Hummingbirds, Spiderwebs and My Left Foot

hummingbird in flight

Anna’s Hummingbird at the Feeder

Hummingbirds flap their wings about 55 times a second!   The resulting sound is soothing, like a constant heartbeat. We have three feeders in our garden, in addition to several of their favorite flowers. When the plants are in bloom, the Anna’s Hummingbirds enjoy Salvia (we have four) and Abutilon (we have six).

While taking pictures of my lemons for a different post, I could hear one flapping over head.  I took a few shots near one of the feeders, before she flew past me into the shrubs. For the first time, I saw her dip her beak into a spider web. I managed one shot before she flew away.

hummingbird gathering spiderwebbing

Anna’s Hummingbird Gathering Spiderweb for her Nest

Did you know that hummingbirds line their nest with spider webs? They also eat soft-bodied insects when they’re feeding their young. The prospect of a nest of hummingbirds nearby has me feeling giddy.

Footnotes

It’s been almost three months since my foot surgery. If you’re new to my blog, you can catch up here.  Dr. Sheth said I’m actually “ahead of schedule.” She kindly added that she thought my positive outlook and my commitment to following the healing protocol all worked in my favor.  So while I still have some pain and swelling, I have the all-clear for walking again.  I’m one happy woman.

Fostering a Hummingbird

It’s been an amazing 24 hours. Our neighbor came to the door last night with news that she’d found a baby hummingbird. She spotted the hummingbird on the sidewalk while walking her dog. They brought the bird home but were unable to contact a rescue group on a Sunday night.

Together we went back to the spot a few blocks over hoping to spot the mama and the nest. Alas, no luck.

So…I brought him home. My boys were pretty excited to have a fledgling hummingbird in our midst and a social one at that. They took turns keeping him warm till I figured out a temporary nest.

baby Anna's hummingbird

My oldest son keeps watch for a while

In the end I used a small Sake cup, which is about the size of the nest mama bird would build. I lined the bottom with cotton, then shredded mohair fibers and made a fluffy nest for the night.

hummingbird in homemade nest

Cozy in his homemade nest

Mike made a batch of sugar-water using the formula we put in our feeders: Four parts clear water, and one part sugar. I offered our tiny guest drops of nectar from the tip of my finger. His tiny tongue lapping sugar-water from my finger was almost imperceptible.

He was mellow and trusting and once resting on my thumb, he didn’t want to let go. I eventually transferred him to his surrogate nest and after one last check, turned out the lights.

I should also mention that I live with three cats so finding a safe spot was critical. We have a laundry room off of the guest washroom, so I set him up in there. We used the ‘clean room’ method of walking into one room and closing the door, then going into the inner room and closing that door. Even then, I covered the nest with a ventilated laundry basket *and* a towel.

I tossed and turned in bed this morning starting at 4:00 am. Eventually I gave in and got up to take a look. There he was, cozy in his nest and looking content. I fed him three more times before leaving to take the boys to school. My friend, Laura offered the great tip of feeding him from the end of a drinking straw. In between feedings I did some research online. I checked in with my friend Ellen who volunteers at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley. I’ve been listening to Ellen’s stories for months during our shared Pilates class. I know her to be caring and knowledgeable.

Hummingbirds are not easily rehabilitated and require constant care. They must eat every twenty to thirty minutes from dawn till dusk. Can you imagine? I had two clients today, on different sides of town in addition to carpooling three teenagers to school. It would not be possible to give him the care he needed.

Anna's hummingbird

Still waiting for his tail feathers to grow in

After checking in with my client and dropping the teens at school, I drove to the Silicon Valley Wildlife Center one town over. While it was a relief to know the hummingbird was in excellent hands, I was melancholy too.  I connected with the tiny creature and felt just a twinge of sadness when I let him go.

the wildlife center of silicon valley

The Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley. Can you see the mature hummingbird flying toward me in the lower right corner?

Here’s a one-minute video from this morning. I’m feeding him with the tip of a coffee stir straw.

Good to know:

World of Hummingbirds: Hummingbird First Aid

Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley: A Rehabilitation, Release & Educational Facility

How to tell a male from a female?  It’s hard to know

Birds and Blueberries

A few months ago I took a beginning birding class from Let’s Go Birding! Although we learned about hummingbirds in the classroom, the field trip the following Saturday covered the gamut. Ever since I’ve enjoyed identifying the birds visiting our garden.

I have a nifty “Quick Guide” to commonly seen local birds to help me out. The illustrated guide gives a brief description of the bird’s size and coloring, along with the time of year they appear in your area. They’ve even provided a tiny box so you can check off the ones you’ve seen. Who can resist a little check box? Not me!

Ana's Hummingbird

Ana’s Hummingbird

The Ana’s hummingbirds are here year round. We have three feeders to choose from, along with Mexican Sage, Abutilon, Raspberries and a few other flowers they enjoy. During nesting season the females also eat soft spiders and other small insects for protein.

lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

I spotted a Lesser Goldfinch this morning in the triangle garden. This one is enjoying  Bachelor Button seeds. I didn’t know before today that Bachelor Buttons and sunflowers are from the same family. They’re both members of the Asteraceae or Compositae family, a favorite of this tiny yellow bird.

Bewick's Wren

Bewick’s Wren


Bewick’s Wrens
eat the eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults of insects and other small invertebrates. They’ll occasionally eat seeds and fruit. I spied this one over the weekend on the back fence.  Dropped fruit means lots of tiny fruit flies, so as soon as I cleared out with my camera, I’m sure a smorgasbord was under way.

So, what do blueberries and birds have in common? Absolutely nothing. I’m just delighted to have my first handful of blueberries flourishing in the garden.

 

blueberries

Blueberries

Hummingbirds: Taking Turns

Our hummingbird feeders are draining quickly this week, with several birds taking turns at the feeder.  I hope this means one of the female hummingbirds is nesting nearby. The adults need to eat every twenty minutes. Once the female lays her eggs, she is in constant search of food.

Many birds work in pairs to ready the nest, but not in this case. The male of the species doesn’t stay around to help. A flyby exchange of fluids lasting seconds is all it takes to fertilize the eggs. Then the promiscuous male hummingbird is off.

The female hummingbird lays a pair of eggs at a time. She nests five or six times a season. Tiny eggs are the size of  tic tacs®, laid in a golf-ball-sized nest.  She uses soft grasses and twigs, then wraps the nest with silk from a spider’s web to keep it together.

In addition to eating nectar, hummingbirds consume soft-bodied insects for protein.

While I consider putting my feet up over the weekend, she’ll be hunting and gathering, building and nesting and finally rearing a pair of infants till they fledge.

Head slap: so *that* is how she maintains that svelte figure.

What are your plans this weekend?

Female Anna's Hummingbird

Female Anna’s Hummingbird

Male Anna's Hummingbird

Male Anna’s Hummingbird

What’s in the feeder?

Sugar water. Mix one part white sugar with four parts water and your done. Food coloring is unnecessary and harmful to these tiny birds.

Birdwatching Fieldtrip: Fun in the Rain

We took a hummingbird class at  Los Gatos Birdwatcher last week, then met for a birdwatching field trip over the weekend.  Lead by Lisa Myers of Let’s Go Birding, we drove to the  Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.  Located at the tip of McClellan Ranch in Cupertino, trees, native shrubs and a number of feeders attract resident and migrating birds.  We stood under the awning with a light rain falling, and made like a tree.  Trees with binoculars, that is, and a few cameras, too.

Lisa pointed out that some people ‘bird’, some people photograph and some (raising my hand) try to do both. You can’t do both well, but I tried, knowing I wanted to share as much as I could with you.

Like so many things in life, once you tune in to something, the world opens up.  Lisa called out several species, pointing out gender, mating patterns, feeding habits and other bits of wisdom.  She has a dry sense of humour along with a vast knowledge of native birds, making for an interesting and entertaining morning.

She jokingly pointed out that serious birders will sneer if you mention seeing Canadian Geese and Seagulls.  The correct terms: Canada Geese and Gulls. Conversely, she has to bite her tongue when customers come into the store and swear they saw a canary or an eagle in their back yard.

Although we did see hummingbirds, they were fairly shy.  They didn’t approach the feeder until we were well out-of-the-way.  At home the resident hummers are quite bold, and will buzz up to us on the deck in the summer.  They definitely know the hand that feeds them.

No matter.  We saw plenty of other birds and I came away with even more appreciation of the songbirds in our area.

McClellan Ranch

McClellan Ranch

Male birds flaunt their colorful plumage in order to attract a mate. The female, on the other hand, is nondescript. Since she’s the one sitting on the nest incubating the young, it makes sense that she blends in, keeping her and the nest safe from predators. When I took the picture, below, I didn’t even know that the female of the pair was there.

Male and Female House Finch

Male and Female House Finch

Some of the pictures, below, are clearer than others, but I wanted to give you an idea of the variety on view Saturday morning.

A variety of song birds

A variety of song birds

Upper Left: Black Phoebe, Song Sparrow (?) Woodpecker and Mourning Dove.

I’ve been working from memory and my trusty Local Birds of the San Francisco Bay Area Quick Guide to identify the birds pictured below. I’m going to have to check with Lisa to see if I got it right.

More song birds

More song birds

I’m more confident about identifying this crowd: Behind the stop sign, a House Finch and a Lesser Goldfinch, at the feeder, Lesser Goldfinch, two White-crowned sparrows, and at the top of the tree, a White-tailed Kite.

Do you have a favorite songbird in your neighborhood? Please let me know in the comments below. Sharing of photos encouraged.

Fabulous resources in Silicon Valley:

Beginning Birding: Hummingbird Class

Don’t you just love learning new things?  It’s especially fun when it’s something your passionate about.  We took a hummingbird class at the spectacular Los Gatos Birdwatcher.  This locally owned store describes themselves as

the nature lover’s general store, specializing in everything to do with bird feeding and bird watching.

If you’re local, or planning a visit to the area, it’s a must see. The owners and staff are wonderful people, knowledgeable and helpful in every way.  Their current dog in residence is a chocolate Cocker spaniel named Marley.

Lisa Myers of Let’s Go Birding presented the hummingbird class, then lead us on a two-hour field trip Saturday morning.  We had so much fun.  Lisa leads a variety of birding trips throughout the bay area.  She’s incredibly knowledgeable with a wonderful sense of humour.

Lisa Myers and Freddy Howell

Lisa Myers and Freddy Howell

We’ve been feeding hummingbirds in our garden for as long as I can remember. We have several feeders and hummingbird-attracting plants.

2014, 03-20

Hummingbirds in our garden

I’ve read a number of books and articles over the years, but still found much to learn.  It’s also nice spending time with a group of  like-minded folks.

Here are a few things I didn’t know:

  • There are over 300 species of hummingbirds, but only six or seven in the Bay Area.
  • Hummingbirds are native to the Americas.  They’re not found anywhere else in the world.
  • Yellow attracts bees, red attracts hummingbirds.  Therefore a hummingbird feeder with yellow plastic ‘flowers’ sends out mixed messages.
  • Anna’s Hummingbirds, native to our area, live here year round. There is no need to remove feeders during the colder months.
  • Hummingbirds are the only bird that can hover in the air, as well as fly forward and backward.
Anna's hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

It was fascinating learning about torpor. Hummingbirds enter this state of hibernation nightly to conserve energy.  I found the following explanation at ScienceBlogs™

Even sleeping hummingbirds have huge metabolic demands that must be met simply to survive the night when they cannot forage. To meet this energetic challenge, hummingbirds save enough energy to survive cold nights by lowering their internal thermostat at night, becoming hypothermic. This reduced physiological state is an evolutionary adaptation that is referred to as torpor.

Torpor is a type of deep sleep where an animal lowers its metabolic rate by as much as 95%. By doing so, a torpid hummingbird consumes up to 50 times less energy when torpid than when awake. This lowered metabolic rate also causes a cooled body temperature. A hummingbird’s night time body temperature is maintained at a hypothermic threshold that is barely sufficient to maintain life. This threshold is known as their set point and it is far below the normal daytime body temperature of 104°F or 40°C recorded for other similarly sized birds.

Isn’t that interesting?

Please be sure to check back tomorrow for news and pictures from our two-hour field trip to the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.

Fabulous resources in Silicon Valley:

Hummingbird Songs

Hummer in the orange tree

Hummer in the orange tree

It’s hard to beat this fall weather. Cool mornings warm up to the low 80s F ( C). Autumn leaves drop slowly around here, but drop they do. The neighborhood maples have a dusting of gold along the top.  I’ve seen a few of their leaves carried down by the breeze.

Hummingbirds migrate south this time of year, though it’s never clear to me if the hummers in our neighborhood stay put, or if our birds move even further south, while their northern counterparts fly here. It’s a mystery, but a pleasant one. I don’t feel compelled to solve it.

We keep our feeders going year round and I’ve heard that they help the migratory birds passing through. Our Salvia remains in full bloom and should flower for another month. The hummers are big fans. We like to do our part to help our tiny visitors on their way.

This gorgeous fellow rested in our orange tree this afternoon. He seemed happy with the dappled sun on his back. I wonder if hummingbirds can actually drink from an orange or if the skin is too thick?

Sure, I can Google all these answers but for now I’m just writing from the heart. These little hummers make my heart sing.

looking up

Looking up

Halloween Countdown:

ceramic pumpkin

Birthday pumpkin from a dear friend