Western Washington Hummingbirds
Where to begin to write about these two common visitors to Washington feeders and backyards. Here are some characteristics of both the Anna’s and Rufous hummingbirds.
These two hummingbirds are native to the Americas. There are upward of 350 species worldwide. They are the smallest bird, measuring just 7.5 – 13 cm in length, with the average weight less than that of a nickel.
Hummingbirds can not only fly forward but also upside-down and are the only bird capable of flying backwards. They can easily achieve 30 mph in flight and nearly 45 mph in courtship dives. Their tiny wings beat up to 70 times per second and more than 200 times while diving ! Their tiny legs are used only to perch as they are unable to walk or hop.
Hummingbirds feed on honeysuckle or other bright tubular species as well as bugs, beetles, ants, aphids, gnats, mosquitos, wasps and nectar. They can visit 1000-2000 flowers daily. As some of you with feeders may suspect, they can actually identify humans and associate them with regular food from a feeder. They drink the nectar by moving their tongue in and out about 13 times per second, consuming up to twice their body weight in a day. A praying mantis at the feeder can signal bad news for your hummingbirds. If you see one there, relocate it away from feeder immediately.
The male hummingbird is not involved in raising young. Once the mating has occurred they are off looking for another mate. Females build the nests, incubate the eggs (usually just two) and raise the young. After the young are hatched they remain in the nest around 3 weeks. Nests are smaller than a half dollar, the eggs the size of a coffee bean.
To maintain an optimal body heat (105° f) a hummingbird will rest, entering a deep sleep-like state called torpor. I personally haven’t witnessed this state. On the contrary, I was surprised to see what seemed like rapid breathing as the female sat on the nest the past few mornings, her little body in a constant state of movement.
Most hummingbirds are anti-social , especially during mating season. Males can be especially aggressive and competitive. They have no sense of smell but have good “color vision”. Rufous hummingbirds can be extremely territorial chasing even squirrels away from feeders.
Cornell’s All About Birds site calls Anna’s hummingbirds “more like flying jewelry than birds”. Anna’s have no rufous plumage (reddish-brown or copper coloring) anywhere and they sport little white spots around the eyes. The female is mostly emerald green and gray with a small irridescent red gorget on the throat. Males have a red gorget (throat patch) extending over his head and striking green plumage across his back.
The female Rufous has more rusty washed rufous in her flanks and patches on their green tails. Often, they have a spot of orange on the throat. She begins breeding in April. The male rufous is an explosion of brilliant coppery-orange color. They are considered the feistiest hummingbird in North America.
Rufous hummingbirds have the longest migratory journeys of pretty much any other bird in the world. They make a clock-wise circuit of Western North America, moving into Washington state by April-May. As early as July they may begin their trek back south. All 3900 miles of these migrations are done solo. Their memories are great, so if you had a feeder up last year, chances are good they will return to the last known location looking for it again.
I’ll be stopping by each morning at Nisqually just to see that all is well. If Mama becomes too stressed she might abandon the nest so best practice is to not linger. I’m hopeful that people will be respectful of this little sweet creature and we will witness babies soon !