December 7, 2022

Hummingbirds enjoy sweets and affection

I had just settled into a small patch of blueberries when I heard the familiar sound of a male broad-tailed hummingbird swooping through the scattered pines, trembling aspens, and serviceberry bushes. He wasn’t happy that I was in his patch of berries as he vacuumed about two feet from my face, chirping at me as his wings did their shrill trill. Soon he was joined by a female as I had probably interrupted her sitting on her nest while wading through waist high blueberry bushes.

The next morning, while picking raspberries from my garden, a male hummingbird buzzed me several times before landing to pierce a ripe berry for a snack before heading into a thicket of wild roses. After finishing my picking chores, I grabbed my camera and set up near two of the four hummingbird feeders I set up near my flower garden.

It wasn’t long before a female Roux showed up, ignoring the colored sugar water, and started feeding on my flowers. A black-chinned male chased her away but walked over to the sweet feeder and started filling her belly. Every time he dipped his beak into the feeder, the sun reflected off his black patch on his throat and turned it a brilliant purple.

Then the world of hummingbirds turned upside down when a black-chinned female appeared, chased the rufous out of the yard, and started collecting nectar from flowers. She seemed to have no love for another female near the male, but she didn’t need to worry because she was getting his full attention.

He chased her through flowers, chokecherries, to raspberries and back. Finally, she disappeared into the rose grove as he performed his “pendulum flight”, resembling a plumb line swinging from a pivot. With each dive, he created a roar, trying to get her out of the thicket. He finally got tired and perched on a high branch in a tree as he and I waited for some action to happen. I was much less patient than him and went to work in my garden.

A tired black-necked female clinging to a flower petal and hiding. | Bill Schiess,

About two hours later, I noticed he was chasing her again and sat down to watch the show. He chased her through the bird obstacles in the backyard and eventually she got so tired that she landed upside down on a wilted hollyhock flower. Grabbing a petal with both feet, she hung upside down, feeding on the remnants of nectar that remained in the faded flower.

“We’ll probably have a batch of baby hummers in about two weeks,” I told my wife when I walked into the house for a drink. “The Black-chinned are trying to raise their second brood for the summer.”

Broadtail, Rufous, and Blackchin aren’t the only hummingbirds we usually see in late summer, but they’re most numerous in southeast Idaho. We will probably also see the Calliope and maybe even an Anna during the fall migration. All will find several feeders and blooming flowers in the fall, awaiting their arrival from their nesting grounds. They will only stay a day or two before heading south for the winter.

I will look forward to the arrival of the black-chinned baby with the migrants to bring color and excitement to my garden.

Attracting hummingbirds to your garden can be a frustrating activity as they are difficult to bring to an area where there is not much natural food and cover. The Inkom area near Pocatello, the Heise area near Ririe, the Spencer area, and the Victor area in the Teton Valley are teeming with hummingbirds. They come easily to feeders in these areas while cities lack cover and natural food sources and the birds need to know where these favorite spots are.

Keeping feeders and planting flowers that hummers enjoy for several years will build up a population in your backyard. They have great memories and if you move the feeders each season they will go back to where you had a feeder the year before.

Just like us humans; sweet food, a cozy home with a little love, and a safe place to live attract these little birds for us to enjoy.

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A male black-necked hummer feeding and showing off his purple neck. | Bill Schiess,