By Ellen Girardeau Kempler
The battle begins every morning at the hummingbird feeder outside my bedroom window. Even before I’m fully awake, I’m aware of the shrill, aggressive chirps of hummingbirds battling it out over the sugar water nectar. Our resident warriors are so voracious that my husband usually has to refill the feeder daily. To maintain their almost-constant flight, they must consume up to 200 percent of their body weight in nectar, small spiders and insects every day.
The non-profit Hummingbird Society recommends filling feeders with a solution of one cup of cane sugar (white) to four cups of spring water (tap water okay) with no food coloring. Feeders require regular cleaning. Planting native trumpet-shaped, perennials such as monkey flower, sages, California fuchsia and manzanita will attract hummers to your garden all year.
In Southern California, the migration patterns of many different hummingbird species intersect during different seasons. Before their annual migrations of up to 3,000 miles (as far south as Tierra del Fuego and as far north as Alaska), they need to gain 25-40% of their body weight. At various times of the year in Southern California, several different species of hummingbirds will be either summering, wintering or stopping to fuel up on the way to another destination. During peak transit times, a tiny traffic jam of hungry hummers can congregate around feeders and flowers.
The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants has compiled an online guide to help you identify the six species of hummingbirds commonly seen in our area, along with a seasonal list of the native plants that attract them. As with many bird species, male hummingbirds have the showiest feathers. Of the estimated 338 species in the world (found only in North America, Central and South America and some Caribbean islands), three are year-‘round residents of Southern California: the green-backed Allen’s, the comparatively large Anna’s and the dark-purple throated Black-chinned hummingbird. Seasonally, you might also see Calliope, Costa’s and Rufous hummingbirds.
Although the hummingbird’s adaptability has made it the second most common bird besides flycatchers, habitat loss and degradation are threatening about 10 percent of the world’s species. Keeping a hummingbird in captivity is a felony in the United States, and it is also illegal to possess a hummingbird feather or nest. If you find an injured hummingbird, contact the Pacific Wildlife Foundation immediately for referral to a local licensed rehabilitator.
Ellen Girardeau Kempler is founder and chief navigator of Laguna-based Gold Boat Journeys. She specializes in travel planning, writing, strategic marketing and social media training. Contact her at [email protected].