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.
One by one the males start appearing in our gardens, and what may appear to be the male that dominated the previous year, may turn out to be just another contender for that territory. Many of the young males from the previous year are now of age to battle it out with the mature males from the previous season. Many of these battles will be unseen, but the victor will soon reveal himself by sitting above the garden, in plain view, ready to take on any intruder. He may encounter some weak competitors, and he may be in for the battle of his life, but in the end, the one who sits proudly in the open, fearless of anything that shows up in his garden, and sits high above the rest, will be the one that reigns supreme. He will know that he is the king of the garden, and wants all the others to be clearly aware of it. He will stand out among the rest and be known for a time as the leader to be feared. The reward for this victorious battle will be ownership of the feeders, flowers, water features and breeding rights for the remainder of that season.
These are the battles the take place annually, and this is precisely the reason that multiple feeders should be spread out around your garden, but not all visible from one feeder. The dominant male will try and protect every feeder and flower. But to allow other hummingbirds feeding opportunities, it's important to have feeders spread out, some out of clear sight.
Here Ziggy sits, very content on a branch out in the open, while he watches over the garden he fought so hard for. After several minutes of soaking up the morning sun, he stretches out those stiffened muscles and gets ready to move on to another perch, just to keep an eye out on every corner of his garden.
July 20, 2019. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Adult male Ruby-throat hummingbird.
It's exciting to see hummingbirds showing up in gardens well to the south of me, but the snow continues to fall every day in my neck of the woods. It's not uncommon to have snow this time of year, but it's very uncommon for it to be a daily occurrence with temperatures well below freezing.
Every morning when I get up, I check the forecast to see if there's any sign of Spring. I don't know about the rest of you, but Springtime is without a doubt my favorite season. It's the promise of life, new growth and the return of my favorite feathered friends. It's not just about hummingbirds for me, although they top the list, it's the song of every bird demonstrating just how happy they are to be alive. It's a chorus of chaos as they all sing their own song, with none of them in unison, but beautiful in their own way.
I know Spring time has arrived in so many gardens south of me, and I love to see color and growth from every one of your gardens, as it truly inspires me as to what's yet to come.
With all the greatness of Springtime, there's just one thing that makes Springtime in North America so perfect, the arrival of hummingbirds. This was not Ziggy's arrival first thing in Spring, but he sure did make it part of his daily routine. Here he sits on his fountain and displays his tuxedo proudly.
July 9, 2019. Northeast of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Without knowing the number of strokes of the wing, the miles traveled, the continent's covered, year after year, it's difficult to understand just how brilliantly designed hummingbirds really are. There is power in the muscles, tendons and joints of the wings that would make any engineer's jaw drop. We just can't possibly imagine what kind of design went into creating the married fibers of every individual feather that can withstand the powerful drumming of the wings millions upon millions of times, with very little wear.
The mobility of those joints and wings allow for the most incredible and unusual movements for a hummingbird to fly in any direction, and to withstand some of the most fierce battles. Instant power up, in the blink of an eye, puts an enormous amount of stress on those shoulder muscles, but never seem to break down.
This just covers a very small but complex piece of the design of hummingbird, without getting into every other magnificent part of their design. They are incredible in so many ways, and impossible to explain in any.
After a short rest, Ziggy, the adult male Ruby-throat hummingbird, stretches his wings, and gets ready to move on to another location of the garden to stand patrol.
June 14, 2019. North east of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Like a child with a spoon, young hummingbirds can be just as clumsy while eating. Food can end up all over their head and all over their bill. This youngster reveals his age from the pollen pasted on his face, and the spot he chose to perch. This boy, named "freckle", shows the dark spots coming in on his throat, while one red feather shows the bling in the right light conditions, as seen in the second image. For anyone who grows Zinnia flowers, you know just how frequently hummingbirds use them as a perch.
I always consider Zinnia flowers an essential flower for young hummingbirds. I think of them as a training flower. They're a large target with brilliant colors and an easy access to the pollen filled button.
August 10, 2019. Northeast of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
With swift movements they can be just a blur, and unless they're sitting still, they can be very difficult to identify. So here are few things to watch for, so you will be able to differentiate the young from the adults. Just know that it doesn't take long for the young birds to behave like the adults, and don't think that you'll be able to tell them apart by size because the young hummingbirds will be very similar in size to the adults.
1. The most obvious is appearance, but even that can be difficult at times. Adult Males are typically smaller than the females. Their bill is a finer point, the wings are shorter, and when the tail is fanned out it has no white, but more sharply pointed. The most obvious is the RUBY throat, or appearing dark black without light reflection. The younger birds can appear the same size as the adult female, except in tail and bill length, but those grow to full length in days. It doesn't take long before spots start appearing on the throat of the young males. Those spots of black usually come in quite consistently, but the red feathers soon to follow, are very inconsistent, with oftentimes just one red bling at a time.
2. Watch their behavior - Young birds will be clumsy. They can oftentimes be seen slapping around in the flowers, making noises as their wings slap the flower petals. The young birds will use their feet a lot in feeding. They grip and grab anything to get good leverage on the flower they pursue. In this image, you can see shredded flower petals still pierced by his little talons. Young hummingbirds will spend a much longer time in the flowers before resting. Adult birds will spend much less time in the flowers, unless that's all that's available. They will usually taste and sample, but rest for more, and choose feeders far more. Adult hummingbirds will avoid awkward situations in the flowers. They'll select the ones that require the least amount of effort, and the ones most exposed.
3. Feeding from feeders - I've had so many people tell me that their hummingbirds don't like hummingbird feeders. First of all I must say that there isn't a single hummingbird on this planet that won't like a feeder, once it realizes what's in it. These occurrences are usually well after they've arrived, mated, and nested. It's always the young birds that go through the learning process of a feeder. They will spend the next week, after leaving the nest, sampling, experimenting, unable to resist their curiosity. They will literally spot every red object in sight, and often time fly right up to a feeder to examine the beautiful colors, and then turn away. Eventually they will learn from another young bird that's already solve them, or from the behavior of an adult male who spends the majority of his time defending that feeder. But they will learn, and when they do, life will never be the same. They will discover the value of that endless nectar, and not be able to resist the urge of addiction. They will soon fight like the rest, oftentimes showing bald patches and body scars, but knowing it is worth the effort.
August 9, 2019. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Young male Ruby-throat hummingbird, feeding from a patch of Million Bells(Calibrachoa).
Even though difficult times are upon us, it certainly gives us time to appreciate the simple things in life, and while many people are forced to stay home, it gives plenty of opportunity to enjoy the arrival of hummingbirds. The southeast portion of the United States is now receiving their first hummingbirds, while 2 feet of snow still blankets my region.
I don't know if Ziggy is still around, or if one of his many offspring will take over with their own legacy. Each Spring has its own surprises, and each first arrival is unforgettable. Last year Ziggy moved like a missile past me, perched on a branch, and then flew to his fountain. Each day I wait and wonder about his arrival. Will he recognize me, will he put on a show, or will it be another hummingbird that takes his place and has his own antics?
This image is of Ziggy. Every season he gave me countless opportunities to photograph him. It was rare for him to be gone from a yard for any length of time beyond 30 minutes. I could step outside, sit down and look around, and within no time at all I'd spot him on one of his favorite perches.
Adult male Ruby throat hummingbird, June 8, 2019. North east of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.