Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Heart of a Tiger

A male Anna's Hummingbird is much more than just a flash of brilliant color.

In their normal state - when they are not using their iridescent feathers to reflect sunlight - their facial feathers form a dark, dull hood. Note: It may be easy to miss, that the bird in this photo,  is using its feet to grasp the small twig, while hovering and feeding.

It can be difficult to find an angle that adequately displays such tiny little feet.

With nearly nonexistent legs, scratching the head requires some twisting to help make the connection.

Most of an Anna's body is one shade or another of green. With their backs turned, they can become difficult to spot, especially if they are not moving.

In addition to their long beaks, they are also equipped with very long tongues, which makes it easier for them to reach the nectar deep inside a flower. 

While sitting, they will occasionally flick their tongues out. I suspect they may be tasting the air for pollen and planning their next feeding foray. 

I call this bird Alpha Z. For the last few weeks he has been protecting a single, flowering plant in the Winter Garden. The yellow-flowered berberis plant is large - approximately 12 feet high and fifteen feet in diameter. In fact, the plant is so big that a second male has been protecting the far side of the plant.

I call the other bird Alpha X. In this photo, Alpha X may be yawning. At least, that was the only thought that came to mind when I saw it happen. Both male birds are very aware of each other and their respective territories. 

They perch facing each other just above the bush. They intently watch for interlopers - other hummingbirds that might try to feed on their plant. Their little heads look left, middle, right, then up, middle, down in nearly constant motion.

When a third hummer approaches, the appropriate alpha bird will make a diving interception. If the new bird does not immediately turn tail and run, the alpha will come to a stop directly in front of the interloper and reflect its full facial brilliance squarely into the eyes of the oncoming bird. The visual communication works just like a stop sign on a city street.

Occasionally, the Alphas take feeding breaks, usually in the flowers towards the top of the plant. 

Especially during this time, interlopers will attempt to sneak in unseen, and feed in the lower less visible portions of the plant. 

Once, I watched as Alpha X slowly fed his way toward the peak of the plant. When X had almost reached the midpoint, Alpha Z zoomed down from his post and gave X the full reflective treatment. It worked. X retreated with their mutual boundary clearly defined.

Approximately fifteen feet southeast of the XZ plant is a smaller berberis with a third male defending it. I call this bird Alpha Y. I originally thought of calling them Alpha 1,2 and 3 but that seemed to imply an order of dominance. There does not appear to be any such order. They each defend their territory with all the focus and intensity they can muster. 

This week, I watched as two birds became entangled below the larger berberis plant. I suspect the male in this photo is Alpha X given the location of the tussle. 

Their movements were very rapid as they rolled among the leaves.

At one point, they even rose into the air, while still in each other's grasp.

The thought on my mind, throughout the sixty second experience, was are they mating or fighting? In this photo, even though their beaks are crossed like swords, I am thinking they are mating. The less dominant bird appears to be female, due to the minimal amount of reflective feathers. Plus in all the photos their relative positions seem to imply mating. Either way, when it is difficult to tell the difference between making love or war it confirms for me that every Anna's comes equipped with the heart of a tiger. 


By the way, last week, my friends Dan, Craig and Joy, posted a wonderful piece on Dan's blog, Off The Rails. Their writing, and their lives, fulfill both of the goals that are included in my mission statement. They promote the appreciation of wildlife and provide examples of living in harmony with nature. Their inspiration challenges us all. Please accept my challenge and read their post, Breaking the Species Barrier

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!


Silhouette Challenge:

Last week's silhouette was of a cedar waxwing. The hint of a crest and the relatively short beak are the critical differences between the waxing and other local crested birds.

I think a waxwing's dark mask blends in with its beak and makes it appear a bit longer than it actually is. However, in a silhouette the mask is hidden and the beak's lack of size becomes more obvious.


  1. Once again your images provide a close-up look at behavior I've never witnessed -- this mating embrace (or is it war!) between two Anna's. As happens again and again, I'm in awe of your patience and attention to detail. Just today someone sent me a link to a Cornell Lab of Ornithology YouTube video that explains, beautifully, why so many of us find birds are so fascinating, and the rewards we gain from observing them closely. Anyone interested in viewing the video will find it by Googling "Cornell Lab 2015 Thank You video." Thanks, Larry, for mentioning in your column my recent interview with Craig and Joy Johnson about building relationships with wildlife.

    1. Dan,
      Thank you! You are very kind. The Cornell Lab video is wonderful, uplifting and makes me glad that such an organization exists! Thanks for the link and all you do!

  2. Great blog photos of my front yard.

  3. Thank you! Congratulations on your great location!