In honor of the winter solstice, in a month that brought Portland 7″ of rain, here are a few dark grainy images from recent weeks.
I spent more time working on an article about birds this week than I did actually birding, so I had to get my birding fix by looking out the window. Cloudy skies and dirty windows aren’t the best conditions for viewing, but it is better than nothing.
In case you need further motivation to keep your hummingbird feeders clean, here is a photo of a male Anna’s Hummingbird with a swollen tongue. The condition is caused by a fungal infection, usually acquired at hummingbird feeders. The condition is often, if not always, fatal.
If you feed hummingbirds, please use a mixture of one part WHITE sugar to four parts water, and clean the feeder at least once a week in cool weather, more often when temperatures are warmer. Using any other ingredients, or allowing the nectar to spoil, can be deadly.
Anna’s Hummingbird was first reported in Oregon in 1944. The first specimen wasn’t collected until 1966. But today, this species is a common year-round resident in western Oregon. They winter as far north as coastal British Columbia, and have even successfully wintered in central Oregon, where they get actual winter weather.
What has caused this rapid range expansion to the north? Climate change is having a measurable effect on some species, but Anna’s Hummingbird has undoubtably been helped along by the presence of bird feeders and exotic winter-blooming plants. While most of a hummingbird’s nutrition comes from the insects he eats, a reliable source of calories provided by a feeder of sugar solution can enable a bird to survive episodes of severe winter weather that would prove fatal without this supplemental food source. A higher winter survival rate provides more birds to breed in the spring, thus establishing the species in new areas.
Bird feeding is credited with helping other species expand their ranges. Northern Cardinal is a prime example in this country. In England, bird feeding is reportedly changing the evolution of one species. The European Blackcap historically migrated to Spain for the winter. With the increasing popularity of bird feeding, this species has stopped migrating south, opting instead to winter in the UK. In just 50 years, the bird has developed shorter wings (longer wings are useful in migration) and a narrower bill (better suited to eating out of bird feeders). These British birds are well on their way to becoming a new species. Read the story here.
I haven’t seen many Anna’s Hummingbirds at the feeder lately, even though they are on the property year round. Yesterday I found this male in the early morning, thus the dark grainy photos.
The Anna’s need to use the feeder early in the morning to avoid these little guys:
Rufous Hummingbirds are passing through. While they are noticeably smaller than the Anna’s, they are much more aggressive in claiming the garden as their own. I have read about two solutions for warring hummers; one is to put another feeder out of sight of the first, the idea being that while the dominant hummer is guarding one feeder, other birds can feed on the other. The other plan is to put several feeders in close proximity, in hopes that the dominant bird can’t guard them all at once and will share. I haven’t tried either of these, primarily because I don’t want to maintain two feeders.
I will probably let them work it out on their own. The Rufous Hummingbirds will soon be on their way to sunny Mexico, while the Anna’s will stay and add a little color to the gray winter ahead.
Portland had a white Christmas for the first time in 17 years. The snow didn’t last long, but it did provide some interesting viewing at the hummingbird feeder. The male has been defending this feeder for some time, but perhaps the approaching breeding season is making him more tolerant of the female that visited during the snow.