Readers’ wildlife photographs

August 2, 2014 • 12:20 am

Reader Stephen Barnard has sent us a rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), with a note:

The most aggressive hummingbird in North America. They dominate the black-chinned and the broad-tailed.

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This looks to me like a male. The Audubon site backs up Stephen’s claim about the bird’s pugnacity:

The feistiest hummingbird in North America. The brilliant orange male and the green-and-orange female Rufous Hummingbird are relentless attackers at flowers and feeders, going after (if not always defeating) even the large hummingbirds of the Southwest, which can be double their weight.

Well, “feisty” is not a term we encounter in the animal behavior literature, but I won’t carp.

Rufous Hummingbirds have the hummingbird gift for fast, darting flight and pinpoint maneuverability. They are pugnacious birds that tirelessly chase away other hummingbirds, even in places they’re only visiting on migration. Like other hummers, they eat insects as well as nectar, taking them from spider webs or catching them in midair.

This looks like a good subject for a monster movie: “The Attack of the Killer Hummingbird,” or even “Hummer!” Here’s its range, showing that they overwinter in Mexico (remember, these tiny birds, which need lots of fuel, have to migrate hundreds of miles twice a year.



14 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photographs

  1. If Hitchcock could make pigeons scary, then I suppose hummingbirds are possible Bad Monsters too.

    1. Oh, yes! Poking eyes out, and in monster movies they would use the ‘nectar’ cups for dreadful effect. “The Day Hummers Stole Sunlight”.

      If you let the specie-phobia out, anything different can be used to imply scares. Molds!? They eat you! (Which, if I remember correctly, has already been used as theme.)

      1. And pinning you down doing the dive bombing, which I read is also a mating dance. I have seen plenty of males do that to females as the female cowers in a bush. It is actually pretty neat though – the male makes a strange little, almost metallic, sound as he dives down and comes back up in an arc.

  2. “they eat insects as well as nectar, taking them from spider webs”. That sounds risky for such small birds!

    Like mimicry, migratory behavior seems fantastic but survivable (though hummers and butterflies seems stretching that!) and often beneficial when we see it. But then you try to grok how it appears in the first place, and the possible chips gets thrown up in the air not unlike hummers around a feeding place. Layman naive question, as I can’t remember WEIT has looked at this as thoroughly as it has at mimicry: what does the (best) hypotheses on evolution of migration say?

    1. “they eat insects as well as nectar, taking them from spider webs”. That sounds risky for such small birds!

      Especially when you know that praying mantises have been know to catch hummers now & then! But many birds know how to deal with spider webs–the hummers are just some of the species that use webs in making their nests.

      As to migration theories–I’m far from up on he latest work, but you probably know at least the general ideas about why migration pays off. With each new growing season in temperate latitudes (& subarctic, for that matter), there’s the sudden appearance of highly desirable food resources–insects, plant flowers & fruits, etc. By migrating in at the right times birds are able to exploit these temporal resources in order to successfully breed and raise their young.

      Because the resources are temporal, so are many of the birds! Why does (nearly) all migration involve movement from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere for breeding? Because that’s where most of the land mass is, thus most of the resource bloom.

      Recently ornithologists were excited to discover a reverse migrant–I believe it was a swallow that wintered in N. America and summered somewhere in the Amazon basin. (I’m too lazy to Google it now.)

      Migration can be very tough on birds; especially if they encounter bad weather while over water. Thousands (millions?) of passerines cross the Gulf of Mexico, for instance, some dying en route and some straggling onto the Texas shore in dire condition. But obviously, for many spp, the payoff is worth the risks.

      1. Thanks! I believe I understand why migration can pay off despite the costs and risks.

        But I am curious how it starts. I can see how plate tectonics separates locales, even over hemispheres. But how does a species become dependent and cognizant of the localized exploitable resources in the first place? It must start out with a wide area for resource exploitation, then evolving the tools for localizing the temporary resources at a guess (i.e. starting migration).

  3. I had a friend in Costa Rica who insisted on wearing his motorcycle helmet in the forest because he was so afraid of being attacked by hummingbirds (and they sometimes do attack!)

  4. Possibly even more impressive are those ruby-throated hummingbirds which migrate through Florida and across a part of the Gulf of Mexico. Few places to stop for a rest and a refreshing drink of nectar.

  5. A movie called Hummer! would be a hit! Maybe you could have a sequel called Hummernado.

    I saw a bunch of rufous hummingbirds enjoying nectar from flowers in BC years ago. They are quite pretty in their rusty plumage & I wish we had them here – though it sounds like they’d chase away the ruby throats (who I already thought were aggressive little monsters to each other).

    Nice shot, Stephen!

  6. They really are aggressive, not only to one another but to much larger creatures.
    We had a number of hummingbird feeders around our trailer in the Front Range (field headquarters for a salamander study, and this one summer one of the crew was working part-time for someone studying roofies, which are the only species in the Front Range this far north). So we got to see a lot of male demonstrations. I went out for a smoke one day and did not think of where I was standing, when suddenly I got my hair parted from behind – I was standing too close to one of the hummingbird feeders, and the male owner was seeing me off.

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