Calliope Hummingbird Nest

Last week I joined some members of the Blue Mountain chapter of the Audubon Society for their weekly bird walk at Bennington Lake. Like most birders, they were a welcoming, friendly group, and there was one woman in particular who apparently birds the trails there intensely every week and had scoped out a couple nests. So, in addition to great looks at Lazuli Buntings, Bullock’s Orioles, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and other western treats, we got to observe a Western Kingbird and a Yellow Warbler on nests – pretty cool.

As we were walking through a wooded area, a flicker of movement in the branches caught my eye, and I turned my head to see a female hummingbird buzzing among the leaves. As I watched, to my amazement, it settled onto a ball of white fluff on one of the twigs. Another nest! A hummingbird nest! I had found a hummingbird nest! I didn’t have my camera with me but one of the others did and she kindly gave my permission to use her photo.

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Photo by Judy Treman

And this is not just any hummingbird. Female hummers all look the same to me in the field, but according to the others who were there, this is a Calliope Hummingbird, the smallest bird found in the U.S. and Canada. I’d only seen one Calliope before ever, so I was amazed to learn that this is actually the second most commonly seen hummer species around here, after the Black-chinned. The nest itself, as far as I can tell, is made of cottonwood fluff held together with spiderwebs.

Finding a hummingbird nest (even if it was pure luck) was certainly a great way to earn my stripes with a new group of birders. Next time I go birding at Bennington, I will definitely be bringing my own camera!

UPDATE: We managed to re-find the nest a week later, and seen from a slightly different angle, its proportions look different and there was some talk that it may in fact be a Black-chinned Hummingbird after all. Here’s the new angle, decide for yourself:

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Studying Hummingbird Behavior

Last week I wrote about the hummingbirds I’d seen over my holiday break in Arizona, and I talked briefly about their behavior at the feeders – how a single hummingbird would claim a feeder as its own and guard it, chasing away any others that approached. When I unearthed my field notebooks from college, one of the things I found was pages of data on this very subject. On a trip to Costa Rica for our tropical biology class, my friend Meredith and I did a little study of how different hummingbird species interacted at the feeders at our hotel in the cloud forest.

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Let me explain what’s going on in these columns of cryptic notes. The strings of capital letters were our codes for the different hummingbird species – not proper banding codes, just our own abbreviations. For example, “M” is a Magnificent Hummingbird, “FMG” is a female White-throated Mountain-gem, and “VE” is a Green Violet-ear. (Only in some species could we easily tell the sexes apart.) “Back” is just my note that I was watching the back feeder, not the front one. When there was already one hummingbird at the feeder and another one approached, we would record what sort of interaction they had. Was there no reaction, did the new one displace the one that was already there, did the one that was already there chase the new one away? As you can see, there was a lot of action. When we got home we entered all of this into spreadsheets, ran some statistics, and eventually presented the results as a poster at an ornithological conference. (Don’t ask me what the results were, exactly, because this was four years ago and I don’t really remember.)

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An ancient photo from said trip to Costa Rica in January 2009. Yeah, field biology, it’s a tough career.

By the time this post is published on Wednesday I’ll be on a field trip with my graduate program to Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Findland, Minnesota. Look for a post Friday or Saturday on my expedition to the northern (!) shore of Lake Superior!

Winter Hummingbirds

Tomorrow I’m headed back to Wisconsin and it’ll be months before I lay eyes on another hummingbird, but on Wednesday we went back to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum one more time and I had fun admiring the hummers there. Most of them were Anna’s Hummingbirds, which are ubiquitous here year-round. There’s a female that hangs out in the orange tree in my parents’ backyard, but all the ones I saw guarding feeders at the arboretum were males.

Anna's Hummingbird 2 (1024x767) Anna's Hummingbird 3 (684x1024)Each feeder belonged to one specific hummingbird, who would stay perched near it and chase away any others who tried to approach. These birds are tiny, but fierce! And one feeder was being guarded not by an Anna’s, but by a beautiful male Broad-billed Hummingbird. Any range map you look at will tell you that these birds shouldn’t be in the Phoenix area in the winter, but really they hang out at the arboretum year-round. However, the Broad-billed was shyer than the Anna’s and kept choosing perches where he was hard to photograph. This is the best I could do (his bill’s not in focus, drat).

Broad-billed Hummingbird (1024x723)

Look at all that metallic blue and green! Such dashing, handsome little guys! I’m so sorry for those of you who live on continents with no hummingbirds.

Photo of the Day: Green Violet-Ear

A Green Violet-ear, one of many hummingbird species I saw on my trip to Costa Rica last January.  My camera at the time was a very basic one with absolutely no zoom, so this is really how close I was to the bird.

(I will be back from a trip to California and Oregon on August 11 – until then I’m sharing a few photos of previous travels.)