What Buzzes But is Not a Bee?

Essay and photographs © Connie Cassinetto

I hear them before I see them. It’s the sound of their wings, not the chirps or songs that may be there, but hard to hear, although I can hear them chirping in the nearby trees as they wait for their turn at the feeders. It’s the buzz of their wings, which can flap between 50-75 beats per second and up to 200 times per second during courtship. A courtship dive can attain a speed of 30 miles an hour! I love the buzzing sound of their wings. I love the way they zip through the air like circus performers on a high wire trapeze, flying tandem and turning and whirring through the air, barely missing one another. It’s hard for me to believe that a tiny little bird, the Anna’s hummingbird, measures between three to four inches in size and weighs only ounces, and yet it can fly thousands of miles high in the air during migration. How do they do that? Nature is amazing and that is what keeps me photographing nature and wildlife.

Most of the hummingbirds at my house are Anna’s Hummingbirds, these are native to the Pacific coast but can also be found from central Baja to southern British Columbia. Male Anna’s hummingbirds are capable of courtship display dives from over 130 feet in the air…what antics a bird will go through for a mate! The best description I’ve read of the coloring of a male Anna’s hummingbird was at the website, All About Birds.com, where the bird was described as  “With their iridescent emerald feathers and sparkling rose-pink throats, they are more like flying jewelry than birds.” And they do remind me of jewelry as they whiz past me. The male dives so that the sun is reflected from his iridescent throat and crown, offering up his jewels to his would-be mate.

I can’t hold it against the little guys that they don’t participate in the rearing of their young. I can only hope that the birds at my feeder appreciate these extreme displays of bird courtship and respond accordingly. I watch them as they swoon and dive around the feeders, always coming back to suck up more nectar in between bouts of high flying. They gorge on the sweet feed. They seem to be having a wonderful time and I can only imagine what it would be like to fly like a hummingbird. I feel envious of their ability as I watch. I, too, want to soar, almost weightless, through the air. 

The female Anna’s hummingbird builds her nest, which will eventually hold two eggs each smaller than a jellybean, in a tree or large shrub where food is available nearby. These hummingbirds drink a lot of nectar from all types of plants and hummingbird feeders and will also feast on insects and spiders, sometimes plucking the unlucky insect from the web of a spider. Her nest is a tiny, cup-shaped holder of plant fibers, spider silk, and other plant matter. It will take 15 or so days of incubation and then another 18-22 days of motherly care until they leave the nest. Most females repeat this process three times a year. 

At my feeders, the iridescent green coats of the little birds shine with sparkles as they flit back and forth at the feeders, dipping in, sucking long with their pumping action, then pulling back for a break before they dive in again. I watch as over a dozen small birds vie for placement, swooping around and around the feeders, willing their friends to take a break so they can get at the feeders. 

My bird group numbers about 15 in all, they came last year and arrived again in early June this year. My little “hover” of hummingbirds will soon depart, as they did last year, but in the meantime I’ve enjoyed watching and photographing them and I hope to see them again next year. 

My feeders will be ready!








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