Saturday, August 6, 2016

Hummingbird Days!

Some days are hummingbird days!  These are days when activity at the nectar feeders so captivates our attention that we don't want to miss anything.  Watching is irresistible. Nothing else gets done!
Ruby-throat approaching Royal Catchfly            Photo by Vickie Henderson

Today was one of those days for me!  Yesterday, I brought home a new native plant species hummingbirds love--Royal Catchfly (Silene regia).  A native prairie plant, it gets its name from glands that secrete a sticky enzyme that attracts and captures insects. Though the plant is related to carnivorous plants, it does not benefit nutritionally from the insects.
Hummer and Royal Catchfly                

The new flower species was only one change that attracted my attention and the hummers.  I added a new feeder.  The two males guarding the four feeders I had out were chasing all the juveniles away. No sooner would an approaching juvenile escape one male, than it would be intercepted by the second. Not nice--but typical hummingbird behavior.    
A juvenile male waiting to approach a feeder.

I added the new feeder around the corner near a small garden.  Wthin minutes of hanging it, Wow! Juveniles! Sometimes two or three arriving at the same time, reacting to each other with tails flared, face-offs and chirps. Very shortly, however, another male showed up.  A beautiful male, breath-taking to see at such close range. I was sitting only a few feet from the feeder.
The male, pictured above, was showing some molting, replacing old feathers with new ones, his feathers getting ready for fall migration.

The tenacity of one of the juveniles was surprising  He did not want to give up his feeder and challenged the male repeatedly.  In the image below, the male is watching the juvenile and balancing to face him as he hovers and threatens.
When the juvenile landed on the feeder after the male departed, the male was quickly on him displaying shuttle dives, short repetitive U-shaped dives, coming very close to the juvenile at its lowest point.  I have seen this display during courtship but never before witnessed it during aggression at the feeder.  Serious stuff. So far, warnings, but getting close to the real thing.
To my relief, the juvenile retreated to the garden and perched on the plant stake supporting the catchfly. For a while, he sat very still, looking like one of the leaves, blending in with the foliage. The male went about his business and the confrontation ended.
Male juvenile, above, hiding in the catchfly, showing developing red gorget feathers as he looks up. Every day of their fast-paced lives holds a survival story!
Juvenile Ruby-throat with Coneflowers     Watercolor by Vickie Henderson

This is the height of hummingbird season, the best time to see and enjoy them. The first juveniles are out of the nest, second nesting has begun, and northern hummingbirds have already begun migration.

For an extra treat this season, join us at the Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival at Ijams Nature Center, in Knoxville, TN, on August 20th to celebrate these magnificent birds!  More information is found in the link below.
Links and resources:

Photo credits:  All the photos in this blog post were taken by Vickie Henderson

Ijams Nature Center website with festival information
Wonder of Hummingbird Festival 

Links for hummingbirds in art:
Hummingbird art at Vickie Henderson Art
Hummingbird posts at Vickie's Sketchhbook
Sketching hummingbirds in flight
Hummingbird Studies in watercolor


  1. Beautiful photos and stunning watercolor Vickie! May I ask where you bought the Royal Catchfly plant?

    1. Thank you! I discovered it at Stanley's Greenhouse in Knoxville, TN


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