Gila Mountains Travel Diary - p 2Rufous Hummingbird (65404 bytes)

12 August 2005
If you've ever wondered which bird is the toughest, the rowdiest, the worst rascal, then meet the Rufous Hummingbird.  The adult males are incorrigible, harassing everyone at a sugar water feeder.  The immatures aren't much better.  When we arrived at Grey Feathers, each of the porch feeders put up for us had as many as 6 hummers attending it.  By day 3 there was only one:  a male Rufous, jealously guarding his feeder and attacking any who came near it, sometimes striking them mid-air with an audible "whack."  Dan True, in Hummingbirds of North America, even devoted a section to "Taming the Rufous Hummingbird." (He advises placing a feeder with a rich sugar concentration in a high place for the Rufous, and then placing other feeders lower down, having lower concentrations of sugar, for all the other hummers.)  At the hummingbird aviary in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson, they put Rufous Hummingbirds in "jail" (a separate enclosure) because they are so aggressive toward other hummers. 
  Why does the Rufous behave badly?  It nests farther north than any other hummer, to 61
degrees N latitude in Alaska.  Maybe there's no place for polite sharing of nectar in the short harsh summers there, and the Rufous Hummingbird must fiercely defend every flower patch to insure survival.  They've also been known to attack thrushes, blackbirds and chipmunks who wandered too near the nest.  All this from a bird that weighs in at 3.5 grams!



Rufous at Scarlet Gilia (85045 bytes)
13 August 2005
The Gila Mountains are also a popular migration route because of the abundance of plants that time their flowering to coincide with the southward migration of hummingbirds.  Scattered among open stands of ponderosa pine are such hummer magnets as red penstemon (Penstemon barbatus) and Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata).







14 August 2005Immature Rufous at basketflower (83131 bytes)
From its appearance, you wouldn't guess that basketflower, (Centaurea americana) was a hummingbird flower, but it is.  It grows profusely in open meadows of the Sapillo Valley; patches are vigorously defended, naturally, by Rufous Hummingbirds.
   But of course I didn't take these last two photos in forest or meadow.  The flowers were cut and placed in a vase about one foot from the sugar water feeders on the guesthouse porch.  Charlotte used her lab skills to inject the corollas with extra sugar water.  To freeze the motion of the hummers' wings, I reduced the flash output to yield about 1/10,000 sec duration.  During most of the photo shoot I was sitting in a deck chair in my bedroom slippers, a cup of coffee nearby.  Where is it written that bird photography has to be hard work..??



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