Hawks Aloft Inc.
PO Box 10028
Albuquerque, NM 87184
Phone: 505 828-9455
Fax: 505 828-9769
E-Mail: gail@hawksaloft.org

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Blog Topic: Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds! Part 2

Ah, backyard birding; the only time when being out in the field means your main accessories are binoculars and perhaps a cup of coffee, not sweat-streaked sunscreen and a fine coating of high desert dust over everything. Now that you have your hummingbird feeder up, you love to watch all the hectic, jewel-bright buzzing around it! Only trouble is, you have no idea which birds you’re seeing. In this post I’ve put together a short visual guide to the types of hummers you’re likely to see around town this summer.

The most common type of nesting hummingbird in the Albuquerque area, especially the Bosque, is the Black-chinned Hummingbird.

A male Black-chinned Hummingbird. Photo by David Powell

A male Black-chinned Hummingbird. Photo by David Powell

A female Black-chinned Hummingbird. Photo by Doug Brown

A female Black-chinned Hummingbird. Photo by Doug Brown

They can be identified by their greenish backs and their black chins and throats; and if the sunlight hits the male’s feathers just right, you can see a thin strip of iridescent purple at the lower edge of their black throats. Females are less-excitingly colored, with a green back and grey chest, belly, and darker-spotted throat.

You’ll see them darting erratically from your feeder to catch insects, a staple of most hummingbird diets. And, while they don’t have the flashiest coloration, the males do perform impressive dives of up to one hundred feet to display during courtship and territorial defense. Remember, these birds are three and a half inches long on average, so that’s the equivalent of them traveling over three hundred body lengths in one dive.

Another fairly common species around here is the distinctive Rufous Hummingbird:

Male (left) and female (right) Rufous Hummingbirds. Photos by David Powell

Male (left) and female (right) Rufous Hummingbirds. Photos by David Powell

They are named for their unmistakable coloration, bright orange on the males and rusty-orange-and-green on the females. These birds, mostly the males, show up around July 4 after they have finished breeding in their northwestern nesting territories, sometimes as far north as southeastern Alaska, the northernmost of any hummingbird’s breeding range. They are also rather famously aggressive, gladly taking on other hummingbirds even twice their weight. If you hear fighting around your feeder after Independence Day, chances are it’s a rufous male defending his territory!

Around late July and August, the tiny Calliope will show up.

A male Calliope Hummingbird. Photo by David Powell

A male Calliope Hummingbird. Photo by David Powell

They are the smallest hummingbirds in North America north of Mexico (the smallest in North America and in the world are Bee Hummingbirds), small enough that their mass is about one-third that of the smallest North American warblers. They are also the smallest long-distance migratory birds, as they spend their winters in Mexico and the summer breeding season in the northwestern United States up into southwestern Canada. Males can be identified by their green upperparts, white underparts, and red-streaked throat. Females have a dull whitish throat and off-white to cinnamon-buff chest and belly.

A male Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Photo by Doug Brown

A male Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Photo by Doug Brown

Finally, you may see Broad-tailed Hummingbirds as they migrate through the Albuquerque area. Their backs are shiny green, with off-white undersides; males have a bright pink throat and females have a dark-spotted throat. The females can look like a female Rufous, but you can tell them apart by the much more orange-tinted sides on a Rufous.

A female Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Photo by Doug Brown

A female Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Photo by Doug Brown

They’ll be migrating to the next location of their favored habitat, subalpine meadows. One very neat adaptation to these chilly places is their ability to go into a torpor—yes, that’s a technical term—on cold nights, which means it slows down its metabolism and keeps its body temperature at about 54°F when the ambient temperature falls below 44°F. I mentioned in the previous post that female hummingbirds will include spider silk in their nests to make it more secure for the chicks;  for cold-climate birds such as these, lining the nest with silk also serves to insulate it and substantially decrease the required energy output of the incubating female.

And now you know how to identify the four common species of hummingbirds you’ll see in the Albuquerque/Bosque area this summer! If you have further questions, feel free to leave a comment below or submit it in the Ask an Expert section.

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Hummingbirds! Part 1

Summertime in New Mexico feels like it isn’t quite real until the hummingbirds appear—these tiny, jewel-bright creatures that grace us with their presence for a few seconds before zooming away. There are many ways you can be hospitable to these birds and encourage them to frequent your yard all summer!

A male Blue-throated Hummingbird. Photo by David Powell

A male Blue-throated Hummingbird, found in southern Arizona. Photo by David Powell

The best way you can help out hummingbirds is by feeding them with nectar. It’s quite simple: start with a ratio of 1 part white sugar to 4 parts water. 1:3 sugar to water ratio is also an option, if you prefer a sweeter syrup.

A feeding hummingbird with pollen on its beak. Photo by David Powell

A feeding hummingbird with pollen on its beak. Photo by David Powell

Boiling this mixture for cleanliness isn’t required, though the water needs to be heated enough to dissolve the sugar.  Clean your feeder with hot water (no soap) once a week or so, and replace the water if it looks cloudy as that’s a sign of spoilage. Most importantly, don’t add anything else, especially not red dyes, because these can be harmful to the hummers’ sensitive bodies. The red coloration on the feeders will be attractive enough to these birds.

Hang the feeder in an unobstructed area, and watch as your yard fills with beautiful hummingbirds!

Two hummingbirds feeding. Photo by David Powell

Two hummingbirds feeding. Photo by David Powell

Of course, you can also add flying and rooted beauty to your yard by planting a hummingbird garden: a variety of flowering plants that are particularly attractive to these birds. The Hummingbird Society has a list of eighteen suggested plants that will not only provide nectar but also perches and, in the case of Desert Willow and larger plants, shelter and nest-building sites. This is the nesting season for many birds, including hummers, and as such it is especially important to provide them a little extra help in these months.

Some quick facts about hummingbirds’ nesting:

  • Males have very little purpose during nesting except to spread their sperm as far and wide as possible. They do not help the female at all with incubation or raising the chicks.
  • A metallic green Costa Rican hummingbird. Photo by David Powell

    A metallic green Costa Rican hummingbird. Photo by David Powell

    Females build the nest alone. In it she includes a large ball of spider silk, which serves to keep the eggs and later the chicks snug and secure inside the nest, stretching as they grow.

  • One female will usually raise two chicks in a breeding season.
  • Rufous Hummingbirds, a fairly common species here in Albuquerque, will actually stay in their northwestern nesting territories until they are done breeding, around July 4. After that, the males migrate down here to breed with more females—again, these birds are on a serious mission!

In the next blog post, I’ll talk about how to identify some of the more typical species spotted here in Albuquerque. Until then, enjoy these beautiful birds when you see them!

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Food Fight!

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Right on schedule, around the first of July, Rufous Hummingbirds arrived in Albuquerque.   If you have a feeder in your yard, you know how zealously (and jealously) they guard it.

Hummer & flower

Hummingbirds are found only in the Americas. The Spanish conquistadores called them “Joyas Voladores” or Flying Jewels. Among birds, they are unique in being able to fly backwards. In the animal kingdom, only insects have a higher metabolic rate than hummingbirds in flight. The high rate is necessary to support the rapid beating of their wings.

Sandy's Hummer

Hummingbirds nest throughout the Americas, but mostly in the tropical and sub-tropical regions.  The Rufous Hummingbird nests further north than any other hummingbird, with some nesting as far north as Alaska. Rufous  also are unusual in that they have a different migration path in spring (along the Pacific Coast) than in winter (through the Central Rocky Mountain region, including through New Mexico.)  They winter over in Mexico.

Many thanks to David Powell for these amazing close-up photographs of hummingbirds.

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Happy Fourth of July!!!

The Fourth of July is the day we celebrate our American Independence, but bird lovers in New Mexico also celebrate another event that typically happens right around the beginning of July. Rufous Hummingbirds start to pass through on their fall migration!

Rufous Male - Photo by David Powell

Rufous Male – Photo by David Powell

The male Rufous Hummingbirds have a bright orange, iridescent gorget  and rufous-red head and back. They are the feistiest hummingbirds you will see at your feeders. They guard the feeders tenaciously against other, often larger hummingbirds that need a little drink.

Rufous Male - Photo by David Powell

Rufous Male – Photo by David Powell

Typically the first Rufous Hummingbirds we see are the males, and later in July and in August we see the females and first years. The males are free to migrate home first, because they contribute very little to the process of raising babies; in fact they are just sperm donors. The female does all the hard work of building her nest and raising the babies.

Rufous Female - Photo by David Powell

Rufous Female – Photo by David Powell

David Powell captured this female hummingbird sitting on her nest in Albuquerque, NM. A major component of a hummingbird nest is spider silk. This allows the nest to grow along with the nestlings.

Nesting hummingbird - Photo by David Powell

Nesting hummingbird – Photo by David Powell

Rufous Hummingbirds breed further north than any other hummingbird, and are seen as far north as Alaska. In fact I saw a beautiful male Rufous Hummingbird in early June of this year in Halibut Cove, Alaska.

Juvenile Rufous-Hummingbird - Photo by Doug Brown

Juvenile Rufous-Hummingbird – Photo by Doug Brown

Rufous-Hummingbird - Photo by Doug Brown

Rufous-Hummingbird – Photo by Doug Brown

Like other hummingbirds, they eat insects as well as nectar, taking them from spider webs or catching them in midair.

Rufous-Hummingbird - Photo by Doug Brown

Rufous-Hummingbird – Photo by Doug Brown

Rufous Hummingbirds are also unusual in that their spring migration follows a route along the Pacific coast while their fall migration goes through the Rocky Mountains and right through Albuquerque.

Rufous-Hummingbird - Photo by Doug Brown

Rufous-Hummingbird – Photo by Doug Brown

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Hummingbirds for the Holidays

Image by Keith Bauer

On this special family day, we thought you might enjoy something especially cheery:  This video of hummingbirds feeding created by Keith Bauer.  Here’s the link!  (click on the arrow to start the video).

http://keithbauer.smugmug.com/Animals/Birds/2746453_J86Wjn#!i=1952901086&k=JLTRMdR

Happy Holidays to you and yours

from all of us at Hawks Aloft

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Little Red Devil: Rufous Hummingbird

Image of Rufous Hummingbird by David Powell

All seems to be at peace in the world of the tiniest of birds, each seemingly willing to share the bounty provided by our feeders.  However, long about the Fourth of July, the little red devil arrives, the Rufous Hummingbird, fascinatingly ferocious!  He has a well-deserved reputation as the feistiest hummingbird in North America. The brilliant orange male is a relentless attacker at flowers and feeders.  He will sit and wait for an unsuspecting victim to attempt to feed and then attack with an accompanying ticking sound!  The little males then retreat to a guard post to watch for any other intruders.  However, at dawn and dusk when other hummies are tanking up, they become overwhelmed by the sheer number of other hummingbirds.  I recently watched two male Rufous Hummers feeding along with 4 others at my 6 port feeder in the early morning.   Rufous Hummingbirds are wide-ranging, and breed farther north than any other hummingbird. Look for them in spring in California, summer in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and fall in the Rocky Mountains as they make their annual circuit of the West.

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An Uncommon Visitor: Calliope Hummingbird

Image of Calliope Hummingbird by Doug Brown

The smallest bird in North America (north of  Mexico) is the diminutive Calliope Hummingbird.  It is the smallest long-distance avian migrant in the world, spending its winters in Mexico and breeding as far north as Canada and southern Alaska.  At 3.5″ long and a wingspan of 4.3″, they weigh about 2-3 grams, or 1/10 of an ounce!  They can be found in  mountain areas of the northwestern United States. Right now (early August), they are migrating through the Rocky Mountains and are as far south as central New Mexico on their way to their wintering grounds.  Watch carefully at your feeders!  At first glance, they appear to be miniature hummingbirds compared to the common Black-chinned and Broad-tailed.  Males also sport a magenta gorgette with distinctive trailing feathers that reach their shoulders.

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Life as a Little: Hummingbirds

We thank Doug Brown and David Powell for the use of their hummingbirds images.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be the smallest being in a land of giants?  A place where even insects prey on your kind?  Welcome to the world of hummingbirds, where  reports abound of hummies being snatched in mid-air by the likes of roadrunners, jays, flycatchers, and your favorite pet feline.  There’s even a report of a hummingbird snatch by an alert mountain lion in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert Museum.  Even the praying mantis, that slow motion insect, sometimes dines on the most diminutive of birds.  Lest you wonder if I am filling your head with grisly stories worthy of Snopes, check it out yourself.  Just Google “hummingbird eaten by praying mantis” and see what turns up, some 4,130 hits including a YouTube video.

One might wonder just how the little guys are faring since most everything views them as a snack. Not much to worry about here though, because the top predator on the planet has a special fondness for the tiniest of North American birds, but not as a diet supplement.  Yes, it is we, the two-legged, land-locked of this planet, that are enmeshed in a love affair with hummingbirds.  We watch over, photograph, feed, and protect the little fellows, sometimes to the tune of many thousands of dollars annually per household.  Some individuals report usage of up to 50 pounds of sugar a week.

What this means in scientific terms is that the introduction of exotic plants and feeders has produced a widespread energy subsidy that may maintain unnaturally large populations in times of flower scarcity, or when the natural nectar supply is reduced due to drought, insects, or weather.  Our stocked feeders have helped increase populations in urban and suburban settings, leading to an overall increase in the species, as evidenced by range expansion and previously unoccupied habitats that are now occupied.   Some hummingbirds now overwinter far north of their former range, including a handful that survive Albuquerque winters, almost entirely  due to well-maintained feeders.

The two most common nesting hummingbirds in New Mexico are the Black-chinned and Broad-tailed.  Both are present in the state, although the Black-chinned is often found at lower elevations, in riparian woodlands.  In high quality habitat along rivers, black-chins might be found every 100 meters (33 feet), and this birder can tell you from personal experience that it happens.  In the Middle Rio Grande bosque, the Black-chinned Hummingbird is the most common nesting bird, and it’s all-out war as males battle over the rights to sire offspring. Did you know that you actually can distinguish the different hummingbirds by calls?  Surveys here produce not single entries, but 2-3 birds at a time, often locked in combat or issuing battle cries of tiny warriors as they zoom past your head at warp speed.

Hummingbirds have many unique and interesting adaptations too, all necessary for survival.  A hummingbird tongue has 2 grooves.  Nectar moves through these grooves via capillary actions and the bird squeezes nectar into its mouth when it retracts its tongue. It drinks by extending its the tongue through a nearly closed bill at a rate of about 13-17 licks per second and consumes an average of 1/5 fluid ounce in a single meal.  In cold weather, a hummingbird might eat 3 times its weight in food a day, a whopping ½ ounce for a bird that weights 1/10 – 1/5 ounce!  However, natural nectar and sugar water alone are not adequate sustenance.  Insects comprise a large portion of their diet, and the young are fed insects almost exclusively.  Just watch hummies hovering above a slow moving stream.  They are hawking insects, the no-see-ums that are a plague on all outdoor-loving people.

 

Their resting heartbeat is 480 beats and their resting breathing rate is 245 breaths per minute when it is 91 degrees – makes one hyperventilate just thinking about all that hyper-speed.  At 55 degrees, their breathing rate increases to 420 breaths per minute!   Hummingbirds survive cold nights by going into torpor.  This is a state in which the bird’s heartbeat and breathing slow to  such a degree that movement is impossible.  A torpid hummingbird can be picked up easily, and has no power to move.  However, warm it in your hand for just a little while, and the little fellow will spring to life and zoom away.

Another hummie arrived here, right about July 4th –  the tiny Rufous Hummingbird, the little red dude.  I call him Attila the Hum, for his fearsome guarding of all the hummingbird feeders on your property.  He sits in wait for any unsuspecting local species to attempt to drink and then immediately dives upon them to drive them away from ‘his’ feeder.  To help reduce the aggression, provide him with one feeder that contains a stronger elixir, a mix of 1 part sugar to 3 parts water.  He might just decide to keep that one and leave the other, lesser quality feeders alone.


At any rate, it is important to keep feeders clean and filled until two weeks after your last hummingbird observation of the year and to put them out again in the spring about two weeks before their normal arrival, about April 1 in central New Mexico.  You just never know. Perhaps your feeder will be the one that sustains a little throughout the long New Mexico winter.

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