garden. Whether you're in the region that's densely populated with hummingbirds, or in a region where you rarely see them, here is one way that is sure to increase your population.
I want you to think about it in this way. If you have a single hummingbird flying from the south and you have a single feeder tucked under the overhang of your home on the North side, you've greatly reduced the chances of that hummingbird spotting the feeder. If that's the only bird that happens to fly through your region, you've pretty much spoiled your chances. Although hummingbirds have remarkable vision it's impossible for them to see through buildings and dense forest. Islands or large clusters of flowers provide great targets that can easily grab the attention of any hungry hummer. Placing a feeder within those clusters is it great option, but to grab the attention of every possible hummingbird, you need to make those feeders visible from every direction. Raise feeders, place them on the outside of tree lines, place some in wide open spaces, and simply make them visible from every direction of your home. Don't worry about the fact that hummingbirds will be feeding from those feeders that are not visible from your home, because once they locate those feeders, it increases the chances of them sticking around, and once they do, they will familiarize them self with every location of your garden, and locate the feeders that you have near the house. Increase the visibility and you will increase your odds.
What seems like the most delayed Spring that I've ever seen, looks like it's finally here to stay. I've seen a couple Robins at their normal time, so now it's just a waiting game on the Springtime songbirds. For those that are waiting for the hummingbirds, they always seem to arrive within the same times as a select group of song birds. Many songbirds will arrive well before the rest, but there always seems to be a small group of birds that show up within the same 5 to 7 days as the hummingbirds. Here's something to keep track of this year - when your first hummingbirds show up, keep a close eye on which other birds made their first appearance within the same 5 days. In future years you will find it a pretty accurate tool of knowing when your hummingbirds will arrive. My special group of birds that I watch for are the Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted grosbeak, Goldfinch, House Wren and Barn Swallow. Your list will not be the same, as all birds have different Summer and Winter territories. But I can tell you that when these birds show up in my yard, the hummingbirds are near or somewhere mixed in. Another good method of knowing when the hummingbirds are near in future years is to immediately identify which flowers are blooming when they arrive this year. Some people go by a specific date, and in some regions this may be fairly accurate, but in other regions you may be out by as much as a month. Hummingbirds are known to follow certain blooms. So as these specific flowers open up in your garden, you'll know the hummingbirds are near. Some flowers have little to no value with hummingbirds, but some are soaked with sweet nectar, and are desperately sought out by hummingbirds. Watch for the signs and keep track, and in future years you will know precisely when the hummingbirds are near.
Here sits a male Baltimore Oriole. They typically arrive within the same few days as the Ruby-throat hummingbird in my region.
Getting to within inches of hummingbirds, feeling the wind from their wings on your face, can bring the smile to any child or grownup's face, but are there negatives to hand feeding hummingbirds? When we feed hummingbirds from feeders, there's virtually no risk of the sticky nectar getting stuck on their wings. When we don't use feeders, but simply a puddle of nectar in our hand, or an open cup, the risks increase dramatically. You may ask how the nectar would splash on their feathers, and it's quite simple when these birds are frequently battling over a limited supply of food. These birds aren't messing around when they're hungry. One can knock another off, or into an open food source with bad results. Just like when Vaseline or greases are used around feeders, sticky nectar can also cause harm to hummingbirds. Their wings move, flex, and bend at speeds we can't even see, and sticky nectar or a grease of any sort can be difficult to remove, but also causing an inability to fly properly, sometimes resulting or contributing in their death.
I want to add something to this that I find equally as important. These birds are wild birds. They have predators out to get them all the time, and these predators can also include domestic pets. When we draw in these hummingbirds so close to us that they feel safe and secure nearby, we're creating a false sense of security in them that will put them in danger, perhaps not in your own yard, but in every other yard where they'll assume they are safe around people and their domestic pets. I've heard many stories of cats catching hummingbirds, and this is because young hummingbirds have not developed a fear of things they should. Feed these birds, but the well-being of them should be top priority if you choose to take the responsibility for feeding them. Attract them, admire and take care of them, but the best way to do it is from a distance.