For the first two years that Anna’s hummingbirds were visiting my home, all of the birds coming to my feeders were females.
The population grew each year, and by the third summer one of that spring’s hatchlings took up residence on my front balcony, perched in the shrubbery. Juvenile males and females look nearly the same, but I could tell from his attempts at singing (which females don’t do) that this one was a young male. A hummingbird’s song sounds like the hinge of a rusty squeaking gate. It’s not exactly melodious, but Squeaky took the task of learning practicing seriously.
I watched Squeaky “metamorphose” over the course of summer. That is entirely the wrong word: hummingbirds of course do not metamorphose. They simply moult their feathers and acquire their adult plumage. But the transformation from a subtle and understated, fairly camouflaged green juvenile to the ostentatious metallic red of an adult male Anna’s hummingbird seems so parallel to that of a simple caterpillar changing into a colourful butterfly that I think of it as a metamorphosis.
These are photos of Squeaky in August 2016, partway through his moult, and then four months later, on his same favourite perch in December 2016.
The following summer, I watched (and listened to) another young male “metamorphosing” in my back yard.
Squeaky – the only male around that spring – was probably his dad, so I called him Squeaky Jr.
He took the cherry tree as his main territory, occasionally perching in my rose bushes and letting me walk right up to him to take photos like this one.
Squeaky (Sr.) kept the front balcony.
I can tell the females apart fairly well by their unique throat patches, but the males are much tougher. I can identify my regular males as much by their behaviour (which perches they habitually sat on, and how comfortable or skittish they are around me and the dog) as by his appearance. I document the “regulars” with photos, and I am gradually figuring out physical characteristics to be able to distinguish individuals based upon appearance, and not just behaviour or location. (I’ll write a post about that in the future).
This past winter, I had four male hummingbirds staying around the house. The males are not only brightly coloured, they are also very fast-moving and aggressive. I found out that four seems to be the maximum number of males you can have: one guarding each side of the house.
If possible, they claim a perch at a corner so they can guard two sides of the house. I had to place my feeders very thoughtfully, paying attention to corners and shrubbery and sight-lines, so the meeker hummingbirds (especially the females) would still be able to fly in and get a feed.
A different male, Flathead, took Squeaky’s front-balcony corner perch and dominated two sides of the house. He is one of the few males with a distinct identifying feature: his flat head! In this photo, his head feathers are a bit ruffled – but you can still see that he still has more of a scoop-shape at the front of his beak, where his nostrils are. (The black or red colour, or anything in between, of the head feathers are entirely the irridescence – the colours change every time the bird moves).
Flathead matured on my front balcony this past summer like Squeaky had, so he is also really comfortable with my presence. In fact, Flathead is the star of the opening close-up scene of my Snowbirds film!
And I’m not sure what happened to my original Squeaky. He may be one of the two birds that Flathead displaced to the side of the house. I don’t have as good viewing out the windows on the sides – so I will just have to wait until I find the time to review the thousands of photos that I have taken just for the purpose of IDing individuals (shots of both sides of their head which, with the date and time stamp on the photos will record who was around on what days).
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