Tuesday, April 12, 2011


This past weekend, we enjoyed the annual Theodore Payne Foundation Native Plant Garden Tour.

On Saturday, the last garden we visited was in an exclusive neighborhood, up in the hills above Beverly Hills. The home sported magnificent city views from its back garden. But what stood out was the owner's devotion to native wildlife - especially birds.

There were many hummingbird feeders on stands around the patio, and while the visitors mingled, we were dive-bombed by dozens and dozens of hummingbirds.

They were extraordinary! We get hummingbirds in our Topanga garden sipping nectar from the flowers, and the males jealously guard their territory, aggressively driving out other hummingbirds competing for the feed.

But here - perhaps because the food was so abundant - the birds called a truce, allowing others to perch alongside them as they greedily supped and sipped.

Hummingbirds are unique, in that certain feathers - particularly those around the throat, or "gorget" - have prism-like cells on the surface, so that when sunlight hits them, they refract the light and appear as a blaze of color. It's not pigment - it's the refractive quality that makes the throats of hummingbirds appear brilliant orange, or magenta, or even deep violet.

The adult male bird is more brilliantly colored than the female and juvenile birds.

There are three hummingbird species common to the Southern California coastal region. These are Calypte anna, called the Anna's hummingbird; Selasphorus sasin, or Allen's hummingbird; and Selasphorus rufus, or the Rufous hummingbird.

I am not great at identifying birds, but to me, the birds with the brownish sides, green cap, and tawny throats look like Allen's hummingbirds, with their greenish backs and rumps.

The birds with the red crown and greyish chest is probably Anna's hummingbird.

Hummingbirds flap their wings almost 90 times per second, which makes it possible for them to hover in mid-air. The effort and energy required for this makes their metabolism soar - they have the highest rate of metabolism of any known animal. Their hearts beat at a rate of 1,260 per minute. They consume nectar (and human-provided sugar water) and eat up to 12 times their own body weight per day.

Although all of the hummingbirds emit sounds from the buzzing of their wings, Anna's hummingbird is notable because the shape of their tail feathers stiffened against the wind make a squeaking sound male birds use to warn off competitors during the mating season.

They are simply an amazing, ridiculous, beautiful bird.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I've seen them here in W.V., but only during the summer heat.

You're right, they are amazing and ridiculous!

smalltownme said...

They are truly things to celebrate.

cactus petunia said...

Beautiful and amazing and a wonder to behold!
Great pictures!

SUEB0B said...

Pretty, but I much prefer to plant shrubs that they like, such as sages, so I can see them feed naturally.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

They are glorious! I love these little jewel-like critters.

Mrs. G. said...

I have had the good fortune of being dive bombed by two humming birds. I don't know if it was my shirt or the plant I was messing with. They didn't make contact and they sounded like huge bumble bees.
Great photos!