For the Birds: Anna’s Hummingbird

Monday, February 21, 2011

Male Anna's Hummingbird. Photo by Christine Southwick.
By Christine Southwick

While out in your yard, you hear a sound like your house fire-alarm battery-warning. Where is that coming from?

Look up. Watch for a moving object (bigger than a bumble bee, smaller than a chickadee) about 10-20 feet up that dives rapidly down (up to 40 MPH), and then flies back up, repeatedly. That funny sound happens at the bottom.

You have just discovered a male Anna’s Hummingbird,  He makes that display dive, with the loud dive-noise, to attract a mate, or to warn off an intruder—if you’re wearing red, maybe you’re the intruder. Anna’s have readily adapted to urban settings, and their buzzes, chatters, and chips will often guide you to their exposed perch.

A medium-sized hummingbird, with a straight bill, the Anna’s Hummingbird has become a year-round resident of the Puget Sound area, since the late 1970’s. All Anna’s are bronze-green above, and gray below. The male Anna’s has the only iridescent rose-red head and throat in North America. Juveniles, which can be present as early as March, look very much like the females with a gray throat, and won’t get their lovely throat color until the following year. Color can be deceptive. Sunlight needs to shine on the throat (gorget) to show that glorious color, otherwise it can look black. That is why the male always make sure he positions his dive with the sun behind the female, so that she gets the full dazzling display.

The male defends his food sources, rather than a specific territory. After all, his only duty is to mate. The female makes the tiny nest, lays two small jellybean-sized eggs, fends for herself, and feeds her young for 20 days until they become independent. The mother feeds her young only regurgitated insects, sticking her bill down their throats in what looks like a sword-swallowing act.

Anna’s eat more insects than any other hummer in North America, often catching small flying insects in the air. They eat nectar from native and urban plantings, and hummingbird feeders, often visiting a series of neighborhood feeders and flowers on a daily schedule.

Because they hover, fly up, down, and sideways, , 30% of a hummingbird’s weight is flight muscle. The Anna’s weighs just a little less than a nickel.

Anna’s Hummingbirds birds were named after an Italian duchess, Anna De Belle Massena, in the 19th century. But don’t get confused, hummingbirds are only found in the Americas, not the European continent.

Christine Southwick is on the Board of the Puget Sound Bird Observatory and is their Winter Urban Color-banding Project Manager. She is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat Steward, having completed their forty hour class. We're happy that she's sharing her expertise with us about the birds in our backyards.

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