Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Hummingbird Games

In the spirit of the Olympics, I present to you "The Hummingbird Games" - now taking place at my house, every day from sun up to sun down. I'm not sure who's getting the gold, frankly they all look alike to me (and they all seem to be female). This is my first year with a liquid feeder; I relied on plants alone in the previous years. Watching has been a lot fun, both from inside the window and outside.

With cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Who knew they were so fierce? Probably lots of people, people with feeders already, but not me! These little things use up a lot of energy chasing each other away from feeders and flowers that they have “claimed”. No wonder they come back so often, gasping for another sip.

I don’t know how many of them are working together, but there are at least four individuals involved – I’ve seen 3 apparently chasing one, or was that two chasing two? One of them ran into the window the other day and fell to the deck, stunned. I ran out and scooped her up so that she could breathe properly (birds seem to recover better when held upright, in my experience). After about five minutes, she put her tongue back in her mouth and zoomed off, no doubt anxious to rejoin the fight.

They are getting so used to me that close ups are possible!

The air is filled with the sound of their calls (chitit, chitit, chit) or their loud scolding. I hear them whenever I am outside. Sometimes they are so into the chase that the presence of humans doesn’t matter. Their mid-air acrobatics bring them oh-so-close for a split second and then they are gone. I have tried in vain to take pictures of two of them together.
I have a lot of flowers around – most of them are in the front but separated by a good distance. I thought the distance would be sufficient to allow them to share. That doesn't seem to be true. But the distance is sufficient to let various ones sneak a quick visit before being chased off. The late blooming plumleaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium) has bloomed much longer than usual this year, offering up bright red trumpet blossoms long before the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) opened.

A sip of the Malvaviscus (yellow blotch on head is part of the flower)
At various times, one of them will position herself on a small branch to watch over an area. It might be on the azalea near the feeder, on the serviceberry near the front bed, or even high up in the maple where she has the best view of all (but is furthest away from the strike zone). I saw one female perch above the turk’s cap hibiscus (Malvaviscus drummondii) to watch; after a few minutes, she couldn’t resist a quick nip to tide her over. Then it was right back to her station. She was sporting pollen bling on her forehead later, you should click on that picture to see it close up.

The native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) resides on the side yard along with a few red salvia plants (Salvia coccinea). The honeysuckle has been blooming for over a month – I wonder if the hummingbird visits actually encourage it to keep going! This is the cultivar 'Major Wheeler' which is advertised as a bloom factory.

With Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler'

Back in the front, I was surprised to see one hummingbird repeatedly visit the skullcap (Scutellaria incana) that is blooming so profusely. It has cardinal flower right next to it and she will hop from one to the other, back and forth. It has the flower shape they love, but I am surprised that she would recognize the blue flower as, well, a flower! They seem to prefer red/pink flowers.

Checking out the Scutellaria incana
I'm sure the games will last for many weeks yet - long after the human Olympic games are over. It looks like it's time to refill the feeder - ladies, take five!


  1. Ellen, ours LOVE blue flowers! I'm told they really like blue lobelia... I've watched them many times on a "black & blue" salvia that survived our mild winter this year. But yes, ours are also all over the lonicera sempervirens. Glad you're having such a show!

  2. Hi is my hope that you will return to flowers as your food source. I had never thought of it until a naturalist in Ecuador made the point that if sugar is bad for humans, and cannot be good for the birds. I feedonly oranges to Orioles now ( not lucky enough to have many hummnigbirds) Just a thought..Love your posts!

  3. I didn't realize hummers like Scutellaria, I guess I'll have to add that to my want list. I can't wait for my Lobelia to bloom, they're going to love it!

  4. This is a nice article. Ours also like the b/b salvia and the white flowers of native bottlebrush buckeye.

  5. Great photos, Ellen. :) You have inspired me to focus on plants attractive to hummingbirds next. I have some, but I need a LOT more--huge swaths of things and a succession of bloom to carry them throughout the year--and allow me to watch them throughout the season. :)

    Thanks for sharing.