Whitesburg KY

Hummingbird watch begins early

Several people who keep an eye on birds and share their notes with me have had hummingbirds visiting their feeders for weeks.

My buddy, Tom Miller, even had one in February or early March. It’s been so long now that I’ve forgotten the exact date but I do know that it was before that spell of cold weather that wiped out the redbuds and dogwoods and most other stuff that sprouted early.

Suffice to say that I will have no peaches on my trees again this year.

But this is supposed to be about hummingbirds.

Anyway, I don’t usually look for hummers to show up until the middle of May but, because everybody else was seeing them, I hung out a couple of feeders on the front porch a couple of weeks ago and one showed up within minutes. Apparently it had been perched in the persimmon tree twiddling whatever hummingbirds twiddle and waiting patiently for the feeders to appear.

By the next day we had two more and all three are making steady, if not constant, use of the sugar water containers dangling there from the porch eaves. All three are females and they seem to get along very well with each other. Sometimes two of them will be using the same feeder at the same time without fussing over territorial issues.

I suspect they are building nests in the persimmon and the peach trees and waiting for husbands to show up at which time all hell will break loose. Or perhaps these are Mormon hummers who plan to share a single hubby. I haven’t read up on hummingbird breeding habits.

All I know for sure is that over the last several years, our front porch and lawn turn into aerial battle zones when the males show up. I’m not sure why, but the males will try to guard every feeder on the premises (by the time you read this I’ll have four) and they don’t want any other hummers coming about.

So one will fly in, get the dominant male’s attention and while he is chasing that one away, the others will flock in and feed until he returns in a few seconds to run them away and then feed himself. This goes on all day from dawn ’til dusk and they will strike each other so soundly in mid air that tiny little feathers trickle to the ground.

The same is somewhat true for gold and purple finches but the action is not so vicious. As of this writing I only have out one finch feeder and at least six flocks consisting of five to eight individual birds each compete for it.

And while there is some violence from time to time, the finches seem to have worked out some sort of agreement whereby one group feeds for a few minutes, then moves away for another group and so forth as though they were in a revolving door. It’s also interesting to me that Tom has finches in his backyard year round but they only show up here in warm weather.

A few days ago I was kicked back on the front porch swing late in the afternoon reading the paper and watching the hummers enjoy a feeder no more than five feet away when one of them flew down and perched on the back of the swing literally at eye level.

She cocked her head, stared at me with one eye for several seconds and then raised her wing and commenced grooming herself. I watched her for a minute or so and finally turned the page. She flew out across the lawn and then straight back to the swing.

Now, when I go out to the porch and settle back, SusieQ, as I have started calling her, shows up to keep me company. She will first use the feeder and then perch on the swing. We’ve never seen her use that perch unless I’m in the swing.

I’ve tried putting my hand up on the back of the swing and easing it toward her, but she flies away when I get within six inches or so and then returns so that she is at least a foot away.

My goal for the summer is to have SusieQ actually light on my hand and get a photograph of that event by using a remote control on the camera. So far she is afraid of the camera tripod but I’ve only had it out there since yesterday.

In the meantime, when the ruby-throated males show up and commence giving SusieQ a hard time, they’ll have me to contend with. I suspect that her friendliness is no accident and that she is buttering me up right now so that she will have some protection and uncontested ownership of the swing-side feeder when the competition gets heavy come June.

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