Summer hummers – entertainment for free: part 2

In my yard this summer, the ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) came late to the feeders (similarly to what other people in the area had reported). Now, there are at least four vying for the four feeders, claiming territory for their own.



One bird in particular is most likely to be seen enjoying the garden flowers, including blue-black sage (Salvia guaranitica) and hot lips salvia (Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’). In the first two photos below, you can see as his throat starts to bulge more as he sucks up the sweet nectar to complement his mostly insectivorous diet.



The airborne nectar droplets indicate that sometimes this hummer is a messy eater — or must leave quickly as another hummer is almost literally on its tail.

A couple of the birds spend a lot of time near the nectar feeders, perching close by to chase off anyone who comes near.




They each have favorite perching spots from which they can observe if an “intruder” is coming near the feeder they have claimed.



Sometimes, they fly up to a higher perch so they can see both the front and back yards – a necessary vantage point if they want to keep an eye on where everyone is.


Most ruby-throats have 940 feathers, all of which are replaced each year. As they take little rests, they stretch their feathers and may also groom them.

When a rival approaches, they spread their rectrices (tail feathers) – both when sitting and in the air.


Their feathers are beautifully arranged, looking like scalloped decorations.


They make frequent trips to the feeders and then occasionally “air out” their tongues.


The bill of the ruby-throated hummingbird is one of its most distinctive features. It measures about 0.59-0.79 in (15-20 mm) in length and is said to open no more than about 0.39 in (1 cm wide) at the tip. The hummers in my yard seem to be able to open their mouths to varying extents, however. They consume nectar by extending and contracting their tongues up to 13 times per second.




A quick, only few-second nap is also a frequent behavior. The hummers are almost constantly at the feeders and thus bulking up for their long migration, but they also expend considerable energy chasing one another away from feeders and flowers!




The hummers are not fazed by weather, zipping around rain or shine. Putting on weight and strength for their autumn migration down south is important for survival!

These minute marvels are such a pleasure to watch; I will certainly miss them when they begin their journeys to their wintering grounds.


Resplendent remiges and rectrices – bird beauty from behind

The other day asMourning dove IMG_6565©Maria de Bruyn res I was photographing birds at my feeders, I was struck by the beauty of this bird’s feathers as they lay across its back. The muted colors are wonderful and the scalloped-edge pattern is marvelous. It made me take a look at other birds’ feathers as seen from behind and how they vary in position and shape. I hope you enjoy this short tour and have some fun identifying the birds shown – many are very easy for experienced birders but perhaps some are not for beginning birdwatchers. The answers will be added to the blog next week.

So, we are focusing here on flight feathers, namely the remiges and rectrices. The remiges – or wing feathers – help the bird get lift when flying and support the bird during flight. The rectrices – tail feathers – give the bird stability and provide control.

Red fox sparrow IMG_5745© Maria de Bruyn resHouse finch M de Bruyn resCardinal IMG_6227©Maria de Bruyn res

The outer “vane” (part of the feather above the shaft) is narrower than the inner vane, so the wing feathers are asymmetrical. The tail feathers, on the other hand, are symmetrical in shape and pattern. The “primary” wing feathers are narrower and can be rotated individually, while the secondary remiges are shorter and lie together, even when the bird is flying.

In some species, the wing feathers may reveal a spot of color on the bird’s back when they are not folded completely over one another.

Yellow-rumped warbler IMG_6461©Maria de BruynresHouse finch IMG_6255©Maria de Bruyn res

The feathers also serve other functions, such as keeping the bird warm and dry.

Ruby-throated hummingbird IMG_4221©Maria de BruynresMandarin duck IMG_1605©Maria de Bruyn resHoopoe IMG_4314©Maria de Bruyn res

In some species, the males develop especially resplendent rectrices in thRed-collared widowbird 390©Maria de Bruynreseir breeding plumage – a definite attempt to attract mates.

Interestingly, the total weight of a bird’s feathers is about 2-3 times more than the weight of its bones!

One final quiz question – which bird has the fewest overall feathers and which species has the most?

Next week: curious deer