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Tue, May 21

Hummingbird battles on the Fourth of July

Since early spring we have had a male Anna's hummingbird which has laid claim to our front yard, where one of our hummingbird feeders is located. On a daily basis I witness his aggressive and territorial behavior as he drives away other hummingbirds who would visit the feeder if he would only allow it.

I frequently sit outside on a bench in our entryway early in the morning, and spend some time reading, taking in all of the early morning bird sounds. In addition to the bird songs, I also pay attention to the non-verbal sounds which birds produce, such as the noise their wings create when they fly.

Hummingbirds create very unique sounds with their wings, sounds which could almost be described as being mechanical in nature. If you have ever heard the sound produced by the wings of a male Broad-tailed hummingbird, you know what I mean. You will usually hear this hummingbird coming long before you see it.

On Wednesday, July Fourth, as I was enjoying the serenity of early morning (before six a.m.,) I heard a wing sound which was distinctively different from the sounds produced by Anna's hummingbirds. Looking up, I saw a brilliant male Rufous hummingbird, visiting a resplendent Red Yucca stalk filled with blossoms.

His efforts to gather nectar from the Red Yucca were quickly cut short once he was discovered by the male Anna's. The chasing and fighting was immediate - we had fireworks in our yard that morning!

Our yard is filled with hummingbird-friendly plants. In addition to the Red Yucca, we also have a lot of Salvia and Penstemmon. Each of these plants produces abundant tubular shaped flowers which hummingbirds love.

I think when the Rufous Hummingbird discovered our yard, he thought he'd died and gone to heaven. The temptation of all of these nectar-producing plants was too great. It was certainly worth any amount of fighting with an Anna's Hummingbird!

Over and over again, the Rufous would make forays into the yard to try to steal a quick sip of nectar, only to be chased away each time by the Anna's. With the Rufous back in town, I know it is necessary to put up more feeders.

Once the Rufous start returning (they are already making their way south,) you will witness a lot of skirmishing at your feeders. Usually, the only way to counter all of the hostility at your feeder is to put up more feeders. One idea to try is to place multiple nectar feeders in close proximity to one another, so that no one hummingbird can guard all of the feeders simultaneously.

If you have feeders scattered far apart (as I do right now,) it makes it easy for one dominant male to guard the feeder from other hummingbirds. However, if you cluster multiple feeders close together it usually creates a situation where one hummingbird cannot defend all of the feeders at the same time.

To see this principle in action, I suggest a visit to the Lynx Lake Restaurant off of Walker Road. You will see that they have multiple feeders close together, creating a situation where the hummingbirds get along and feed harmoniously at the feeders. If you haven't tried this strategy, you might consider it this year, especially now that the Rufous are on their way back. So the bird of the week to be on the lookout for is the returning Rufous Hummingbird.

Happy Birding!

If you have specific questions or issues related to wild birds which you would like discussed in future articles, you can submit them to Jay's Bird Barn, 1046 Willow Creek Road, Suite 105, Prescott, AZ 86301 or log onto www.jaysbirdbarn.com and click on Ask Eric, which will link you with my e-mail address eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.

Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, a backyard wild bird store located in the Safeway/K-Mart shopping center on Willow Creek Road. He has been an avid birder for over 40 years.

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