Watch your head in this hummer-filled yard!
The yard here on N Vine Avenue in Tucson has been a hazard zone the past week with dozens of hummingbirds whizzing back and forth amongst the 14 feeders my landlords and I maintain. It also provides endless hours of entertainment, and I’m always seeing something new and interesting.
The bulk of them are Anna’s Hummingbirds, an essentially non-migratory species that was originally found only in California and Baja California, Mexico until changes in food availability during the harsh winter months (direct and indirect results of human habitation) allowed the species to expand east to Arizona and north to Canada.
I love the colors of the males in fresh plumage, and I marvel at the speed at which they maneuver around the yard.
Iridescence is always amazing to behold. Here you can see how the feathers look rosy in one angle, then orange in another as the male turns.
They can actually direct the color towards a target, such as this male warning this approaching female that this is his feeder. For some reason, he tolerates her this time, but there are a lot of chases and even physical contact.
At this moment, my guess is that we have somewhere between 30 and 50 individuals that visit the yard at least once a day, and those are just the Anna’s Hummingbirds. We have somewhere between 5 and 15 Broad-billed Hummingbirds and two special guests.
One is the Violet-crowned Hummingbird pictured above. It’s a gorgeous male (females are hardly different, but this one has a very rich crown and sings), and presumably the same bird I’ve had in the yard the past three winters. In fact, it may be the same bird that visited for just two days in late January, 2003, when we maintained four feeders in the yard. I didn’t see another one until February 2008, but it stayed for about a week. By then we had our full complement of feeders up. Appearing at the same feeder and behaving the same way, it returned the following December 31 and stayed a month. The next year it returned, arriving a month earlier in late November. This year he’s returned for a 4th winter and arrived even earlier yet, on October 16. What a treat!
Actually, last year we had two Violet-crowns all winter in the yard, the second one arriving a day later and choosing a feeder at the other end of the yard. It was a much more approachable bird and also a male, and it remains to be seen if he will return for a second winter.
Finally this bird is something really special – don’t be fooled by the plain plumage. It showed up last year in early November, this year it returned on October 15. All but confirmed, it appears to be a female Black-chinned x Costa’s Hummingbird hybrid. The only previously known occurrences of this combination are two specimens: a male collected in California in 1891 and a female collected in California in 1917, the latter only recognized as such by Allan Philips when he was reviewing specimens in 1941. Females of the two species are so similar telling pure ones apart based only on visual characteristics is a challenge for many. I first noticed the bird’s voice though – the two species are very distinctive, and this one sounded more like Black-chinned…but not quite right. To make a long story short, Larry Norris banded the bird, we collected a feather, and await DNA analysis. There will probably be a paper to eventually come out of it, but in the meantime, I’m thrilled to have her back for a second winter.
Top Photo: Violet-crowned Hummingbird back for its 4th winter in Tucson. Rich Hoyer
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