Five feeders hung from metal hooks placed strategically on the grass in front of the Nature Shop at the Southwestern Research Station, a year-round field station under the direction of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation of the American Museum of natural History located in Cave Creek, AZ. Hummingbirds swooped in and out, unperturbed by the bees and wasps that also sought the sweet nectar. My friends Donna and Gail and I plopped down on one of the benches and raised our binoculars, trying to decide which feeder to watch.
“There’s a female Magnificent Hummingbird at number two,” Gail announced. “See how much larger it is than the other ones.” We admired it, and then it buzzed off.
I had seen a Magnificent at Lake Roberts, NM; but had not gotten the characteristics imbedded in my mind.
“There’s a female Blue-throated Hummingbird coming into the same feeder,” Gail pointed out. “Notice how wide the white tips are on the tail. And, the malar streak is much more pronounced,” she continued.
“The beak appears straight,” Donna observed, “as opposed to the slightly curved beak of the Magnificent.”
We sat enthralled and watched Black-chinned and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds assert themselves at the feeders, not allowing their significantly smaller size to impede their pursuit of the sweet liquid.
“Oh, look,” Gail exclaimed. “A male Blue-throated.”
At first its throat looked black against its metallic green back and crown. Then it turned slightly and the late afternoon light caught its throat. I gasped when I saw its bright blue gorget.
Since the males start to migrate first, most of what we were seeing was females. It made the males stand out even more.
It wasn’t warm enough for the hummingbirds to be feeding when we sauntered over to the feeders before breakfast the next morning. Instead, we amused ourselves watching Molly, a doe that was rescued by the staff of the research station. She sported a red bandana to signal her status to hunters. This morning she had brought her fawn with her.
According to the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, eighteen species of hummingbirds can be seen in Arizona. A couple of species make their homes in Arizona year-round; however, most are summer residents, a few are only seen during migration, and two are accidental and not seen every year. Arizona’ climate and unique combination of habitats, which includes mountains, deserts, grasslands and streamside forests that bisect each other, make it an ideal lure for hummingbirds.
In addition to the Cave Creek/Portal area in the Chiricahua Mountains, other hummingbird hotspots include Madera Canyon, Patagonia, and the canyons of the Huachuca Mountains, e.g. Miller, Ramsey and Ash Canyons. I had visited Beatty’s Guest Ranch and Orchard in July 2005, where I had been fortunate to see White-eared and Broad-billed Hummingbirds.
Since our current visit was in the last week in September, some of the species would already have migrated and some only lingered in the canyons right along the Mexican border. The Violet-crowned and Lucifer would have to wait for another trip.
Every house on the main street through Portal had one or more feeders hanging in their yards. In addition to the species we had already seen, there was an Anna’s Hummingbird, with full red gorget and head. It is the hummingbird I see when I visit the California coast during the winter.
On our last afternoon in Arizona we headed up into Madera Canyon and stopped at Santa Rita Lodge, where the feeders are accessible to the public, as well as the lodge’s guests. Not many hummingbirds were present. However, in the late afternoon, birds were beginning to congregate at the feeders, and there was practically no one around. We sat enthralled as the hummingbirds came in for their final sustenance of the day.
We felt lucky to catch the waning hummingbird show, since most of these tiny birds would leave their breeding grounds soon to winter in Mexico and Central America.