BIRDING: Birds can be bullies, too
WILD ABOUT BIRDS
Free Press Home & Garden Columnist
Have you noticed a new bully in your backyard or at your hummingbird feeder? If so, it is probably the Rufous Hummingbird. They are the most aggressive hummingbird in North America. I have had lots of inquiries this week about who they are.
Male Rufous are a brilliant reddish-brown, almost a rust color. In good light, male Rufous Hummingbirds glow like coals: bright rust on the back and belly, with a vivid iridescent-red throat. Compared to other hummingbirds, they are fairly small with a slender, nearly straight bill, a tail that tapers to a point when folded, and fairly short wings that don’t reach the end of the tail when the bird is perched. Females are green above with rufous-washed flanks, rufous patches in the green tail, and often a spot of rust in the throat.
They are relentless attackers at flowers and feeders, going after (and usually defeating) even the large hummingbirds of the Southwest, which can be double their weight. Rufous Hummingbirds are wide-ranging, and breed farther north than any other hummingbird.
The Rufous winter in Mexico, then travel north thru California in the spring, and then summer in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska where they breed. While the females incubate the eggs and raise the fledglings, some males start their southern migration and pass through Western Colorado. The Rufous will be here through the fall before moving on south.
Rufous Hummingbirds breed in open areas, yards, parks and forests up to tree line. On migration they pass through mountain meadows as high as 12,600 feet where nectar-rich, tubular flowers are blooming. Their winter habitat in Mexico includes shrubby openings and oak-pine forests at middle to high elevation.
Rufous Hummingbirds have the hummingbird’s gift for fast, darting flight and pinpoint maneuverability. They are quick to quarrel and fight, and tirelessly chase away other hummingbirds, even in places they’re only visiting on migration. Like other hummers, they eat insects as well as nectar. They take the insects from spider webs or catch them in mid-air.
Rufous Hummingbirds may take up residence (at least temporarily) in your garden if you grow hummingbird flowers or put out feeders. But beware! They may make life difficult for any other hummingbird species that visit your yard. Backyards and flower-filled parks are good places to find Rufous Hummingbirds while they’re around, but these birds spend much of the year on the move.
Enjoy their antics while they are here, because all too quickly they will be gone for the winter.
Regardless of which species of hummingbird you are feeding, don’t forget to change the nectar in your feeders frequently; about twice a week this time of year. The nectar has a tendency to ferment more quickly in this heat. If the birds are coming to the feeder, but not drinking, that is a good indication the nectar needs to be changed.
Information for this article was taken, in part, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Local bird expert Larry Collins owns Wild Birds Unlimited, 2454 Hwy. 6&50, which caters to folks who want the best backyard birdfeeding experience possible. Email your birdfeeding and birding questions to email@example.com and he’ll answer them in his bi-weekly Q&A column in the Free Press.
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