Sunday, March 15, 2009

Seeing Rufous

I've got a hummingbird feeder that I occasionally remember to fill hanging just outside my second-story bedroom window. With hummingbird migration full upon us (I should technically keep it filled all year, since there are always tons of hummingbirds around, but I'm too lazy), I cooked up a batch of sugar water, did my best to clean all the disgusting scum off the out-of-service feeder, filled it, and waited. At first, only the occasional Anna's Hummingbird or House Finch would stop by, but this morning a gorgeous Rufous Hummingbird was carefully driving away any other hummingbird that tried to steal a sip of its precious sugar water.

Rufous Hummingbirds are fairly common migrants in Orange County - I've seen several in the last week or so buzzing around the flowering eucalyptus trees in the neighborhood - but this was the most cooperative one I'd ever seen. He held his ground as I carefully slid the window open and poked my camera lens out. Rufous Hummingbirds are certainly an attractive hummingbird, shining bright orange like a freshly-minted penny.

The bird's gorget shimmered from blackish to fiery red as it cocked its head to investigate its surroundings. The gorget sometimes even has a greenish sheen, which I captured with this photo.

All hummingbirds are aggressive, and many consider the Rufous Hummingbird to be particularly tough when it comes to defending feeders. When another hummingbird came anywhere near the feeder, he'd give a warning chatter. If the other hummingbird was foolish enough to ignore this, the Rufous would zoom off his perch in a flash of orange and send the intruder packing. This photo, which I clicked off just before he took off on such a chase, shows the spread tail. The tail feathers (or retrices, in birder jargon) are broader in Rufous Hummingbird than on the very similar Allen's Hummingbird. On females and immatures, the shape of these feathers is often the only way to distinguish these two species. Fortunately, the males are more distinctive, and a Rufous with a completely orange back like this one is unmistakable.

I had better enjoy the Rufous Hummingbirds as they pass through, since they'll only be around for another month or so. I'll also have to keep a sharp eye out for Calliope Hummingbirds, which are uncommon spring migrants in Orange County in March and April. I've never seen one, but hopefully I'll find one this spring. And of course, I'll always treasure the Allen's and Anna's Hummingbirds, which are omnipresent around here.


Chris W said...

Note the deep notch in the P2. Usually characteristic of a Rufous Hummer.

Did you take those photos through the window? Nice shots!

Brendan F. said...

DAMN nice pics!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful Shots. What mm lens do you use?
Ali Iyoob

Jeff Schultz said...

Nice shots of the Rufous! I'm jealous! Enjoy following your blog. Glad to see that someone can get out and bird.

Neil Gilbert said...

Thanks guys. All these shots were taken through an open window with a 300 mm lens.