Be Your Own Birder

Hummingbirds Are Brats

All birders tend to have favorite species, and hummingbirds often top the list. It’s no surprise, since these tiny birds are like glittering jewels with their iridescent plumage. Their small size is endearing, not to mention their bold behaviors and prodigious appetites for insects, which makes them welcome in many yards. Nectar is inexpensive and can feed a flock of hummingbirds, which itself has a collection of cute, sweet names – a charm, tune, glittering and bouquet. But I have another word for hummingbirds, and a not-so-popular opinion of them.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird – Photo by Rick from Alabama

Hummingbirds are brats.

Don’t get me wrong, I love them just as much as the next birder, and I gladly mix up nectar and scrub my multiple nectar feeders regularly. I put out a hummingbird swing, and am planning my landscaping to include a wide variety of hummingbird-friendly native plants. I’m even hoping to install a water feature with a suitable bubbler for hummingbird bathing.

But they’re still brats.

Admittedly, it has taken me longer than I wanted to put out hummingbird feeders – more than a year, in fact, as we’ve settled in and adjusted to a radically different climate and birdlife than we enjoyed much further north and west. Instead of welcoming black-chinned, broad-tailed and rufous hummingbirds to my yard, I can only anticipate the arrival of ruby-throated hummingbirds. The anticipation was short-lived, however, as it only took about 30 hours for the first hummingbird to appear and investigate my nectar feeders. The feeders are positioned well out in my yard to be sure they aren’t molested by squirrels, and the bright, sunny location is eye-catching to show off the red feeder accents and attract hummingbirds.

Of course, having the feeders just about as far as they can get from my windows makes it more difficult to see the birds that visit, and several times I had false starts with butterflies and dragonflies flitting near the feeders rather than hummingbirds. As I was washing dishes that second evening after putting the feeders out, however, a curious emerald-backed guest swooped in to hover and eventually sip – the first hummingbird visitor. But just as I managed to grab my binoculars for a better view, away she flew, up into the laurel oak tree.

Now, once a small female hummingbird alights in a laurel oak tree with her back to you, she looks remarkably like a leaf. One leaf among millions, and good luck trying to see her again until – whoop – there she goes, flying away. Of course, this was undoubtedly a fun game for her, as she kept it up over and over again each time I spotted her and tried to get a better view.

Eventually, I did see her well enough to note her relatively clear throat, gray cheeks, plain flanks and white spots at the tip of her tail that confirmed she was a ruby-throated hummingbird. I needed to be careful with this identification, not only because I tend to be picky, but also because it’s not unheard of for rufous hummingbirds to visit this area in fall and winter, and I wanted to be certain I knew who was who.

I’m very familiar with rufous hummingbirds from my years out west, and yes, they’re brats too, always chasing others away from the feeder and giving you an earful when you go out to refill it. I rather hope I get to see that behavior again in this new yard.

Brats hummingbirds may be, never obliging with the best views and constantly letting me know there’s never enough nectar, never enough feeders and never enough flowers, but I love them all the same and am thrilled to have this guest fly onto my yard list.

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