Everyone seems to love hummingbirds, even some rough-looking, bearded, leather-donned biker dudes I know — I love picturing them going into hardware shops, asking for hummingbird feeders.
Right now at my house, my window is open, and I feel the cool air of this October morning pour in. I have hummingbird feeders up (we buy nectar powder that attempts at mimicking flower nectar from Hummingbird Market) and I hear that familiar trill those hummers are so famous for. So far as I can tell, our hummingbirds are year-round residents and the species that seem to dominate on our property is Anna’s hummingbird.
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In general, in Arizona the numbers of hummers tend to decrease in the winter as they fly south to warmer locales. However, during the fall we get an increase of Anna’s Hummingbird, who flies to Arizona and Sonora from California. Their numbers migrating to our region have steadily increased since the 1960s, probably due to the increase in landscape plants providing them nectar. Some have become permanent residents in urban and suburban areas where the food supply will be steady. Named for the 19th century Italian duchess Anna Massena, the Anna’s Hummingbird is one of three hummingbird species that are permanent residents of the United States and Canada (the others are the Allen’s and Costa’s). Anna’s hummingbird are known to migrate as far north as British Columbia and as far east as Texas, are most common all along the Pacific Coast, and most heavily concentrated in California. Occasionally they hybridize with Costa’s or Allen’s.
Naturally they are native to a wide range of habitat, from the low desert up into the woodlands of the Sky Islands. Their range and residence in various areas have been extended thanks to landscape plants and feeders provided by humans. They have a few natural predators. In Sonora they can become victim to tree snakes. In Arizona, they may be taken by a western scrub-jay, American kestrel, roadrunner, or a curved-billed thrasher. They tend to live about 8-9 years.
You may observe the male Anna’s doing a spectacular dive, forming a 100 foot “J” and ending with a hark TEWK sound near the bottom, sometimes repeated. This is a male courting ritual for the female. And if you happen to observe this behavior, you know nesting will occur soon after.
Anna’s hummingbirds are the earliest nesters in our region, some building as early as December. Their tiny cup-shaped nests may be perched on top of tree branches, or even a support beam of an open patio and are usually lined with soft things like feathers of other birds, human hair, or found fabrics. They are known to harvest spiderwebs to use as “glue” for nest assembly.
Anna’s hummingbirds are very territorial and vocal, often chasing off other bird species (this is why you should have lots of space between all your birdfeeders).
We try to plant as many native plants with long tubular flowers as possible. But we also space out feeders around the yard to help during the times of year when food is scarce. In the urban areas, hummingbirds are highly dependent on human love, since there isn’t any natural patterns of native flora to follow. Even though hummingbirds are known for their “sweet tooth” they also regularly eat insects, which form an important part of their diet (protein).
By the way, keep your birdfeeders clean. While feeding hummingbirds is a nice act, helpful to the migrating and resident populations of birds, feeders also present a problem if not properly cleaned. As several birds, resident and travelling, use the feeders, disease can be transmitted. When you refill your feeders, use water with a touch of bleach to clean, and rinse thoroughly.
Look forward to an article on planting natives that attract hummingbirds. For now, just know that most tubular flowers, especially if they are colored orange or red, will attract our nectar-addicted pipsqueaks. You are likely to get a variety of native plants that hummers love at Desert Survivors (1020 West Starr Pass Boulevard). Get a good quality feeder and nectar powder from a local place like the Wild Bird Store (3160 East Fort Lowell Road) or the nature/book shop at the Tucson Audubon Society downtown (300 East University).