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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Sunday, December 23, 2018


The sparkling red and gold reflections radiating from this male Anna's Hummingbird certainly make it alluring, enticing and nearly irresistible. I find it hard to look away.

This photo also displays the relative length of the male's tail feathers. Here, the male's right wing is clearly shorter than his tail. In the photo, the wing is hanging down on the left. With females, their wings and tails have virtually the same lengths. Have you ever wondered why the two genders differ in this way?

In my experience, sometime in January males will begin to establish breeding territories and the females will start building nests.

Typically, I find breeding males attempt to defend a cubic area of flowering plants roughly fifteen feet in height and width.  On Friday, I noticed a continuous patch of yellow flowering Mahonia in the Arboretum which was approximately twice that size e.g. similar to the volume of a one-car garage. During breeding season I would expect to see two or three males attempting to defend a flowering feast of this size.

A female Anna's Hummingbird keeping a close eye on the nearby flowers.

What I saw instead was at least a dozen, and quite possibly more, hummingbirds utilizing the area. Rather than being predominantly male the gender mix was fairly even. 

Even with all the other birds flying around the bushes, this female was fairly relaxed and spent a good deal of time preening her feathers. Notice how the red reflective area on the females is primarily on the throat.

This female also had a small spec of reflective red on top of her head. This is supposed to be somewhat rare among females. 

As our cameras and lens improve, I wonder if we will find that a red-speckled-top is more common than previously thought.


A kind and observant reader has pointed out that a 'female' with red feathers extending outside the central throat area (as in the 4th photo) might very well be a juvenile male - in the process of growing the more extensive hood of a mature male. If you know of a good visual reference which details the key differences between mature females and immature males I would certainly like to know about it. Thank you!

It was not all peaceful co-existence. These birds were still defending territories. However, the volume of their territorial areas was significantly smaller than I had noticed in previous winters, approximately one-meter square. Later, while reading Birds of North America Online I realized these smaller territories were for feeding, as opposed to breeding. Currently, the hummingbirds are apparently not quite ready to breed.

One of the most surprising things I saw was this aggressive bumblebee approaching a female hummingbird. The bird, who had been successfully defending her territory from other hummingbirds, wanted nothing to do with the bee. She took to the wing and immediately commenced evasion action.

The bumblebee moved on to more appealing flowers and the hummingbird returned to her post.

The male hummingbird also took time for grooming. Here he is scratching his neck with one of his tiny little feet.

Occasionally, he would leap off of his perch to defend his feeding territory. I wonder if the small size of these feeding territories might be somewhat related to the amazing productivity of this particular plant. If I remember correctly it is a cross with an Asian Mahonia. In either case, it certainly loves our local winter weather.

While watching the birds, I suddenly realized I was seeing visual confirmation of their unique, hovering process. This photo apparently caught the bird in a backstroke. Notice the angle of the wings. The lower portion of the wing is clearly in front of the upper edge. 

Here is another female in a similar situation. I have been told the shoulder joint in a hummingbird is most similar to our wrists. This enables the hummingbirds to turn the top of their wings toward their tails on the backstroke.

On the front stroke, they turn the top edge of their wings toward their head, like conventional bird's wing. This 'figure-eight' rotation of the wing apparently enables them to gain lift almost constantly, regardless of which direction the wing is moving. 

If you are able to click on the last two photos, enlarging them on your computer, you can then toggle back and forth between the photos. This makes the change in wing orientation more obvious. 

Here is one more photo of a hummingbird's wings during a backstroke. I find their flight process irresistible, too.

This photo shows a female's wing and tail feathers which have a similar length, unlike the male's. Apparently, the females only use their tail feathers to help guide their flight. The males utilize their tail feathers to make impressive sounds as well. You can listen to their chirps and an amazing story of discovery by Clicking Here.

Now maybe the very best time to see hummingbirds in the Arboretum. During the next few weeks, the females will become much more secretive as they begin to build nests, while the males will become more aggressive and defensive while they attempt to control larger breeding territories. If you listen closely you may even hear the males making their high-speed 'J' dives.

Have a great day on Union Bay and in the Arboretum...

...where hummingbirds live in the city!


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.

What species does this bumble bee belong to? Is it native to Union Bay?

Scroll down for the answer.


My best guess is a Yellow-headed Bumble Bee, even though I cannot see a yellow head in either of these photos. You can Click Here and then go to page 42 to validate, or invalidate, my selection. I am always open to guidance from those who know more on this subject than I do.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional workaround is to set up my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net


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