Anna's Hummingbirds

Anna's Hummingbird Life

Gazing at a photo of an Anna's hummingbird, my three-year-old daughter commented, "that bird looks like a crocodile." Indeed the feathers of an Anna's hummingbird do look sequin-y and scaly. Thin layers on their feathers refract light, illustrating the property of iridescence, "a lustrous rainbow-like play of color caused by differential refraction of light waves," according to Merriam-Webster online. The colors we see depend upon the angle and intensity of light. From the side, the throat of the male Anna's hummingbird looks dull dark gray. But straight on, it flashes a ruby red. A concise BirdNote article explains hummingbird iridescence. (An interesting note is that some reptiles do have iridescent skin cells that reflect light.)

Hummingbird in flight, Cayucos, CA

Anna's hummingbirds depend upon some of the silkiest, most ethereal things in a garden: spider webs and lichen. In spider webs, they often find a meal by collecting whatever insect the spider has stored or even plucking out the spider himself. They collect the silk for miniature nests, which although small, they sometimes ambitiously build on the sides of cliffs or on utility wire.

Actual Anna's hummingbird nest on display at the Sunol Wildflower Festival, Sunol, CA

They add lichen to their nests so that as the baby hummingbirds expand in size, the nest will expand as well. Perhaps I should call this approach Lycra lichen.

A Quest for Anna's Hummingbirds

The squeaking, scratching call of the Anna's hummingbird is a winter sound here in Northern California. Every year during February's Great Backyard Bird Count, I can count on the Anna's hummingbird to provide the musical backdrop. I always count the bird based on its scratchy song.

Hummingbird in flight, Cayucos, CA

Anna's hummingbirds live here year-round. I see them in our garden where they arrive for all of the tubular flowers we planted. The birds can be aggressive, and sometimes they will hover in front of my face as they claim the right to my flowers.

An unlucky and misguided Anna's hummingbird headed for the wrong kind of flowers, the gaudy red Valentine's display of a Dollar Store on the central coast of California. While shopping in the store, we noticed the poor bird flying up around red balloons. The staff had tried to coax the bird out, but without luck. We called a local wildlife rescue service. They advised turning off all the lights in the store overnight, so that the bird would at least stop moving. We don't know what the outcome of this saga was.

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