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Hummingbirds are Back! Put out Your Feeders!

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Yesterday Marion Smolinski decided to put up her Hummingbird feeders in her yard in SW Calgary. This morning, a Rufous Hummingbird was at the feeder. It is really early but Marion thought she would put out her feeders early due to the mild spring we’ve had.

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Rufous Hummingbird from a previous year. Photo by Dan Arndt

In Calgary the hummingbirds (Rufous, Caliope, and Ruby-throated) usually arrive back on about May 10. The way to remember when to put your feeders up is to do it on Mother’s Day.  Maybe if you have a feeder you should put it up now.

Of course we can still have hard frosts for quite a while yet so you may have to bring your feeder inside overnight if frost is forecast.

Due to their fast metabolism (the fastest of any animal that maintains a constant temperature), Hummingbirds are always just a few hours from death if they don’t have a food source. To conserve energy they enter a state of torpor when food is scarce and at night when not actively feeding, slowing their metabolism to 1/15 of its normal rate and dropping their body temperature to 18 degrees C from 40 degrees.

Rufous Hummingbirds breed much farther north than the other species and are able to tolerate overnight freezing temperatures. If the birds are here, they have likely followed the blooming of flowering plants and the availability of insects, and unless we get a prolonged cold spell with daytime temperatures below freezing, they will be able to survive. Putting a feeder out is mostly for the enjoyment of humans and is not necessary for the bird’s survival.

If you do have a feeder out, it is important to remove any perches so that the birds have to feed while hovering. I know it is nice to see them perched but it poses a danger this early in the year. When a bird comes out of its nighttime torpor and goes to a feeder, if it rests on a perch its metabolism may drop again, and since it can be much colder at an exposed feeder than at their nighttime roost, they can die of hypothermia.

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Anna’s Hummingbird at a feeder. Photo by Dan Arndt.

The bird in the above photo is perched on a ring on the feeder. I have one of these and have cut off the perching ring. Hummingbirds don’t need perches to feed.

The solution you put in your feeder should be made by boiling water and mixing one part white sugar (never brown sugar or honey) to four parts water, and then cooling it. It is not necessary to colour the liquid and that may actually be harmful. You don’t have to buy commercially available Hummingbird food, which is usually coloured red and can have nutrients added. Hummingbirds get all their nutrients from eating insects.

Good luck!

Hummingbird in Snowstorm

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Last week’s late summer snowstorm in southern Alberta flattened crops and gardens, caused power outages, and damaged or destroyed trees numbering in the hundreds of thousands. It must also have been devastating for many migrating birds. A storm like this, lasting for several days, blanketing the ground with snow throughout the southern half of the province, and accompanied by temperatures as low as -7 degrees Celsius, must surely have caused high mortality among warblers and other neotropical migrants.

Here are some photos taken on September 10 of a hummingbird caught in the snow. I believe this is a Rufous Hummingbird, the last of which usually move through Calgary in early September. Fortunately there are still plenty of flowers around so perhaps it was able to find enough food to continue on its southern migration.

All photos by Debbie Reynolds.

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A hummingbird nest

Posted by Matthew Sim

Last year, I discovered a location in Fish Creek P.P. where I found 2 (and possibly all 3 species of hummingbirds that commonly occur in Calgary) nesting. In June, I had found a pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and not long afterwards,  Hank Vanderpol and I discovered what appeared to be a female Calliope hummingbird sitting on a nest. A couple weeks later, a Nature Calgary field trip I led to the area discovered a Rufous hummingbird nest not far away.

This year, I was finally able to get out and search for the hummingbirds last week. It took me about an hour before I finally spotted a hummingbird moving about, but always returning close to me. That’s when I realized that this female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (for this is what it was), might have a nest nearby.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Sure enough, before very long, the female Ruby-throated Hummingbird had flown to her nest which had not been too far away from me the entire time.

At first the nest was tough to spot...

At first the nest was tough to spot…

on nest

It was neat to watch the female as she sat on her nest, presumably incubating eggs. From time to time she would fly off but she was always alert and ready to defend her nest.

RT Hummingbird

 

 

 

 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The most interesting part of watching this hummingbird though was the way she defended her nest from anything she perceived to be a threat, including a confused and startled Cedar Waxwing who twice made the mistake of landing too near the hummingbird’s nest. She swiftly drove the waxwing off despite the fact it probably wasn’t a threat; I suppose one can never be too cautious!

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Returning back to her nest

Returning back to her nest

I will do my best to follow this nest in the coming weeks and see what comes of it. Hoping that the female will successfully raise her brood of young!

Sunday Showcase: Female Rufous Hummingbird

Photos taken by Rob English near Highwood House, SW of Calgary, in June 2012.

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Here are a couple of shots of a male Rufous Hummingbird taken at the same time, to show the difference.  For more of Rob’s photos of a male Rufous, see this post.

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Where to Find the Hummingbirds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Many readers of Matthew’s recent post about the Hummingbirds of the Weaselhead would like to know where to find these birds.  There are two species that breed there, and they are reliably in the same two areas every year, from mid-May to early September.

To get to this area, park in the lot in North Glenmore at 37 Street and 66 Avenue SW, in the community of Lakeview. This is marked with a red “P” in the satellite map below.  The white x’s show where the Calliope Hummingbirds are typically found, and the yellow x’s show the location of the Rufous Hummingbirds.

Calliope Hummingbirds:  From the parking lot, go down the hill on the paved trail, and cross the big bridge over the Elbow River.  Then turn right immediately and follow the trail over a wooden bridge that spans a side channel (Eastern Phoebes nest here).  After the wooden bridge, turn left onto a new boardwalk trail that runs along the west side of that channel.  After the boardwalk ends, the trail turns away from the channel, and you soon come to a more open area with a few small trees.  Look for these tiny birds at the top of dead branches or spruce trees.  Another trail branches off and goes north along the west side of this open area, and we have seen the Calliopes here too.  The red x’s on the map below show where to look.  Please stay on the trails – there is no need to go off them to find the birds.

Rufous Hummingbirds:  From the main parking lot, take the paved trail down the hill.  There are several trails you can take to the area where the birds are on the south-facing slope along the river.  It can be quite muddy in wet conditions, and you should stay well away from the river when the water is high.  One dirt trail begins right where the paved path makes a big turn, before going down the steep hill (the uppermost red T below).  This one is difficult when it is wet since there are steep sections.  Another runs right along the river bank (the lowermost T).  This trail is unusable and dangerous when the water level is high, as it is now.  The middle T indicates a trail that begins at a wooden railing just north of the big bridge.  This is the best way in wet conditions (the trails all converge when you are about halfway there).   Follow the dirt trails through the woods, staying down low near the river, until you get to a stormwater drain into the river.  The hillsides here are covered in Caragana bushes (Siberian Peashrub).  You usually don’t have to go farther than this to find the birds (though the trails continue on for quite a distance).  The location is marked with red x’s below.  Again, look at the tops of small dead branches, or the tips of spruce trees.

To return, you can backtrack, or climb the steep hill to the boundary fence above, and follow it back.  (In dry weather you can go in this way, along the top, but it is a steep hill down to where the birds are, and very slippery.)

Good luck, and be careful!

Hummingbirds of the Weaselhead

Posted by Matthew Sim

This past Thursday, I went out for a walk in the Weaselhead with local nature expert Gus Yaki and a group of other birders. Our target species were the 2 species of hummingbird that call this park home; the Calliope Hummingbird and the Rufous Hummingbird. Though we saw and heard many great species on our walk, for this post I will concentrate on the hummingbirds.

When we reached the area where Calliope Hummingbirds are usually seen, we scanned around with our binoculars, searching for this tiny bird. The smallest bird in North America at 8cm in length (3.25 inches), this hummingbird can sometimes be passed off as a large bee. After several minutes, somebody found this beautiful male perched at the top of a spruce tree.

Male Calliope Hummingbird

We observed this little guy (the Calliope is the smallest long-distance avian migrant in the world) as Gus told us many neat facts about the species. For example, the pink streaks on the male’s throat form a V-shaped gorget, and these streaks are rather long, so that when the male turns his head, the streaks will actually reach back over his shoulder. This was my first time seeing the species so I was particularly enthralled with the bird. After some time, we moved on, back closer to the river in search of the Rufous Hummingbird.

We had to walk through some muddy spots to get to the habitat where the male Rufous is likely to be seen but was it ever worth it! When we got there, someone soon spotted the male Rufous and we soon all had our binoculars trained on him as he displayed his gorgeous orange-red gorget.

Male Rufous Hummingbird

The Rufous Hummingbird was moving around a lot and we got to see him at various spots; perched and in flight.

At one point, he even came to the bushes right behind us and started feeding.  Gus told us that these bushes were actually Siberian Peashrub, more commonly known as Caragana. They are an invasive species that totally dominates the environment, so that no other flowering plants live in the area ( it covers 10-12 acres on the north side of the Elbow river). Male Rufous Hummingbirds  feed on these plants because of the abundant if  only temporarily nectar, however the females, which raise their families alone without the help of the males, realise that there is not enough nectar to raise a family on and head elsewhere, to richer, more natural environments. The males are then at a biological dead-end and do not have the oppurtunity to pass on their genes. This was quite fascinating and I would not have learned this had I not been on the trip with Gus. Thanks Gus!

He showed off his colors beautifully, revealing how he got his name.

We had a great morning watching these hummingbirds and learning lots about them thanks to Gus’ vast wealth of knowledge.

My Summer Surprise

Over the many years we’ve lived in this house, I’ve managed to accumulate 105 bird species on my yard list (including those birds seen flying over the house). We have mature trees, shrubs, birdbaths and way too many bird feeders for the ones that touch down.

At least once each summer, I see a quick flash of iridescent green whiz by, generally so fast I can’t identify the individual hummingbird species. I’ve been assuming Ruby-throated, just because the odds are better.

A couple of years ago, we decided to remove a huge chunk of lawn and put in a hummingbird and bee garden. The first flowers that we put in were Scarlet Bee Balm Monarda didyma, a very showy flower that hummers love. All the plants in this garden are perennials, and just grow more glorious each year.

Last week I was sitting on my back deck, watching for any warblers or sparrows that might be passing through, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement in the garden.

A HUMMER! In my hummingbird garden!

I whipped up my binos to see a juvenile Ruby-throated feeding on the bee balm. As I was watching him, I remembered I had my camera on my lap so I fired off a series of pictures. They aren’t really the best but two years ago I didn’t have the garden or a digital camera so I’m happy.

I now judge my hummingbird garden a success. As for the bee portion of my garden, I have enough pictures and video for a full length movie on bees. I may have gotten just a teeny bit carried away, and now I need to find some time to edit all of my efforts. Watch this space!

Posted by Pat Bumstead