For the Birds: Hummingbirds as a conversation starter

Hummingbirds are always a good conversation starter, especially in that time of year after the bird breeding season, but before fall migration begins. My last few columns on hummingbirds elicited a few responses from readers I’d like to share.

Similar to my “problem,” Mary Ellen from Keene has a territorial female hummingbird that keeps all other would-be visitors away. The feistiness of New England hummingbirds, however, pales in comparison to the rufous hummingbirds she observed at her daughter’s property in Colorado at 9,200 feet of elevation.

“This one bird kept all other hummers from feeding. I put up another feeder thinking that would solve the problem but instead of one territorial rufous, we ended up with two!” she wrote.

Mary Ellen did some research and discovered the migration route of the rufous hummingbird takes them over the Rocky Mountains when alpine flowers are in bloom. Sure enough, she wrote, the aggressive rufous hummingbirds left after two weeks and the other hummingbirds were free to enjoy the feeders again.

Mary Ellen also marveled at how far these tiny birds can fly during migration. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only hummingbird species that is regularly found east of the Mississippi River. They get to their territory, including New England, by flying nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico, a 500-mile journey that takes about 20 hours. Some hummingbirds, if they are lucky enough to find one, will stop and rest on a boat or oil rig.

Deb from Royalston, Massachusetts, said her six to 12 hummingbirds visit mostly at dawn and dusk.

Zaden commented on my website that: “In Japanese, they call them hachi-dori, ‘bee birds.” I love that word.”

Eunice wrote on my website: “I have three feeders and 30 healthy hummers here in N.H. but hundreds of flowers for them to enjoy. Yes, my visitors hop from one feeder to another, but they all get to feed. Many are babies. It was a good year for them.”

Don and Heidi Nowers from Westminster, Vermont, thought the rose of Sharon bush and nearby feeder would be enough to keep all of the hummingbirds content. Not so. “It appears that after the dominant hummer chases the little guys off, a couple of bees move onto the feeder. When Ruby comes back, it’s game on.” They wrote that the bees and bird chase each other and play a game of cat and mouse. They did once observe a bee and hummingbird sharing the feeder, proving there is enough to go around.

My house in the woods had a lot of rose of Sharon bushes growing wildly and the hummingbirds loved it. There are lists upon lists of the types of flowers hummingbirds are attracted to. I’ve found that hummingbirds will visit just about any bloom to see if it is a potential food source. Sure, they may prefer red, tubular blooms, but they’ll come to just about any flower, I have found.

Deborah from Fitzwilliam had similar thoughts about sharing the wealth when she purchased a second hummingbird feeder. Alas, instead of the birds sharing, Deborah is “still entertained by hummer wars.” Deborah also noted “that the hummingbirds’ warning of flying in an arch while it chirps is similar to a bumblebee’s warning?” I hadn’t noticed that before but will pay attention next time I see bumblebees acting territorially.

Thank you to all who wrote in and shared your stories. Let’s keep the conversation about nature going.

For the Birds: Hummingbird feeders feed other things as well

Photo by Brian Thoele – Brian Thoele of Norwalk, Conn., got this shot of a downy woodpecker on a hummingbird feeder.

Hummingbird feeders, as the name suggests, are meant to attract hummingbirds.

It’s right in the name “hummingbird feeder.”

But, as we all know, it attracts a lot more than hummingbirds. The most common invaders include yellowjackets, hornets, bees, and ants. However, hummingbird feeders also attract larger critters such as bats, squirrels, raccoons, and even bears.

The list doesn’t stop there as a few emails I received this week point out. Other birds enjoy a visit to a hummingbird feeder as well.

Downy woodpeckers are probably the most common other birds that visit hummingbird feeders. Michele from the Monadnock Region wrote in to share that two woodpeckers had dislodged five of the six yellow plastic inserts that go into the feeding ports. The plastic inserts are supposed to keep birds like woodpeckers away, but these woodpeckers found a way around it. Michele did her best to find the inserts and put them back, but the woodpeckers just popped them out again.

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For the Birds: Feisty hummingbirds steal the August show

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird perches on a feeder in Danbury, CT, summer 2015.

I’ve seen plenty of hummingbird feeders in New England with a dozen or more of the tiny birds zipping around the ports. 

I stayed at a small motel in Errol several years ago and was amazed at the hummingbird feeder near the office. The birds were constantly at the feeder, from sunup to sundown, and there were a lot of them. The birds were not necessarily cooperative with each other, but at least they were tolerant.

That has never been the case with hummingbirds that visit my yard. All of my hummingbirds are jerks. I’m joking, of course. They are just territorial. Very territorial.

Such is the case this year again. I saw a female hummingbird off and on throughout this spring and early summer. Over the last two weeks, however, I’ve seen her every day and several times each day. 

I’ve also seen a male a few times, but his visits to the feeder are short-lived. As soon as he settles onto the perch and dives his bill into the port, the female appears out of nowhere and buzzes right by his head. The male takes off for cover, followed by the female making sure he knows that the feeder is off limits.

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For the Birds: Hummingbird feeder timing

Here is the latest For the Birds article. It was published a few weeks ago in newspapers, but is still relevant as September comes to an end.

Photo by Chris Bosak Hummingbirds are migrating now and will be throughout the rest of the month.

When should I bring in my hummingbird feeders? It’s a common question and may be answered the same way as so many other questions may be answered: It depends.

The answer depends on your tolerance for changing the sugar water in the feeders and your patience for watching a feeder that may not receive any visitors. Hummingbirds started to migrate a few weeks ago and some have gone south already.

With migration under way, now is definitely not the time to bring the feeders in. Hummingbirds need to pretty much double their weight to make their arduous migration, particularly when they reach the Gulf of Mexico and fly the 500 miles without rest.

Sure, there are plenty of natural food sources for hummingbirds this time of year, but an easy meal at a feeder now and then gives the tiny birds a bit of a break. Patches of jewelweed are another favorite of hummingbirds and they are still blooming. Other than feeders, I think I’ve seen more hummingbirds at jewelweed (touch-me-not) patches than any other venue.

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A few hummingbirds – while they last

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbird hovers around salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.

The hummingbirds that haven’t flown south yet will likely do so soon. Here are a few shots of “my” hummingbirds that are still hanging around.

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbird hovers around salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.
Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbird hovers around salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.

For the Birds: Hummingbirds and cuckoos

Photo by Chris Bosak A female ruby-throated hummingbird sits on a rope in a backyard in New England, August 2020.

I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed watching the hummingbirds ignore the stormy weather of Aug. 4 and visit the feeders. As you’ll recall, last week I wrote about the tiny birds going about their day as usual as rain fell and wind whipped all around.

I heard from Deb from Royalston, Mass., who said her hummingbirds “had no problem with the fierce winds and rain. All this year’s babies are there now, so we had more than a dozen.” She said it was hard to count them there were so many. I, of course, had only one visit my feeder that day as it was a dominant female who “owns” the feeder.

Jill from Keene wrote: “I too was amazed during the storm the hummingbirds seemed unfazed.” Jill also had a peaceful gathering of hummingbirds and sent me a few photos showing six of them on the feeder at once.

“They did not fight much at all and it was eerily quiet as I usually have several swooping and ‘chirping’ noisily,” Jill added.

A few days later, Jill wrote to say: “The peaceful dinner party was really an anomaly, as they are back to fighting and chasing each other!”

John and Joanne of Dover noted: “We also Continue reading

For the Birds: Hummingbirds ride out the storm

Photo by Chris Bosak A female ruby-throated hummingbird hovers in a backyard in New England, August 2020.

Tropical Storm Isaias really put on a show as it blasted its way through New England. Wind, rain and tornado warnings ruled the day last Tuesday as the storm packed a bigger punch than expected.

My sons and I stood on the screened-in porch and watched as 50 mph winds roared through the woods in the backyard. We ignored the occasional rain that wind gusts blew through the screen. Small maples bent like those inflatable tubes you see outside some businesses. Dead or dying ash trees threatened to topple and, indeed, many did throughout the neighborhood. We were lucky. At one point we heard the alarming sound of a huge tree or branch cracking. I was ready to scramble into the house for protection, but Andrew pointed out that the fracture was occurring in the woods safely away from the house. He pointed out a massive branch high around the top of a gigantic oak tree that had peeled away from the trunk. It never did fall as it got stuck among the canopy branches of nearby trees.

We lost power before 2 p.m. Tuesday and, as I write three days later, it hasn’t been restored. It may take a few more days as trees and power lines are down all throughout the neighborhood. We are hardly alone. More than a million households lost power throughout New England, including more than 700,000 in Connecticut alone.

It’s safe to say Isaias was a major event. I won’t soon forget the sights and sounds of the beast roaring through the woods and leaving a wake of destruction as it headed north. Through it all, believe it or not, my hummingbirds visited the feeder as if nothing was happening. I have three hummingbirds that visit daily: two females and one male. One of the females rules the roost and is constantly chasing the others away. She sat contentedly on the feeder as those 50 mph winds violently swayed the clothesline on which it hangs. The boys Continue reading

For the Birds: Complain and they will come

Photo by Chris Bosak A female ruby-throated hummingbird visits a flower in New England, July 2020.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in several New England newspapers …

Apparently, all I had to do to get my hummingbirds back this summer was complain to my neighbor.

I had had frequent visits from both male and female hummingbirds early in the spring. The daily visits continued for a few weeks and then stopped abruptly. Last year, and the year before that, the visits never stopped and I saw them daily until the fall.

This year, June was largely a hummingbird-free month in my backyard. 

During a walk around the neighborhood last week, I noticed a neighbor had bird feeders on her deck so I stopped to chat about what birds she had been seeing. She had a few of the usual suspects but didn’t mention hummingbirds. 

I inquired about the tiny birds and she said: “Yes. I see them every day.”

“That’s great,” I replied. “I haven’t seen mine in a while.”

I went on to bore her with the details of my previous years’ good fortune. She feigned interest, we chatted a little more and then said goodbye. 

The birding gods must have heard me griping and took pity on me because, the very next day, a female hummingbird showed up at my feeder. She has been back every day since, too. It is very territorial as I have seen her chase away other hummingbirds. Another female and a male have started showing up now and then, too, when the queen is away.

In previous years, a female has dominated my feeders throughout the summer so I wonder if she is the same bird I have been seeing for years. At any rate, it is nice to see the hummingbirds back in the yard. It is also nice to know there are several of them, even if I get only brief glimpses of the other ones before they are chased away.

I have a few feeders and several flowers to lure the hummingbirds. She prefers the feeders, but on occasion will sip from the flowers. This year, most of my flowers are red salvia, an annual with tubular shaped blooms. In the past, I’ve seen hummingbirds visit my coneflower and even sunflowers.

Complaining usually doesn’t solve problems and often makes them worse, but in this case, things worked out pretty well. I plan to take a trip to northern New England in a few weeks in the hopes of finding some of New England’s disappearing moose. Maybe I should proactively start complaining now in the hopes of getting the same results for that trip?