Thursday, November 1, 2018

Hummer Summer

This past summer was spent at our second home in New Mexico and what a joy it was. Hearing of our plans, friends in Vermont asked almost to a one "aren't you suppose to spend winters there when its not so hot?"...a logical question of course. Well, my explanation follows. At an elevation of 7,500 feet summer temperatures at our home are moderated with daytime highs typically in the high 80s to low 90s dipping down into the 60s or below at night. Coupled with consistently low humidity levels, unlike summers in the Northeast, we find the climate to be quite conducive to outdoor activities such as birdwatching; exploring local natural, cultural and historical sites; and yet making time for some home projects. Cool, dry nighttime air makes for restful sleep and preparation for the next day's exploits. And to top it off, there are few if any of the biting insects (black flies, mosquitoes, deer flies) that are a persistent annoyance to outdoor driven people back in New England.

Over the summer I did most of my birding in Catron County, where we reside. The county is sparsely populated and relatively little birded. Over the two-and-a-half month stay 121 species were observed of which 50 were tallied on our small property. All but two were seen from the house deck! The grandest bird show of the summer undoubtedly were the hummingbirds. Beginning in late June, the first few southbound migrating male Rufous Hummingbirds showed up at our feeders and immediately established territories associated with each of the three hummingbird feeders that we had out. These feisty jewels stood sentry in nearby trees and whenever any of the summer resident Broad-tailed Hummingbirds approached a feeder, it was immediately chased off by the attendant Rufous overlord.  As summer progressed hummingbird numbers increased as did confrontations between "resident" Rufous males and any intruders needing to fill up on sugar solution. From sunrise to sunset the scene from the deck was like an aerial wartime dogfight in miniature. With territorial males in constant defensive mode seemingly taking very little time to replenish their own expended energy reserves, one had to question what biological benefit if any is there for this behavior. Surely there was more than enough food to satisfy the caloric needs of all.

So, is there any way to break down this territoriality and enable more hummers access to the feeders? I had long believed that this could be accomplished by placing feeders apart, or preferably out of sight of one another. This strategy seems to work for our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that we have in the Northeast; however the one obvious difference is hummingbird densities during fall migration in New England are much lower than in the Southwest. To observe more than three or four hummers at one time at our Vermont feeders in late summer is indeed a banner sighting.

As keeping the feeders separated wasn't the trick, I resorted to the internet hoping to find an effective alternate strategy. With little effort I came across Dealing with Hummingbird Feeder Wars which proved to have the solution. Moving my three feeders close together and adding a fourth in the same tree increased exponentially within very short time the number of visiting hummers and gave us hours of viewing pleasure. The feeders were so overwhelmed by intruders that the dominating Rufous males were unable to effectively fend off the assault.  The following short video clip was taken from the house deck. What is the hummingbird count? Frankly, I have no idea other than whatever the number is in this video can be conservatively expanded by a factor of four (number of feeders).

Prior to implementing the new strategy, the feeders required refilling with sugar solution once per week. By pulling the feeders together increasing hummer numbers, we found the hummers consuming nearly a gallon of solution daily.

Four hummingbird species were observed July through August at our feeders. In order of relative abundance (highest to lowest) these included Rufous, Broad-tailed, Black-chinned and Calliope.

Rufous Hummingbird, male.

Rufous Hummingbird, male.
Broad-tailed Hummingbird, male.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird, male.

Black-chinned Hummingbird, male.

Black-chinned Hummingbird, female.

Calliope Hummingbird, male.

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