Hummingbird Horseplay

Hummingbird wars–that’s what I call the zooming, zipping, and general territory defending that the teensy winged wonders engage in, especially toward the end of their time here in Central Texas.  Hummingbirds are now preparing for their fall migration (some have already left), and their wintering in Mexico and Central America.  This summer, I’ve observed both a male and female Black-chinned Hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri, in my garden, though I was never able to get clear captures of either.  Here,

…a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, rests while surveying her territory, also known as my back garden.  The literature about the Ruby-throated suggests that the male is the main aggressor, defending his territory and food sources with great vim and vigor, but I’ve noticed that both genders appear enthusiastically antagonistic to encroachments by critters, especially when those critters are other hummingbirds. Though it isn’t always other hummers that are chased;  in July I witnessed a female chase a Carolina Chickadee around the garden–that was a hoot!

I employ in a bit of eye-rolling when I hear people exclaim how “mean” hummingbirds are, as if human beings can pass judgement on any other creature in the nastiness quotient.  I usually respond to the hummingbirds-are-mean comments with a you’d be mean too, if you were tiny and vulnerable, traveled alone for hundreds to thousands of miles, back and forth, attempting to locate enough food to survive and thrive while doing so.  The hummingbird’s migration is a feat that requires a certain level of courage and I’m certainly not going to pass judgement on any critter with that kind of chutzpah.

This is the same (?) or perhaps another, female Ruby-throated enjoying a quick junk-food snack of sugar syrup.

I haven’t hung a hummingbird feeder for quite a few years, but bought one this year in a weak moment.  I grow lots of plants that hummers love:  Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus,  is a huge favorite,

…but they also love Yellow BellsTecoma stans, as well as most plants in the salvia family.  But when these adorable birds are feeding, they’re often far across the garden and not easily seen as they move about the shrubs and around the limbs of plants.  For purely selfish reasons, I hung a feeder on the back patio cover to better observe and enjoy their visits.  They chase one another from the feeder, buzzing past the astonished and thrilled gardener.  Hummers also demonstrate possessiveness with their favorite plants, too. Throughout August and into September, one male Ruby-throat claimed three Turk’s Cap shrubs in my back garden as HIS!  He spent lots of calories defending his particular nectar-loaded buffet.

To augment their liquid diet with protein, hummingbirds eat a variety of insects like mosquitoes (not nearly enough, if you ask me), flies and even aphids, which  are plucked off of plants.

The Ruby-throated is so named for the brilliant red feathers adorning the throat of the male of the species.   This male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, rested in my Desert WillowChilopsis linearis,

…but wasn’t situated quite right for the show of scarlet feathers.  At off angles, the feathers appear rusty-brown to dull red.  After this photo was taken the bird flew away from the tree and toward me in hot pursuit of another hummer which I didn’t see at first. That ruby-red throat came directly at me, in brilliant, flashing color. You’ll  have to take my word for it because I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to capture a bird flying that fast.


As cool fronts move through Central Texas over the next few weeks, the remaining hummingbirds will wing their way south, surfing blustery winds.  I’ve notice fewer hummingbird antics this past week; Mr.That-Turk’s-Cap-is-mine-Mine-MINE!!  is no longer around and I think  one or two of the female visitors are gone. There are the occasional hummers who overwinter here, but mostly they reside in sunny Mexico until spring migration northward.  They’ll be back in my garden next spring for their courting, during summer for raising chicks, and in early autumn, careening around the garden, chasing each other and providing entertainment for this gardener and backyard birder.

And since I think the hummingbirds are looking good in my gardenI’m joining with Gillian at Country Garden UK and her new Looking Good in the Garden meme, which will be a regular Friday feature.   Pop on over to read about what’s looking good in her garden, as well as other gardens.

Wildlife Wednesday, October 2014

I breathe a sigh of relief and with a So long! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out! farewell to the long hot of summer and a cheery, Well, hello there! Where have you been these past months? welcome to cooler nights, softer days, and more frequent rainfall.  I know I’m not the only one looking forward to the bounty of autumn.  Birds and butterflies are migrating, squirrels are gathering acorns–their silly, obnoxious behavior replete with more immediate purpose, and perennials and trees, formerly hunkered down for summer’s blasting sun and relentless heat, are re-engaging in life as they blossom and berry for winter provisions and the next generation.

Ever hopeful of seeing Monarchs wafting through my gardens, I sometimes ignore their kin, the Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus,

…and I shouldn’t.  The Queen is smaller, sports more dots than lines in its wing patterning, and also favors the Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, for nectaring.  It is equal in beauty to the Monarch.

If butterflies are the sparkly, showy theater kids of the Lepidoptera world, their moth relatives are the quieter, more reserved geeky kids. Early one morning, I spied this muted beauty,

…resting on a Turk’s Cap leaf.  I almost missed him and had to double-back on my stroll, so unobtrusive was this Vine Sphinx mothEumorpha vitis.

On the stem of fennel, I observed a Black Swallowtail butterfly larva, Papilio polyxenes, as it was metamorphosing into its adult self.  I didn’t photograph the immobile J-shaped caterpillar until it was established in full, chrysalis mode.  The play of light on the chrysalis renders its colors iridescent.

I observed this chrysalis for several days, but on the fourth morning, it was gone.  The strings that attached the chrysalis to the stem were severed and there was no empty chrysalis and no adult butterfly nearby, drying her wings. I suspect the chrysalis became someone’s meal during the night or at sunrise.  I know whatever breakfasted on the developing butterfly probably needed it, but I was sorry for the end of this winged jewel.

Strictly speaking, this photo of a Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta, is not that great, but I love the glow of a late afternoon Texas sun on the colors and the shadows cast by the Red Yucca bloom on the wings.

I saw this guy out of the corner of my eye, one evening.

With his ephemeral movements, it took several minutes for me to find him again.

He is a Great PondhawkErythemis vesiculosa, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one before.  He was hard to spot, flitting, flying, and landing in rapid

Camera shy, this chap didn’t remain in one place long enough for many good photographs. But he is oh-so-pretty when motionless for a moment or two.

Of course, my honeybees are active, as always.

It feels like a cheat for me to consider my little bees as “wildlife” since building two hives for them in my garden.  However, they are essential threads in the pollination fabric of my gardens and the surrounding areas, so indeed they’re part of October’s Wildlife Wednesday!

This Carolina ChickadeePoecile carolinensis, darted to and fro as it nibbled on the sunflower seed I sometimes provide for birds.

I confess to mixed feelings and some inconsistencies about using backyard bird feeders.  When I fill those feeders, I attract many White-winged Doves and various Sparrows, both of which I consider nuisance birds.  But during spring and fall migrations, or when lovely little songbirds visit, or someone out-of-the ordinary noshes, I’m glad those feeders are full.

Speaking of migration and out-of-the-ordinary, this Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus, perched prettily on limbs of my Desert Willow.

Migratory through Texas, this cutie was a brief visitor that I at first mistakenly identified as a female Lesser Goldfinch.  It was only when researching the identity of a hummingbird that my Cornell Ornithology Lab Merlin Bird ID phone app spit out a photo of the Least Flycatcher that looked just like this:

I realized my original guess at the bird was way off base.  The truth is that I’m lousy at bird identification.  Oh, I can catch the obvious ones–Blue Jays and Cardinals and the like, but ones with the more subtle coloring and markings?  Those that are skittish, shy and hard to monitor?  I’m not so great with the required skills in observation and the patience in learning names and families.  That’s one of the reasons why I’m hosting this meme–it’ll help me to better learn about my garden visitors.

That’s the plan anyway.

Late summer has always been the best time of year for hummingbird viewing in Austin. There aren’t as many hummers as there once were (sadly, that is a common refrain in gardening and wildlife circles), but there were more hummingbirds in my gardens this past month than in several years.   For a few days there was quite the hummingbird rumble occurring in my front gardens. Primarily between this one,

and this male Ruby-throated HummingbirdArchilochus colubris.

These two and several others that I couldn’t get photos of, dive-bombed and chased each other–all between sips from the blooms of Turk’s Cap, salvias of all sorts, Barbados Cherry and numerous other quick-stop nectar sources.  The adversaries took turns landing on the top of the tomato cage on the Green Tower, presumably to survey their territory and harass competitors as needed.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird was an easy identification, but not so this other hummer.

At first, I thought it was an Anna Hummingbird, but once I read they neither live nor migrate anywhere near Central Texas, I discounted that identification. Duh.

I’ve decided that this hummer is either at female Ruby-throated or a female Broad-tailed HummingbirdSelasphorus platycercus. I’m leaning toward the Broad-tailed as the correct identification only because of the slight orange tint toward the bottom of her belly.

The Hummingbird Wars were entertaining, with the hummers zooming and buzzing by me a they waged their territorial turf war.  I tried to talk sense to them, to convince them that there is plenty for everyone and that they need to work and play well together. Alas, they continued aggressively protecting their temporary food bar.  I left town, a cold front or two has blown through, and I haven’t seen any hummers since because they ride the southward-bound winds to Mexico and Central America.  I wish them well as they make their way, each migrating alone, to more southern latitudes and tropical growth–where there should be plenty of nectar for all to share. Play nice, little hummers.

I enjoy lots of wildness in my gardens and I’m sure you do too. Please join in posting about the wild visitors to your gardens for October Wildlife Wednesday. Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your post for Wildlife Wednesday so we can all enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Happy Wildlife Wednesday and good wildlife gardening!