THROUGH THE WOODS: The hummers are still at war!

Male ruby-throated hummingbird. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

IN MAY THERE WERE TWO MALE ruby-throated hummingbirds in our yard fighting over their sugar water feeder and a small female. The females do not have the red throat and are mostly green with a white belly and some gray areas. This probably helps them remain hidden on the nest and they are less conspicuous. The male’s red throat may be part of the attraction for females during the mating season.

In all the years I have been birding I have only found one hummingbird nest near a woodland pond. It was in a small birch tree about 12 feet off the ground and so tiny. Just a grayish cup attached to a small limb and the female was snuggled down on her eggs. That was a thrill, and I regret that I did not have a camera with me. I have watched at home to see where they fly off to, but never have found a nest again.

I think they veer off in another direction when you can no longer see them. They are very smart for their size. If you watch them over a week or two, you can tell there are subtle differences between each bird. These poor little things were quite thin compared to when they left last fall, so we were happy they were spending a lot of time eating in between chasing each other around the yard. If we sat out on the porch they would zip by so fast you could feel the tickle of the air from those whirring wings.

Hummers are our “yard pets.” While walking around the house to look at the flower beds they are constantly working them, flying to a flower and hovering to get the nectar and moving to the next. I sometimes talk to them and they seem to know we are all friends.

The males have a very interesting courtship display that the females appear to ignore, but that is part of the game. He is a showoff and she is very coy. The male flies up to about 20-30 feet in the air and hovers, then swoops down and up again in a u-shaped pattern. This can go on for quite a while and then, on some signal, they disappear, hopefully to make some new little hummers.

In late June and into July their offspring started to come to the feeder and the fun really began. The young do not have red throats and look like half size-versions of their mother. They all tried to chase each other away, and the most dominant, aggressive male would win out at the feeder. The others had a great strategy though, and while one lured the male away for a good chase, the others darted in and fed. They took turns and I wondered why the male never seemed to catch on to this.

Now it is nearly August and the “babies” are almost full grown and the young males are beginning to show a little red at the throat. The battles are fierce with small flocks of 4-5 birds buzzing around the feeder. Everyone is fattening up and developing skills for the long September trip to South America. It is an amazing journey, and we hope their season here and the food provided will help them return to us again next spring for another season’s entertainment. We will miss them.

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