Monday, August 13, 2012

Fun with Hummingbirds

Male Anna's (©Ken R. Schneider)

One of the delights of living in California is hosting hummingbirds year-round--including one of the most spectacular North American species, the Anna’s Hummingbird.  My brother took this picture of an adult male.

Last year I rescued a young, probably female Anna’s that hit a back window (despite the warning stickers).  She didn’t seem to  be injured, just stunned.  It was cold, so to help her recover--and keep her away from predators--I held her in my hand in the sun, while she stared at me and one wing quivered.  How could I reassure her?  I decided to take the opportunity to play a game that’s described in my book.  It entails rewarding an animal’s eyeblinks by giving unusually long eyeblinks in immediate response--a sort of communication, if you will.  My hummer didn’t blink much at first, but I took advantage of every blink.  Then she caught on, and within 3 minutes, every time I opened my eyes after my own blinks, she immediately blinked!  Great fun, and best of all, after 5 min, she lifted off, apparently back to normal.  What a magical experience. 

Juvenile Anna's (public domain)
Having a hummingbird feeder lets me enjoy behavior-watching as well as beauty.  I get to laugh at hummingbirds learning to find the nectar.  (Sometimes they try in what seems like every possible place before they succeed.)  When I take the feeder in for cleaning and refilling, I see hummers fly to where they’ve learned it should be, casting about fruitlessly before buzzing off.  Talk about well-learned habits!  And I breathlessly witness frequent dominance battles over access to this prime resource.  In most U.S. hummingbirds, females are larger than males, and my own feeder tends to be dominated by one of them.  I still get to enjoy the beautiful magenta iridescence on the throat "gorget," though, because adult female Anna’s have them.  Maybe the hummer I rescued has developed one by now, attracted a mate, and raised little ones of her own.  

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