Moore: Hummingbird wars
The month of August is peak season for hummingbirds in the Central Arizona Highlands. Migration activity is in full swing for several hummingbird species, including Anna’s, black-chinned, rufous, broad-tailed, calliope, and on rare occasions broad-billed and Costa’s.
With so many hummingbirds gathering at feeders, tanking up to fuel their migration, sometimes it seems you need an air traffic controller to coordinate all of their comings and goings. Then there are times when you wish you had a fly swatter to teach that one aggressive rufous hummingbird a lesson!
Most hummingbird feeders have enough capacity to meet the needs of all of the hummingbirds wanting to feed in your yard. However, there are often one or two rufous hummingbirds that rule the roost and constantly chase away all of the other hummingbirds.
Sometimes customers get so frustrated with a bully at their feeders, they hang out a second feeder to solve the problem. For example, they put a feeder in the backyard and one in the front yard. What often ends up happening is one dominant male lays claim to the feeder in the back yard and another lays claim to the feeder in the front yard—and the problem persists!
I am frequently asked by customers what they can do to discourage the one dominant hummingbird that is creating so much chaos at their feeders. The answer is surprising. Somehow, having multiple feeders within a few feet of one another seems to be the best strategy for breaking down the stronghold enjoyed by one hummingbird.
Recently a customer sent me a picture of his hummingbird feeder set-up. He said he found this particular arrangement as being the most effective way of maintaining a semblance of harmony at his feeders. In the picture you can see that all of his feeders are clustered closely together, and at varying heights.
On rare occasions, there are times when a collection of hummingbirds feed harmoniously at only one or two feeders. I have found that hummingbirds will often feed together peacefully late in the evening and either before or after a storm. During other times of the day, however, this is not the case.
It seems hummingbirds are not willing to expend a lot of energy right before settling down for the night, which makes sense. On average, hummingbirds visit feeders every 12 to 15 minutes during the day. This means during our long summer days, each individual hummingbird will make fifty or more visits to your feeders.
However, at dusk they seem to really tank up, spending more frequent and longer visits at the feeders in preparation for a ten-hour fast from feeding. I think this is why they are less inclined to chase and fight right at dusk — they are focused on preparing for a long stretch of time without feeding.
The iBird Pro app on a mobile phone informs us that a group of hummingbirds has many collective nouns including a “bouquet,” a “glittering,” a “hover,” a “shimmer,” and a “tune.” Not sure who came up with all of those descriptive names, but I know many of our customers have their own names, such as ‘flying pigs’!
Right now I have eight hummingbird feeders in my yard.
In mid-September we will begin to experience a significant drop-off in hummingbird numbers as they head south for the winter. That is when I begin taking down one feeder each week as hummingbird numbers decline.
Until then, fill your feeders, sit back, and enjoy the show!
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with three locations in northern Arizona — Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at email@example.com.