Sunday, December 11, 2016

Fluff-and-Buff: Anna's Hummingbirds .. Dec 10

I started out intending to write about ‘Mr. Nasty,’  but is that any way to refer to a hummingbird?  But he is nasty.  From where I often sit at home I watch him … sitting up on a line coming from the street to the house.  That high perch is his attack lookout.  There he sits, just waiting for another hummingbird to have the audacity to sip from HIS hummingbird feeder.  Zoom!  Mad chase as soon as the newcomer enters our front yard.  It’s a wonder anyone gets a sip other than ‘Fluff-and-Buff.’  Fortunately for the others, Fluff-and-Buff sometimes has other matters to attend to, such as a good grooming and fluffing. Eventually others get their opportunity.

Winter has come to western Oregon.  Winter isn’t ferocious here, as it is in Wisconsin where I grew up.  Still, from a hummingbird’s point of view, it is winter.  Our rufous hummingbirds had the good sense to fly south weeks ago.  

The hardy little Anna’s hummingbirds come to our yard all winter.  A few decades ago they seldom ventured farther north than San Francisco, but now some go all the way to Vancuver, Canada.  To do so they survive week-long stretches of freezing weather and a definite lack of flowers to sip nectar from.  I know they prey on little insects too and we seem to have some of those all winter. 

I used to think I was supposed to take my hummingbird feeder down in the fall and nudge the little beasties South.  But one December my neighbor called to say a huddled lump was perched on her deck.  I’d broken my feeder.  Needless to say I quickly cobbled together a hummingbird feeder and hung it inches from the little bird.  I figured he was a goner.  No response.  But a couple of hours later he stirred.  Our duty of catering to a hummingbird had started.  On freezing days we took turns getting up early enough to assure a thawed hummingbird feeder was put out at first light.  Ten winters later we are still doing it. Most nights don't freeze here, so usually the feeder hangs all night.

Now I plan on feeding all winter.  The experts say it’s O.K. to do this.  I’m not keeping the hummingbirds here, just giving them a helping hand.   

When my neighbor telephoned about that cold hummingbird, I didn’t know about the little bird’s trick tucked up its sleeve, or is it ‘under its wing?’  Hummingbirds drop into a torpor to conserve energy.  Some drop their metabolism by as much as 95%.  Breathing slows and body temperature drops.  As a result their energy requirements drop too. 

 I’ve spent part of this morning standing quietly in my front yard, watching Fluff-and-Buff.  Much of the time he was less than ten feet away.  I knew we have two hummingbirds coming to our feeder on a regular basis, but I found out we have three:  two males and one female.  So which male is fluff-and-Buff?  I’m not sure.  Both are last summer’s youngsters just taking on full adult plumage.  One is just a little farther along than the other.  Hard to tell apart except with my photographs.  Amazing to think they can not only survive our December temperatures, but also have enough energy to grow their new set of feathers. 
Just started to get bright colors -- Dec 1

Same bird?  Dec. 10

The first photo was taken on December 1; the second was taken today.  But I can’t be sure if this is the same individual.  Both males I watched this morning are in the process of replacing drab throat feathers with a gorgeous iridescent gorget.   One is just a few days ahead of the other.
Fluff-and-Buff has another trick tucked up his sleeve.  I read recently that hummingbirds are great mimics.  That surprised me. I associate mimicking with mockingbirds, corvids, parrots and such; not hummingbirds.  But as I watch, I realize Fluff-and-Buff spends a lot of time singing his little heart out.  He sits all fluffed up with his throat vibrating … but I can’t hear a darn thing.  Drat.  Is it my ears or human ears in general?  I've sometimes heard snatches, but their song is so high and so quiet.  He obviously has a lot to say.  I just wish I could hear it.

Oh!  I just remembered.  Those little imps have one more trick.  Did you know a hummingbird bill’s are flexible?  It’s the oddest thing to see. 


  1. Such lovely little birds -- even when the're being nasty!


  2. Lovely paintings and an interesting post, Elva! Cheers, Sadami

  3. Great sketches and photos (as always!).

    Your plumage observations remind me of helping with a hummingbird banding project in northeast Oklahoma. Our feeder always had a blur of ruby-throats around it, so the ornithologists I was apprenticing with decided to see how many. We saw a maximum of five at any given time. Sitting with my fingers on the feeder perches, I could get the hummers to land on them for a close view, and thought I could distinguish 17 individuals - but a unique feather here or a dash of pollen on a forehead there might have molted out or been brushed off the next day. So we started trapping and banding. By the end of that summer, we had banded several hundred! Apparently the ridge was a travel corridor. Who knew?!

    And I certainly didn't know about the flexible bill! Glad you captured it in a sketch!

  4. Thanks for such an interesting post.