Friday, February 1, 2013

Hummingbird Wars

During the last several days, there has been a steady increase in the stream of visitors to the hummingbird feeder hung just outside our kitchen window.  I generally expect to see a few birds each day but now I'm getting visits on the order of every 5-10 minutes all morning.  There are also more frequent battles at the feeder, with the feeding bird giving chase when an intruder enters his (or her) territory.

I don't think the increased activity is related to the migration of a non-resident species.  The birds showing up at the feeder appear to be our year-round residents, the Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna).  While the seasonal migrations of Rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufous) do lead to all-out hummingbird wars, its too early for them to show up.  And none of the birds at the window have the copper-colored backs characteristic of the Rufous (not that it's easy to get close enough to check their plumage).

So, why is there suddenly such increased use of the feeder?  Maybe the birds have cut back on their foraging because they're hard at work building nests or feeding their young?  I'd like to believe that but I'm just a little concerned that my recent flurry of pruning activity may be a contributing factor.

In my garden, the hummingbirds' absolute favorite food source is Cuphea ignea 'Starfire Pink' in my front garden.  I have 6 of these plants: 3 on each side of the central walkway.  Up until last week they were in full bloom.

Cuphea ignea 'Starfire Pink"
 Actually, these plants are constantly in bloom.  However, last weekend, I decided that I needed to cut them back in order to facilitate pruning of the roses in the same beds.  I cut the Cuphea down to about one foot tall, leaving no blooms behind.
Cuphea ignea 'Starfire Pink' (after haircut)

I swear I wasn't ignoring the needs of the hummingbirds with reckless pruning!  I have 3 other Cuphea ignea 'Starfire' and 3 more Cuphea 'Kristin's Delight' elsewhere in the garden.  As far as I can tell, 'Kristin's Delight' is identical to 'Starfire'.
Cuphea 'Kristin's Delight'
I also have a plethora of other hummingbird friendly plants:
Arbutus marina

Grevillea lavandulacea 'Penola'

Heuchera (no record of variety)

Cuphea aff. Aequipetala
And the Ribes on the slope, just now coming into bloom, look like perfect hummingbird plants too.
Ribes viburnifolium 'Catalina Pink Currant'

So where's the beef?  The hummingbirds aren't talking - at least, not to me.

To make up for the lousy photographs of hummingbirds shown above, I'm including some much better pictures with the permission of (aka my brother), who is a vastly better photographer than I am.  These pictures were taken about 50 miles northeast of my location.  Bird identifications were provided courtesy of my mother-in-law.

Female Allen's hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin)

Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna)

Anna's hummingbird

Anna's hummingbird


  1. The Anna's hummingbird in the second image DOES talk to me. That's the bird I have the best relationship with. He also appears to like the beep that comes from the camera once auto focus is achieved. A slight turn of his head and the refraction of sunlight would reveal the iridescent colors of his head plumage. Thanks for using my pics, sis.

  2. Your brother is an amazing photographer!! I've noticed that the hummers tend to have favorite plans, too. Maybe the nectar tastes different. Love that cuphea. It only grows as a small annual here. :(

    1. Cuphea, in various of its incarnations, has become a mainstay of my garden so I'm grateful it does so well here.

  3. Hummingbirds (Ruby Throated) only grace me with their presence from May to sometime in September. Every year I look forward to their arrival them miss them when they're gone. Feeders have never worked for me so I just plant lots of long blooming annuals they like-Salvia, Fuchsia, Cuphea, etc.

    1. We're lucky to have the Anna's as year-round residents. The males are VERY territorial, even buzzing our heads on occasion in warning that we've intruded into THEIR garden. The feeder probably promotes some battles, especially when the Rufous species comes through, but I can't bring myself to give it up as it gives me something, other than dishes, to look at when I'm working in the kitchen.