Archive for the ‘Hummingbirds’ Category

Counting Hummingbirds, Part II

January 18, 2008

It is the dead of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the Hummingbirds have gone south, and we’re writing — again — about how to count them. For northerners, it’s for future reference. The planet is tilting, spring will return, and so will the hummingbirds.


Last August we published a method of estimating the number of Hummingbirds you feed based on the amount of nectar disappearing from your feeders. You can read that post here. The method we suggested came from a book about hummingbirds by Dan True who, in turn, based his methodology on a 1973 scientific study.

With appropriate humility, given that we are not professional ornithologists or even biologists, we noted that if the 1973 study was wrong, the methodology might be as well. We invited readers to weigh in on the subject.

Last week someone did. A professional. One who has written a book about hummingbirds. A professional who assures us the 1973 study was wrong and that Dan True’s book is, “full of half-baked ideas, misinterpretations of other people’s work, and out-of-date information such as the sugar-consumption figure on which the TFFBB bloggers based their feeder-usage formula.”


With our out-dated, clumsy method; using wrong data ,we told you that 8 ounces of sugar solution was probably feeding about 25 hummingbirds each weighing 5 ounces. Our correspondent, using modern scientific data, says 8 ounces of sugar water feeds about 32 hummingbirds each weighing 3.5 ounces. In other words, our half-baked method came up with almost precisely the same answer as modern fully-baked science. Still, it is better to be right for the right reason than right for the wrong reason.

Reduced to essentials, our reader’s method consists of assuming that each bird eats about 1/4th of an ounce of solution a day. (Her entire explanation is here.) An ounce feeds four birds, 8 ounces feeds 32 birds. You must, of course, adjust for the amount of time it takes to drain the feeder. If it takes one-half a day to empty, then you have 64 birds. If it takes two days to empty, you have 16. (If it takes longer than two days for the birds to empty the feeder, you need to put fresh solution in it. Just sugar and water. No food coloring.)

This is, as she says, only a “crude” estimate since it assumes uniformly sized 3.5 oz. birds, does not include other food sources, stress, mating, and migration needs. (The need to fatten for migration was the reason we used an average weight of 5 ounces per bird in our August calculation.)

She also refers to another method of counting. Count the number of hummingbirds at your feeder at a given moment in time and multiply by six. She doesn’t endorse that method and neither do we since we’ve never tried it. It has the attraction of simplicity but lacks scientific rigor, a matter to which we return in the next post.

For you see, modern fully-baked science can’t tell for sure how many hummingbirds you are feeding. All it can do is make a “crude” estimate. It can’t even tell us with any certainty how Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (“Colibri Garganta de Rubi”, down there.) make their way to and from Central America. We’ll have more to say about that next time.


That is an angelic Black-chinned Hummingbird in the photo at our Schrodt feeder last summer.

Birders’ Christmas Shopping List

November 24, 2007

We are traditionalists here at The Fat Finch when it comes to Christmas and Christmas shopping. Jarred by Christmas displays which now appear long before Halloween, we remember the days when they did not arrive until after Thanksgiving. That is why we’ve waited until today to post our first Christmas shopping list for birders. Here are some ideas for you if there is a birder on your Christmas list or if someone is asking you to produce a list of what you might like. Nothing here is expensive. Click on the Thumbnails to see a larger version.

All of these items are available from us and we unabashedly hope you shop with us because it helps keep the birdseed in the birdfeeders in our backyard. (A Cooper’s Hawk stopped by yesterday but all the little birds lit out for the territories before the hawk arrived. It sat on a fencepost long enough to be identified and photographed and left. We assume it was migrating.)

1. Bird Songs from Around the World by Les Beletsky – This is a great book for kids or adults. The bird songs are right in the book, available for playing as the pages are turned.


2. The Little Big Book of Birds – This is one of our favorites. In addition to basic birding information it has literature, poetry, and beautiful full color illustrations of beautiful birds.


3. Journals – Birders keep lists. It’s just what we do. A nice journal for the purpose is a good inexpensive gift. Here is a photo of the one we sell.


4. Backyard Birds of the Eastern United States -We are proud of our web page which was designed for us by the same artist who did a marvelous tee shirt of backyard birds of the eastern United States. She lives in the West but has yet to do a tee shirt of Western backyard birds but we are on her case about it. We’ll do a separate post about her and her art one day soon.


5. Hummingbird brushes – Not for the birds, they take care of that themselves; but for keeping the openings in your feeders clean. Great stocking stuffer for $2.50, plus shipping. (Which is FREE from The Fat Finch with all orders of $100.00 or more.)


6. A bird house – We carry one that is made entirely from recycled milk cartons so is “green” both in color and ecology. Will last, as plastic does, about forever which is why this is a great use for empty milk cartons.


7. Calendars – Calendars too numerous to mention are on the market. Our favorite is the annual Audubon Calendar. (By the way, Sibley has a 12 month calender out this year with which we are not much impressed. It appears to be low quality reproductions of a few pages from his field guide. Far better just to own the field guide.)


8. Candles – Non-toxic, non-allergenic, “green” candles not made from petroleum and its by-products, which is to say natural bees’ wax candles. Fatfinch sells them in glasses with bird designs. By the way, bees’ wax candles burn longer than most and emit light with a spectrum quite close to that of the sun. Perfect for long winter nights.


9. Matches – Yes, matches. If you are going to have bird-theme candles, shouldn’t you have bird-theme matches to light them? Of course, you should. Where can you get such things? That’s right. At the Fatfinch.


10. Optics – If you want to spend more money on someone — or want to have them spend more on you — binoculars and spotting scopes are wonderful gifts. We are not selling them this year but we will be doing a post next week on how to buy them. So, if you are thinking of such a gift, wait to buy it until next week after our post. There will be plenty of time before Christmas.

PS: If you would rather “win” a gift than just buy one, check out our EBay store.

Schrodt Hummingbird feeder, Part II.

September 23, 2007

Back in July, when summer was at its height and we were full of hope, we wrote about our favorite Hummingbird feeder, the Schrodt faceted crystal feederNow, Autumn is upon us, the long winter skulks over the horizon and hope wanes.  Backyard Brands, which supposedly is a real business but whose parking lot is empty is still AWOL when it comes to these feeders.  Recently we spoke to an actual human being who claimed to work at Backyard Brands about the Schrodt feeders and were treated to an observation that they “have a patent on that feeder.”  We don’t know whether that is true or not but we have a bridge we are interested in selling them.  It is on sale, this week only.  We’ll make them a good price, especially if they will actually deliver some feeders and spare parts to us.

But we are not holding our breath and neither should you.  If you have a Schrodt faceted hummingbird feeder, treat it carefully.  You may have one of the last of a fine species.

Lord and Lady Hummingbird

September 5, 2007

Yesterday we blogged a bit about cameras and birds and our summer vacation. Today we share one more story relating to that theme but one that has a practical suggestion for those of you who love hummingbirds and also have large windows.

The dining room at the ranch we visited last week has several large glass windows so the guests can see the large vistas while they eat. At three of these windows are hummingbird feeders but three others lack feeders. The window where we sat, facing west, did not have one. From the outside, the window reflected the large vista perfectly and hummingbirds kept flying into the window. Twice, they flew into it so hard that they knocked themselves to the ground. We rescued them both, acquiring the moniker “Lord and Lady Hummingbird.”

On both occasions, we were in the dining room and our cameras were not. Lord Hummingbird performed the first rescue. He held the hummingbird in his hand for several minutes. Then Lord Hummingbird held the bird up to one of the feeders and inserted its beak into the nectar. Then Lord Hummingbird sat the little bird on one of the perches on the feeder. But the bird did not want to leave Lord Hummingbird yet so it flew onto Lord Hummingbird’s head where it stayed for several more minutes before flying off. There isn’t much you can do with a hummingbird on your head except just stand there. Without a camera, Lady Hummingbird couldn’t even take a picture which is why this post lacks one.

After the second rescue, this one by Lady Hummingbird, we suggested to the nice people operating the ranch that they ought to either put some decals on the window or – better yet – put up a feeder in the window so the birds would know that they should slow down and not fly into that perfect reflection of the real world. If you prefer the decals, over at the you can see what we are talking about. Or if you need some more feeders, which really work better, several varieties are for sale.

Birds killing themselves flying into windows is one of the leading causes of avian deaths.  It really is a serious issue and one which we discuss further.

How Many Hummingbirds Do You Have

August 24, 2007

While far from being foolproof, here is how you can estimate how many Hummingbirds you have coming to your feeder or feeders. If you want to be compulsive about it, you need to establish what kind of hummers you have at your feeders and whether they are fattening up for their migration. Since most of our readers are in North America and since it is late August, you can safely assume that your hummers are fattening themselves up now. It is a long way across the Gulf of Mexico and there is no where to land and rest. Accordingly, Hummingbirds who make the trip fatten up before departing. They will utilize all the extra calories on the trip and arrive a couple of days later dangerously underweight. They’ll do the same next spring when they return.

A Hummingbird eats almost exactly its body weight in 25% sugar solution each day. They also need protein which they get primarily from the insects they consume. So, if you are east of the Mississippi and are feeding Ruby-throated Hummingbirds here is the data. A Ruby-throat getting ready to depart for its wintering grounds will weigh about 5.5 grams. This is almost double its body weight from when it arrived in the spring, about 3 grams. Therefore, each Ruby-throat you have now is probably consuming about 5 grams of nectar from your feeder each day. All you have to do to calculate how many you have feeding is divide the total weight of the nectar you feed in grams by 5 grams and you’ll have a pretty good estimate of how many birds you are feeding.

Simple, huh?

Unless, of course, you have no idea how many grams of nectar you are making. We certainly didn’t.

We could, I suppose, make you look it up so – as they tell us as kids, “You’ll remember it longer if you look it up.” – or we could just tell you. Since we are shamelessly trying to build readership at our new blog, we don’t think it is safe to try your patience so we’ll just tell you that a 32 ounce feeder contains 946 grams of water. Rounding up to account for the weight of the dissolved sugar, let us assume a 32 ounce feeder contains 1000 grams of nectar. An eight ounce feeder would contain 250 grams of nectar. Assuming an average hummingbird weight of 5 grams in the autumn you would be feeding 25 birds if you are feeding 8 ounces a day. Or 50 birds for 16 ounces or 100 birds for 32 ounces or 200 birds for 64 ounces. More or less. Unless our math is wrong. Or unless the 1973 study of hummingbird consumption is wrong.

This seems like a high number to us and we would love to hear from anyone who has any different methods for determining how many hummingbirds are feeding.  We’d like all the help we can get.  We’ll do another post of other ideas.

This information comes from an excellent book by Dan True entitled Hummingbirds of North America. We think this is his website. We will try to confirm that and post the results. (Actually, Mr. True – who has made an appearance at this blog once before as the curator of the film of the Greater Roadrunner killing the rattlesnake – failed to tell us how many grams there are in an ounce of water or nectar. He “misoverestimated” our knowledge of the weight of water in grams. But I have loved the man since I was a little boy watching his weather forecasts so I forgive him.

Hummingbird Dawn

August 1, 2007

At about five thirty in the morning of the 29th of July 2007, in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Broad-tailed and Rufous Hummingbirds decided it was time for me to awake. They swarmed over the porch where I slept and drove all sleep away in the early light.

It was a beautiful summer morning, cloudy with rain in the offing, cool with the night’s down-canyon breeze still blowing in the early light of dawn.rufous-perching-1-of-1.jpg The high pitched chittering and whizzing and trilling of the male Broad-tails merged nicely and musically with the mid-range whirr of the creek which was talking to itself as it flowed over small waterfalls heading for the Gulf of Mexico. The demanding chattering male Rufous Hummingbirds irately and futilely tried to chase the others away. (That little tiny spot of orange in the photo above is a Rufous perching where it has a good view of its feeder. Hovering is energy intensive so male Rufous Hummingbirds find perches where they can rest for a few seconds at a time.  rufous-hovering-1-of-1.jpgHere is a photo of the same Rufous hovering.) At least 50 birds were sharing five feeders on two porches and they were hungry. Their previous evening’s dinner had been interrupted by a thunderstorm and some may have gone to sleep hungry. I doubt it though; Hummingbirds always know when a storm is coming and stoke up on food in advance of the storm’s arrival. Even the Rufous Hummingbirds quit trying to defend their feeders when a storm is on the way. Everyone eats. Moreover, Broad-tails slip into torpor during nights when they need to conserve energy or had an inadequate energy intake during the day.

It was a joyous way to wake up.

What is it about Hummingbirds that speaks so deeply to us? Is it just that they are little and cute? I doubt it. Their brilliant, shifting colors? Their aerobatics? It is more than that too, I suspect. Perhaps it is the sheer exuberance with which they go about their daily lives. Do we wish we could maintain that level of exuberance throughout our own lives? Shakespeare might have been able to describe and explain it, but he lived in England and Hummingbirds live only in the Americas, so Shakespeare knew nothing of them.

Or maybe the question is irrelevant. Hummingbirds bring us joy – all of us, no matter what religion, political persuasion, age, race, sex – and it is enough to dip into that joy and live it, if only for a few moments during each of the days that the Hummingbirds vouchsafe to us.

But it could be even deeper. It could be so deep that it is not only nameless; it is unnameable.

Rufous Hummingbird Strategy

July 27, 2007

In our last post we suggested one way to help keep Rufous Hummingbirds from keeping all your other Hummingbirds away from your feeders.  Here is another: Have about 50 Hummingbirds feeding from one feeder.

We have friends who live in the Rocky Mountains.  We love them dearly but perhaps not as much as their annual group of Hummingbird visitors love them. This last spring, when the first Hummingbird arrived, it flew directly in front of one friend’s nose and then flew over to the place where the feeder is normally hung.  The bird did this three times.  Then they hung the feeder and it left them alone.

Here are two photos of their solution to the problem of Rufous Hummingbirds guarding feeders.  rufous-2007-one.jpgIn the first photo it is the Rufous that is staring directly at the camera. They simply have so many Hummingbirds that it is hopeless for one Rufous to keep the others away, so he gives up and just joins in, which you can see in the second photo.

The chief Bird Brain Blogger is away for the weekend.  We’ll be back early next week.


July 24, 2007

The afternoon temperatures climb into the nineties, thunderstorms sprout and rise into the stratosphere every afternoon, flowers are blooming, we eat every meal outdoors and the hours of daylight still seem as long as they did a month ago during the summer solstice. But nature’s only constant is change and change is coming.

The first harbinger of winter arrived today.

Feisty, beautiful, a delight to watch; we had our first Rufous Hummingbird of the year today. Rufous Hummingbirds migrate further than any other bird species, if you compare the length of their bodies to the length of their migration. They leave their Mexican wintering grounds in late February and early March headed for places as far away as Alaska where they will breed in the long Arctic summer days.


By mid-July they are on their way south, following the Flower Trail of the Rockies. When the alpine flowers begin to bloom the small Rufous follows. Fiercely territorial, the males arrive at flowers and feeders determined to drive away all other sentient beings.

There isn’t much we humans can do to help our longer-term Hummingbird residents from the Rufous onslaught. The only thing we’ve tried that worked with a modicum of success is to select one feeder and fill it with stronger syrup. (3 parts water to one part sugar rather than our ususal four parts water to one part sugar.) Sometimes, the Rufous will select that feeder and spend all day long protecting it while the others feed in peace at all the other feeders. But sometimes not.

Each migrant, weighing as much as 3.5 grams, may stopover for a week or two but soon it will be on its way. Older Rufous Hummingbirds are usually home on their wintering range in Mexico by late August or early September. Juveniles arrive a few weeks later.

It is a joy to see them. But look, out there, just over the horizon; winter comes.

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