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Wed, April 24

Moore: Drought creates lack of natural food sources for wild birds

A male rufous hummingbird.  (Alan Melle/Courtesy)

A male rufous hummingbird. (Alan Melle/Courtesy)

This past week, the hummingbirds in my yard managed to drain the feeders in less than one week’s time. I decided to not only put out an additional feeder, but to put out larger capacity feeders. I feel like I have been playing catch-up with the hummingbird feeding activity in my yard, and I have been lagging behind. I now have five feeders out!

On Friday, I heard the distinctive sound rufous hummingbird wings produce when they are in flight. I felt confident in my identification by sound even though I didn’t see the hummingbird. The next day I did a stakeout in my yard, and was able to confirm my suspicions — what I heard the day before was indeed a male rufous hummingbird.

Rufous hummingbirds are an example of a transient species. They don’t winter in Arizona and they don’t breed in Arizona. Instead, they pass through our state in the spring on their way north, and again in late summer on their way south. In spring, they tend to be in a big hurry to get back to their breeding range so they are rarely seen. Rather, they tend to refuel and quickly move on.

However, in summer their southbound migration behavior is very different from their spring flight north. Rufous hummingbirds take a slower pace in summer and are abundant from about the first week of July clear through the end of September.

This past week, while hiking the Centennial Trail, I saw another migrating hummingbird — a male broad-tailed hummingbird. Males are easily identified by the unique, high-pitched sound their wings produce. It is even more distinctive than the sound of a rufous in flight. I have observed four different hummingbird species in Prescott so far this year — Anna’s, Costa’s, rufous and broad-tailed.

In addition to hiking the Centennial Trail, I also spent time hiking a segment of the Prescott Circle Trail. Normally, by this time of year, many of our native bushes are in full bloom. This year, however, I am not seeing anything in bloom. Plants such as desert ceanothus, manzanita, and Wright’s silk-tassel would normally be in full bloom already. I can honestly say I did not see a single bloom on my hikes.

I am convinced our drought conditions have suppressed the natural cycle for blooming. The lack of blooming plants can definitely have an impact on wild birds in the Central Highlands area of Arizona. Many of our early blooming shrubs not only produce nectar for hummingbirds, but additionally, once these blossoms are pollinated, they produce berries that will be consumed next winter by a variety of bird species that winter over.

Unfortunately, no blossoms means no fruit. It will be very interesting to see what this year will bring in the way of natural food sources for wild birds. I encourage my readers to provide sources of water in their yards as well as supplemental food such as seed and nectar, as it appears wild plants are in survival mode and not in reproduction mode.

UPDATE

I want to give a quick update on the ravens that are re-furbishing their nest in our yard. For the last two weeks, they have been bringing a collection of good-sized sticks to the nest. In the last day or two, they have switched from sticks to softer materials to go in the center of the nest where their eggs will rest during the incubation period. I suspect egg-laying will take place any day now.

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 eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.

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