One of the joyous aspects of coming to the desert is that I know that I will be seeing Black –chinned hummingbirds again. This small emerald green-backed hummingbird of the west with no brilliant colors on his throat except a thin strip of iridescent purple bordering his black chin has to be one of my favorites. Because it is so difficult to see the rich deep purple band on the males I am always on the look out for it. I have a feeder just outside my east window and in the morning when the light is right I can usually glimpse a brilliant flash of deep purple.
This year the hummingbirds arrived in Abiquiu during the middle of April from Mexico, (or the Gulf coast) just a few days too early because we had a cold spell with temperatures in the low twenties, and one morning a blanket of snow covered the desert floor.
My neighbor found a dead male Black chinned hummingbird on his feeder early that winter morning. As soon as I heard this news I requested that the bird be brought to me, because I knew that hummingbirds have developed an ability to survive cold temperatures by drastically lowering their heartbeats and going into a state of torpor. Unfortunately this bird was dead having already been placed in a freezer.
Frequently, these birds can be revived if held in the palm of one’s hand; once movement is detected it is possible to feed them sugar water with an eye dropper by forcing open the birds’ beak and dribbling drops into the side of the hummingbird’s mouth. Be very careful if you do decide to do this because hummingbirds, like all birds, run the risk of choking. The fluid can kill them. Afterwards the bird can be placed in a small softly lined box to recover completely and then set free.
It is a good idea to put hummingbird feeders out about a week before the first Ruby throated and Black –chinned hummingbirds arrive because there are so few natural sources for food available. Here in Abiquiu, I will be placing a feeder out by the beginning of the second week in April. Most folks are aware that hummingbird populations have been stabilized because so many people love to feed them.
These birds are strictly migratory wintering in Mexico or along the Gulf coast.
Female Black- chinned hummingbirds are larger than males and have brilliant green backs and pale whitish gray throats. Most females arrive later than the males.
Courtship displays begin soon afterwards with the males sky-diving around the females, flashing their neon throats, or hovering in front of their potential mates and flying back and forth in front of them. These behaviors are always accompanied by whirring sounds.
Hummingbird nests are extraordinary structures that are built by the females. They are shaped like tiny cups and made of grasses, plant fibers, spider webs, and lined with plant down. The outside of the nest is camouflaged with lichens, dead leaves or other debris. The female lays two tiny eggs that are incubated by her for two weeks. She feeds the nestlings by sticking her bill into their mouths and regurgitating tiny insects, nectar, and sugar water. The nestlings fledge at three weeks. The female has two broods a year.
Watching a Black- chinned hummingbird feed in natural surroundings is fun. To catch small insects the hummers may grab them in mid –air and sometimes take them from spider webs!
Black – chinned hummingbirds can be found in semi – arid country, river groves, suburbs, mountains and hills throughout the west. Unfortunately they are at risk because of climate change, so lets appreciate them while we still have them.
This will be my last entry before returning to Maine. I will be leaving on the Summer Solstice and be making a 4 -5 day trip. Just this month a hummingbird sat under the Fire Moon as I took the picture. It seems fitting that my last article would be about these wondrous little birds that I love so much….