Young hummingbirds testing their wings

BirdingJune 15, 2014 

Hummingbirds can amaze observers with their flight skills, especially when the young birds test their wings for the first time.

JEFFREY P. MAYOR/STAFF FILE, 2013

Unless you’ve trained as a fighter pilot or taken a ride with the Blue Angles, it’s impossible to imagine what it feels like to be a young hummingbird newly out of the nest.

They seem to go berserk. It’s obvious they have been let loose in an overpowered machine.

Young hummingbirds are beginning to liven up the yard in their own special way and every year, I can’t help wondering how they feel when they feel the horsepower their tiny engines possess. We are being treated to the antics of what appear to be two siblings. Their quarreling probably started before they left the nest. Now each has its own “jet” and they are at it in earnest.

Even if you don’t see them, you can hear their bickering. What one wants to feed on, the other wants, and there is no sharing.

Red hot poker plants were the catalyst for a recent showdown. Now that so many flowers are blooming, it’s a tossup to see who likes them the most – the hummingbirds or the honeybees.

One young rufous was bouncing from plant to plant, enjoying the nectar and dodging bees. Then its rival decided to take over the poker plants. One bird actually did a side roll the same way we’ve seen the Angels fly. Flying on its side, it did a quick loop around the old cherry tree. The other bird had stopped in the cherry tree and waited until its sibling landed in the Beauty Bush nearby.

The chase continued throughout that part of the yard between the poker plants and the flowering Beauty Bush. Obviously there wasn’t enough space for both of these tiny tyrants. At one point, they were using their sword-like bills jousting in a manner the Scarlet Pimpernel would have admired. Straight up into the sky, they dueled nonstop until one broke away to be chased by the other.

These skilled flyers are fascinating and often claim some of my gardening time. I have to stop and watch to see what happens next. They can make the hair on the back of your head stand on end when practicing lighting-fast maneuvers inches from your nose or shoulder. They don’t give you a second look when they are chasing one another.

All of this grandstanding includes more than hummingbirds. It’s obvious good manners aren’t part of their upbringing. They see nothing wrong with hassling other birds who are not hummers.

For some reason or other, they appear to carry a chip on their shoulder when it comes to chickadees. Chickadees aren’t shrinking violets when it comes to a confrontation. The adults show their annoyance when young hummingbirds buzz them repeatedly. The hummers make short feinting jabs at the chickadees who raise their crowns and look like they want to swat them away like so many mosquitoes.

Most of this action takes place in the vicinity of the birdbath because both species don’t want to share the water.

How long the youngsters will be entertaining the yard’s other occupants is hard to say, but I think they will stick around for a few more weeks. The bulk of the antics seems to come from the young rufous hummingbirds. The older Annas have already learned some manners.

Quick note: If you have noticed that your hummingbird feeders aren’t being used as much as they were this spring, there is a good reason. The abundance of flowering plants is drawing the hummingbirds away from the feeders. Not only is there an ample supply of nectar available but the tiny insects found on the plants provide protein which hummingbirds require for themselves and their young.

Write to Joan Carson, PO Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self–addressed, stamped envelope for a reply or email joanpcarson@comcast.net.

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