Meet the girls!

You were introduced to Rosie (photo of her above) in my previous post. She was the first Anna’s hummingbird to ever show up here and stick around – for six years now! So she is probably an ancestor to much of the current hummer population in my neighbourhood.

Female Anna’s hummingbirds – like most bird species – are not as brightly coloured as the males. However, as you can see from this pic, they are not exactly drab, either. Although in some lights they look dull and greyish, when the light catches them right, the main part of their body is bright and iridescent, almost metallic: some gleam like emeralds, some flash olivey-yellow, and some shine with hints of sapphire.

And then that throat spot: although it often looks dark and greyish, you can see in the photo above that, when the light catches it, it gleams ruby red.

The throat spot is the main way that I identify my individual females. Every bird has a uniquely shaped patch on her throat. The first year that Rosie was around the winter of 2014-2015, it was just her and one other female. The second year, it was Rosie and two different females. The third year, was a real surprise. I put a lot of time into the photography, and was able to distinguish around 30 individual birds that winter: mostly females, but occasionally a male.

The third winter that I had hummingbirds around, I began to realize that there were actually quite a lot of different female birds here! Rosie had not returned (yet), and I didn’t recognize anyone else, so I started by numbering them. Here are a few of the girls who have been special in one way or another:

This bird was called Number One. She was quite distinctive both by positioning – dominating the main feeder on the front balcony – and also by the scraggly chin patch, with a couple of extra dots on her upper right.

When a new young male, Squeaky, moved in to take charge of that feeder, Number One moved to the side of the house and hid out in the laburnum tree. By then she had been here for months and was clearly a regular, so I rewarded her with a nicer name, after her tree: she became Laverne. She hung around that entire winter of 2016-2017, gradually getting more raggedy on the top of the head. She was the most regular bird that year, but she has not returned since then.

And this bird is Number 10. She was extremely distinctive because her throat was mostly white, with only a light bit of flaking.

She was a frequent visitor at the front yard hanging feeder that same winter of 2016-2017. Notably, whenever she flew off, she always headed south towards my neighbour’s butterfly bush. I always wondered if she had a nest over there (they tend not to nest near their feeding areas – too much competition).

Number 10 returned for a short while the following winter- one of only a few birds I’ve been able to ID year after year.

Number 15 (below) was a sweet little bird. She was extremely easy to recognize, even from a distance, because her chin patch was so big and dark, with a small notch on the left side. I had so many hummingbirds that winter of 2016-2017 that I set up extra feeders on the sides of the house – basically anywhere I could find that was out of sight of other feeders (around corners, under balconies, behind bushes). Number 15 took over the feeder by the woodpile, and sat day after day on this splinter of wood. When Rosie left the back yard in early spring (to nest, I assume), Number 15 took over her territory for a month or so, then she disappeared too.

And below – here’s a short video of Rosetta. She is new (I think! – I will have to find the time to go through my old photos to be sure). This year, the males have taken over the yard; there is one male guarding each side of the house, and the females have been struggling to sneak in to feed. Rosetta is the one exception: in good weather, she sits boldly on the rose bush (which she is named after) that sticks up from the hedge beside my driveway, and if it rains or snows she flits up to sit on the twigs at the balcony.

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How it all began…

The photo above was taken in December 2014 – more of a snapshot, taken long before I was working on any sort of hummingbird photography project. This is the bird I now call Rosie: the first hummingbird to reside in my yard. Six years later, she is still here!

It was November, 2014. My husband, Dave, and I were about to leave for two week’s vacation in California. I was cleaning up the back yard when I heard a buzz and glanced up to see a metallic flash of red. A male Anna’s hummingbird hovered at what was left of my hanging basket of petunias. The flowers were withered and dry, but they still held their colour. He inspected them, then zipped off.

I knew Anna’s hummingbirds were expanding their range, and had been seen on Vancouver Island. I’d never seen one myself, though.

We had pulled the feeder in in August, once the migrating rufous hummingbirds left. But – hopeful that I might see another Anna’s, I filled it and hung it before we headed south.

And it worked. By the end of December, we had two females bickering over the feeder. I realized I could tell them apart by the shape of their throat patch, so I named them the Big One and the Little One. The birds, of course, were the same size – but the throat patches weren’t. The Little One was the regular, often perched in the twigs I zip-tied to the front balcony rail. The Big One sneaked in for a feed when she could.

The next winter, I had two females again. By now we had several feeders out, front and back, so each hummer could have her territory and not worry about being attacked. The backyard bird perched so regularly on the rose bush that I named her Rosie.

I wasn’t working on a hummingbird photography project back then. I was just snapping a few pix. But one day, reviewing my photos, and looking at how the throat patches appear to change depending upon the light, I suddenly realized that Rosie was the Little One. My main bird from last year had returned!

That winter I had three recognizable females. The following winter I photo-ID’d over thirty – Rosie among them. She must be mother or grandmother to most of the newcomers! I started to get a few males, too – including my most regular (and favourite, of the boys at least) Squeaky, now back for his fourth winter.

And, as I write this, little Rosie is back for her sixth winter. I call her Grandma Rosie now, because she is likely grandma (probably with several “greats” in front of it) to many of the hummers who are regulars in my neighbourhood now.

So that’s how it all began. From the scientific perspective, a really interesting on-going example of range expansion by a species. From my personal perspective, a really fun and rewarding photo project, and a unique opportunity to get up close to Anna’s hummingbirds. (Because Rosie and many of the others know me, too).

If you want to follow my hummingbird work, sign up for occasional updates on my Contact page. Don’t worry, I take your privacy seriously and I will never spam you!