All Those Hummingbirds Will Come HERE?

I’m so excited about this it’s hard to get my thoughts organized (plus, it’s Monday), but I’m going to try. Saturday, I went to a talk on feeding hummingbirds through the winter. I learned that there are more different kinds of hummingbirds that come to the Texas Gulf Coast in the winter than I ever knew! And a lot of them are difficult to identify.

We’ve had a buff-bellied hummingbird spend a couple of winters here. He was easy. He’s bigger than other hummers and he has a curved orange bill. We’ve missed him the past two years. Or, her. It’s impossible to tell the male from the female.

My son saw what I thought was a female ruby-throat in January, and he said it was most likely a female black-chinned. What? That bird comes here? I had no idea. Those two females are difficult to tell apart. Plus, I didn’t look at my book; I thought only the ruby-throat and the rufous were common here.

On Saturday, I learned that there are eight different hummingbirds that have been seen in Jefferson County, Texas. Ruby-throated, black-chinned, Anna’s, rufous, Allen’s, calliope, broad-tailed, buff-bellied, broad-billed and green-breasted mango hummingbirds. That is quite a list, and as I was reading over the material we were given, I realized that I had a male black-chinned hummingbird at my feeder. He had black under the bill and purple under the black, and I thought it was the way the winter light was messing with things. Another way to distinguish the ruby-throat from the black-chinned is the black-chinned will flick it’s tail while feeding. My neighbor and I both remember seeing a hummer do that at our feeders.

So, who has identified all those birds? People from the Audubon Society, and they know their birds. The lady who was giving the talk told us that  her husband takes a photo of each bird at their feeder each morning. He takes the photos (right through the kitchen window), then puts them on the computer and enlarges them. This way they are able to tell each bird apart by little details in their markings. They can also see distinctive characteristics of each species with a photo that it’s really hard, if not impossible, to see through binoculars. Several of these birds are very similar.

And, it seems my books are really out of date as far as their range maps go. I need to get an up to date book, and you do, too, if yours are not the latest. Some birds have changed their addresses, and that, along with programs that allow any of us to report what we see, has really changed what we thought we knew.

Here is a website my son told me about so I could read up on identifying the black-chinned and the ruby-throat. I can hardly wait until next winter!

Hummingbird Season Won’t End at My House This Year

Oh, how exciting! This morning I was on my front porch when I looked around and saw a small brownish hummingbird in the non-bearing pomegranate shrub. At first, I wasn’t positive if it was a rufous or if it was the female ruby-throat that was here yesterday. Was I sure about that color? Is it really a rufous? Am I seeing what is really here, or just what I want to see?

I walked over closer to get a better look, and it sure looked like the rusty color on its side just in front of the wing. Just to help me out, the little bitty bird hopped around in the branches giving me a better look. Oh, my goodness! It’s a rufous! It was like God was saying, “Happy Birthday, Diane.” I certainly said, “Thank you! This is great!”

If you live on the upper Texas Gulf Coast don’t take your feeders down. Even if the last of the ruby-throats has left, you may get a rufous or even a buff-bellied hummingbird. I used to have to go about 10 or so miles north of here to see a rufous, but last year I finally had not one, but two of them. Not bad for the first time to have rufous in my yard. They are pretty aggressive and may chase Little Miss Ruby-Throat away. They may even be why I didn’t see a buff-bellied last year, whereas I had one spend two winters in a row here before last year. You may get a buff-bellied, too. They will sometimes hang out along the Gulf Coast during the winter.

I like seasons. I like the cooler temperatures, the changing leaves and even no leaves on trees, the color of the sky, and the different birds. We never had hummingbirds in winter until recently. This is the fourth year in a row for us to have a hummingbird in the yard who came specifically for this season. If you haven’t had them in the winter before, don’t give up. These little winged creatures are on the move and may show up at your house, too.

ADDENDUM: Be sure and read “All Those Hummingbirds Will Come HERE?”, written on March 11, 2013. I misidentified a few birds!

Rufous Hummingbird!

All right! Two years ago I got it into my head that I wanted a Rufous hummingbird to come to my feeder in the fall and stay for the winter. They do that on the Gulf Coast, although the closest ones I know of have been seen about 10 miles from me (that’s 10 miles as the crow flies, which is important when you’re talking about birds).

Two years ago, I left my hummer feeder out past the Ruby-throated migration in hopes that a rufous would find its way here. I didn’t get a Rufous, but got something totally unexpected. A Buff-bellied hummingbird showed up. Boy, I had no idea what that bird was until I looked him up. That’s when I learned the male and female Buff-bellied hummers look alike.

Last year, I left the feeder out still hoping for a Rufous, but also wanted the Buff-bellied to come back. Mr. or Mrs. Buff-bellied did show up and spent the second winter here. It was really nice, but still no Rufous.

This year, I left the feeder out hoping the Buff-bellied would come back. No Buff-bellied hummer this year, but about a week and a half ago, we saw a hummer at the feeder. It was small and I thought it was a female Ruby-throated straggler who would only be here for a day or two; she was busy doing other things when everyone else left and now she was running way behind. I don’t really know how a person would tell if a bird was old and too weak for the trip, but she looked fine to me.

Then came the surprise! When I was washing dishes and she was feeding, I would be watching her. That is when I noticed a flash of rufous coloring on her sides and tail when she flew. The first few times I saw it, it didn’t really register in my head that this was not normal for a Ruby-throated. After about a week of watching her, it dawned on me that even though she didn’t look like any Rufous I’d seen before, she just might be one. So, I looked in my bird books and that is when I discovered the male and female don’t look alike. What I had seen before were males. I needed one more good look to make sure who this bird is.

Then, along came a cold front. We had rain and a cold north wind and it got down to freezing last night. I read that the Rufous might stay for a week or two and then move on, and I was afraid she would leave if she didn’t like the climate, and I’d never be positive about her identity. Well, she didn’t leave and today the lighting was just right, and I finally got a good look with binoculars at her side, belly and flank and she is a female Rufous! I am so happy! My friend who lives 10 miles away has had them stay all winter, so I expect that as long as she likes the groceries and I can keep them coming, she will hang out with me this winter. I’m so happy.

Feeding the Birds in My Yard

While ago I stopped and stood very still, wet paint brush in hand, and watched three different and really cool birds at my feeders all at the same time. (I was close to a window in my studio, and the feeder is close to the house.) There was a goldfinch, a house finch and a warbler that I’m still trying to identify. I’ve seen three different kinds of warblers on the feeder today. They are eating bread crumbs and eating off of a block of stuff that I mixed up and put in the suet cage. They are also eating black oil sunflower seed. Sometimes I just need my very experienced friend to help me with these warblers. If they are not distinctive like the hooded warbler or the black-and-white warbler, I have to grab a book or two and read a lot.

The buff-bellied hummingbird came back this year! He showed up the last week of October. We assume it’s the same bird? He’s not banded or anything, so we can’t be positive, but he’s a welcome guest, that’s for sure. I think my husband wishes he would bring a friend; he said this bird is keeping our place a secret.

There are also blue jays, chickadees, titmice and sparrows out gathering groceries from my feeders today. A few years ago we rigged up a feeder system with PVC pipes, a toilet flange, and a piece of plywood about 12″x12″. We got the idea from my parents (who live down the street and share birds with us). It’s pretty easy to do. Use a  four-inch PVC pipe for the main post, drill holes through it to fit 2 pieces of one-inch PVC pipe crossways, one just above the other near the top, put a toilet flange on a square piece of plywood and set that on top. The flange fits into the top of the four-inch pipe. You will also need to drill a hole through the one-inch pipes near the ends. You can bend some wire into a hook shape and put it through the holes. This gives places to hang four different kinds of feeders or a combination of feeders and bird baths, plus a platform feeder. I found that the humming birds are too scared of all the other birds to be able to eat if I have their feeder on this contraption, so I put it several feet away by the kitchen window.

Here’s what I mix for the suet feeder in case you’d like to try this. You can also use this to make cup cakes for the birds.

One cup of lard

Two cups of chunky peanut butter

Five cups of cornmeal

Melt the lard and peanut butter together in a skillet over medium heat. When it’s melted, pour it into a mixing bowl, add the dry ingredients and stir.

And when it comes to the dry stuff, I improvise from all the recipes I’ve seen. I put at least 5 cups of cornmeal, a handful, or maybe a little more, of whole wheat flour (doesn’t have to be whole wheat), a couple handfuls of quick cooking oatmeal, cut up raisins and/or cranberries. Sometimes I add a handful or so of mixed bird seed. I like a thick consistency and when I followed the recipe with only the first three ingredients, (and a few raisins – I can’t leave anything like I find it) they didn’t seem to like it as much. How do I know that? They didn’t swarm it like they usually do.

This recipe will make four squares for the cage or 14 cup cakes. To make the blocks, put the mixture in a 9 inch square pan. Refrigerate till it’s firm, then cut it into four squares. I freeze the extras. To make cup cakes, put the mixture in the liners in cup cake pans and put it in the fridge til it’s firm.

Don’t be afraid to try mixing your own suet. You can’t mess it up and even the one they didn’t swarm was more popular than the one from the store. I’ve had those hang there till they molded. They like homemade from scratch, so go for it.

Well, I guess I better get back to stuff I was doing. I just had to stop and tell you about the birds. You know…one of those warblers – the one with the soft wing bars – may be a pine warbler. They come to feeders in the winter and my book (Peterson Field Guides, Warblers) says they like bread crumbs, suet and sunflower seeds.

Goldfinches are Here

I live about 20-25 miles inland in Southeast Texas and we are seeing the first goldfinches at our feeders today. We have a friend a bit north of us who has been seeing them the past several days. She saw them in the trees for a few days before they decided to come down and eat her bird groceries.

We did some bird watching from our windows this morning. Here is what we saw: 2 Yellow-rumped warblers, Orange-crowned warbler, a Red-bellied woodpecker, 2 Northern Yellow-shafted flickers. All those guys and gals were in trees. At the feeders we had a White-throated sparrow (he was on the ground near the feeders; he generally won’t get up on them, but with birds, never say never), lots of House sparrows, Carolina chickadees, Tufted-titmice, Cardinals, Mourning doves, and our rarely-seen-in-these-parts Buff-bellied humming bird. This morning the humming bird sat on a branch outside the kitchen window and talked to us in his little staccato bird language. It was a different pitch than Morse code, but that’s what it reminded me of. My friend videoed him and we hope it picked up the sound. As cold as it was, we had the window raised.

I just love being able to see all these fine birds while looking out my windows as I watch the frost melt and enjoy my hot coffee. I hope you are having some good birding experiences, too.

Not the Usual Cat and Bird Sightings

It’s been an interesting week for wildlife around here. A big cat and an unusual bird were both sighted in the same week.

Day before yesterday my son looked down the street and saw a couple critters in my aunt’s yard. She lives across the street a couple houses or so down from us and next to the woods. The critter that was being followed is unidentified but the second one… My son thought he was looking at a cat but then realized it was too big to be a house cat so it must be a dog. No. Not a dog. Didn’t look like a dog. Sure is a big cat! He said it had a funny way of moving it’s tail and it disappeared behind my aunt’s car before he could tell what it was for sure. He went online and looked at videos of bob cats and it seems that is what he saw.

We have seen tracks over the years and when my son was a teenager, he and I made plaster casts of deer tracks and bob cat tracks. Apparently, the bob cat was trailing the deer. Bob cats will mark territory by scratching trees just like house cats do when they tear up the furniture. This sighting makes me want to go look for scratch marks. And all this happened the same day I learned that a chicken tractor doesn’t have to be big; it can be small enough for just a couple of hens.  I think I want to build one. For several years I’ve thought it would be cool to have my own chickens. I think bob cats like chickens.

Over the weekend I got reports of a humming bird at a feeder down the street and it wasn’t a Ruby-throated. The neighbors (who are also my parents) didn’t think it was a Rufous either. I had given up on having a Rufous and took my feeders down long ago but when I heard about this bird I put them both back out. It took a few days, but today he showed up at the feeder by the kitchen window. I quickly eliminated the usual suspects. When I got the binoculars I could plainly see a pinkish-orange bill. We have a bird here that is rarely seen in these parts! Three of us (my dad, our friend who is really good at this and I) have come to the same conclusion. We have a Buff-bellied hummingbird.  My dad has a better camera than I do so he plans to come down here and get some photos. The lighting isn’t working out at his house. If they turn out I’ll see if we can figure out how to put them on here so you can see them.

When I told my friend I also saw a Wilson’s warbler the other day at the edge of my yard by the woods, she said I really ought to sign up for ebird so I can report what I see. She said it’s free to do and not complicated. I’ll have to look into that.

So, one thing leads to another, and sometimes we’re led to some fun things, right? Look for cat scratches and sign up for ebird. I guess if I do build a little chicken tractor for my little garden I might have a bob cat in my own yard. That could be a problem.