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Friday, June 27, 2014

Kids In A Candy Store

I love this time of year. Spring has given way to summer, and the parks are full of feathered teenagers trying to find their place in the world. This is especially evident among the local hummingbirds as dozens of these colorful youngsters reach the age of independence just as several different species of plants begin to bloom. 

The nectar these plants produce is a boon to the birds, giving them an easily accessible energy source right when they need it most. The newly fledged Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds are like kids in a candy store gorging themselves on a nearly endless supply of sugar. And like kids who have had too much sugar, the diminutive birds continuously get into squabbles, chattering at, chasing, and fighting with one another. Adult birds are in the mix too, drinking their fill and correcting bold, young upstarts who dare to challenge their elders.

I spent several hours yesterday with a rowdy group of hummingbirds that had formed around a cluster of blooming Snowberry bushes and Fireweed plants. It was a dark, overcast day, but the color of both blossoms and birds still shined through the gloom. The following photos will give you a glimpse of what I saw.

Even in the overcast conditions the color of both birds and flowers was stunning. Here, an Anna's Hummingbird sips from a Fireweed blossom.
This is another view of the Anna's Hummingbird that was in the first photo. In this photo you can tell she is an adult, female by the iridescent patch on her throat.
Occasionally, the birds would take a break from feeding and fighting. These breaks never lasted very long.
A juvenile Anna's Hummingbird hovers over Snowberry blossoms. Note that the wings are nearly upside down. While hovering, hummingbirds beat their wings in a figure-8 pattern. The motion is similar to the movement of a human's arms while treading water, but the birds are treading air.
Here the same juvenile is sipping from a Snowberry blossom. Her wings have just finished a forward stroke and she is about to flip them over for the backward stroke.
In this photo she has just finished a backward stroke with her wings and they are begin to rotate back into position for the forward stroke. Since Anna's Hummingbirds flap their wings at a rate of 40 to 50 beats per second or more, this figure-8 pattern is just a blur of motion to our eyes.

Rufous Hummingbirds are much smaller than Anna's Hummingbirds. What they lack in size they make up for in attitude.
Even on a gray day, the rusty color of the Rufous Hummingbirds stood out.
The iridescent greens, rusty reds, and matte black of the Rufous Hummingbirds contrasted nicely with the pinkish-purple Fireweed blossoms and the surrounding foliage.

Even though they were much smaller than the Anna's Hummingbirds, the Rufous Hummingbirds seemed to hold their own in the interspecies skirmishes. This little juvenile had just chased off a rival before taking a rest on this plant stalk.

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