Hummingbirds Having Babies

Rufous Hummingbirds
Ralph Moore photo

Anna's Hummingbird
Richard Rogers photo

Ralph Moore recently sent me the accompanying photo to this article of Rufous Hummingbirds sitting on their nest. June is right in the middle of breeding season with migrant birds busy on their nests or feeding young while some of the year-round birds might be getting ready to start a second brood. I'm always interested in news and photos of birds nesting, so I appreciate this hummer photo.

Anna’s Hummingbirds are Californians that have come north as more people have put out hummingbird feeders and have planted exotic plants that bloom at all times of the year. The first appeared in Seattle in 1964 with the first breeding record coming from Tacoma in 1976. They now are seen as far north as Alaska. Over the last few years, the Vashon Christmas Bird Count averaged 30 Anna's Hummingbirds counted. If you keep your feeder up after the summer around here, Anna's will eventually come. One of the reasons Anna's Hummingbirds can over winter here is that they eat insects more than any other North American hummingbird. These birds aren't found far from human habitation and the feeders and exotic plants that come with it but the additional food resource of bugs helps them make it through the winter if the human related resources slack off a bit.

The Anna's Hummingbird is superficially similar to the Rufous but close observation shows a number of obvious differences. Anna's are larger by about a half inch overall. They show none of the reddish brown that gives the Rufous its name and that appears on both female and male of the Rufous Hummingbird. Both male and female Anna's Hummingbirds are light grey/white below and green above. The male has a red/purple chin, forehead and crown. Male Rufous Hummingbirds show a bright to dark red-brown back, sides and front, depending on how the light hits them, with a bright, ruby red throat. The throat may appear dark, almost black when the light doesn't reflect off the iridescent feathers. Some males show varying amounts of green on the back. Females are green above, white below with light brown sides and brown and black tales. The telling factor between the two species is the brown color that both the male and female Rufous possesses.

Rufous Hummingbirds can be a real favorite for their behavior as well as their bright colors. The males are quite territorial and will fight to keep others from their favorite flowering bush or feeder. Any speck of bright red will attract them, whether they are looking for food or chasing off a potential competitor. They'll inspect a scarf an inch from your face or check out the bright red toy fire truck on the lawn. Many times I have had them land two or three feet away on the branch of a shrub in order to get a bath as I watered a plant. Both male Rufous and Anna's Hummingbirds make loud, J shaped power dives past the female that they are wooing. The Rufous is heard mostly as a loud buzzing sound as it flies around but the Anna's can also be heard making a loud chittering song from a branch.

While Anna's are generally found around human habitation, the Rufous Hummingbird is a habitat generalist. They live off a variety of flowers from the shoreline up into the mountains, in open shrubby areas and both deciduous and coniferous forests. Besides adding insects to its diet, the Rufous Hummingbird will also drink sap from the wells created by Red-breasted Sapsuckers on tree trunks. These wells not only provide sap but attract insects for the Rufous to glean. The arrival of the Rufous in spring is usually timed to coincide with the flowering of the pink salmon berry or currant flowers.

When feeding the hummingbirds, use a feeder already colored red and don't add food coloring to bird food, as some of the coloring ingredients possibly harm the hummers. Make sure you clean the feeder each time after it empties. When making the food for the hummers, boil sugar and water at 1:1 ratio for a minute or so and then add 4 parts more cold water. So for example take a half cup each sugar and water, boil, then add two cups cold water. Any more sugar in the water is too rich for the hummers and can harm them.