Monthly Archives: July 2014

940 Feathers: Appreciating Hummingbirds

male hummingbird

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Feathers: Some feathers on a hummingbird hold bright radiant color. This coloring comes from iridescent coloring like on a soap bubble or prism and requires sunlight to show these colors off. An average sized hummingbird will have about 940 feathers. This is more feathers per square inch of their body than any other bird in the animal kingdom. – Hummingbird Anatomy

female hummingbird

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Eyes: Hummingbirds have very large eyes in proportion to their body weight. The eyes are set on the side of the head allowing the hummingbird to see both ahead (binocular vision) and on the side peripherally (monocular vision). Hummingbirds have many more rods and cones than humans in their eyes to help them see well. This makes them better able to see colors and ultraviolet light. Hummingbird’s eyes will regularly outweigh a hummingbird’s brain. – Hummingbird Anatomy

male hummingbird

Beak: The beak or bill on a hummingbird is longer in proportion to their body than other birds. This is so they can reach deep down into a tubular flower to get the nectar. A hummingbird’s beak is not hollow. They do not sip nectar up like a straw. The beak or bill has an upper and lower portion, much like any other bird. – Hummingbird Anatomy

“I like to imagine they use their beaks for fencing.” – my daughter Anna


Haida hummingbird art by April White

Northwest Tribal Art Symbols: A literal messenger of joy, this beautiful tiny bird, also called Sah Sen, represents friendship, playfulness, and is a symbol of good luck in Northwest Coastal Native art.

And more from World of Hummingbirds/ Anatomy...

Tongue: The tongue on a hummingbird is very long. It is grooved like the shape of a “W”. On the tip of the tongue are brushy hairs that help lap up nectar from a flower. A hummingbird can lap up nectar at a rate of about thirteen (13) licks per second. Hummingbirds have only a few taste buds on the tongue. Hummingbirds can taste just enough to know what is good and what is bad. They can also taste what too sweet, not sweet enough, or just right.

Nostrils: Hummingbird nostrils are located at the base of the beak. Hummingbirds have no sense of smell.

Bones: In order to be as lightweight as possible, most of the hummingbird’s bones are extremely porous. Some hummingbird bones, like those in the wings and legs, are hollow to save even more weight.

Brain: A hummingbird’s brain is approximately 4.2% of its body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom. Hummingbirds are very smart and they can remember every flower they have been to, and how long it will take a flower to refill.

Wings: A hummingbird’s wings are unlike any other bird’s wings. They allow a hummingbird fly forward, backward, hover, and even fly upside-down for a short period of time. Hummingbirds are the only birds in the world that can fly like this. A hummingbird can perform these feats of acrobatics for several reasons. First of all their shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint that allows the hummingbird to rotate their wings one hundred eighty (180) degrees in all directions. Hummingbird wings with beat about seventy (70) times per second while in regular flight and up to 200 times per second when diving. (Smaller hummingbird’s wings beat about thirty-eight (38) to about seventy-eight (78) times a second while larger ones beat their wings about eighteen (18) to twenty-eight (28) times per second.) Hummingbirds don’t flap their wings, they rotate them. When hummingbirds fly, they move their wings in an oval pattern, except when they are hovering. When they are hovering they will move their wings in a figure-eight motion. A hummingbird can fly at an average speed of twenty-five (25) to thirty (30) miles per hour, and dive at a speed of up to sixty (60) miles per hour.

When hummingbirds fly, they fly upright, facing the world, not flat like most birds. – World of Hummingbirds

Birds in July

Eastern Bluebird

Mrs. B is here for mealworms.


She and the Mister are still feeding the fledglings somewhere out in the woods, but I haven’t seen them yet.

July has been pretty quiet in the backyard bird world – though we are still getting sporadic visits from bluebirds, blue jays, cardinals, grackles, red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds, goldfinches, chipping sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches, three kinds of woodpeckers, doves and robins.

I haven’t seen catbirds or titmice in a few days. The squirrels, gray and red, have been annoying. There are a few brown rabbits around. Snakes and turtles and groundhogs and muskrats and raccoons slightly further afield.

There have been some aerial battles around the hummingbird feeding, happening too fast for the human eye to see.

Lurking crow


Big black crow and fat gray squirrel, cleaning up under bird feeder.

Crow likes the cracked corn in the seed mix.

This crow was here off and on for a week, a couple of weeks ago. I suspect it was keeping an eye on the soon-to-be fledglings in the nearby bluebird nest box.

The blue jays don’t usually tolerate crows, mobbing to drive them off. Not sure why this one, for one week, was the exception to the rule. Maybe they were in corvid cahoots. Blue jays eat baby birds too.

American CrowThey usually feed on the ground and eat almost anything – typically earthworms, insects and other small animals, seeds, and fruit but also garbage, carrion, and chicks they rob from nests. Their flight style is unique, a patient, methodical flapping that is rarely broken up with glides.

Mystery bird is a “songbird chicken”

brown-headed cowbird female

This bird just outside my bedroom window this morning sounded like a chattering squirrel. She was eating the millet seeds from the mix of bird food in the platform feeder. I took a photo and tried to figure out what she was.

Her finch-like beak threw me off a bit, but finally I figured out she was a female Brown-headed Cowbird.

We have had two to four cowbirds visiting the yard and feeders a few times a week since spring, usually in pairs. Maybe this was a juvenile female. Wonder who her foster parents were?

The Brown-headed Cowbird is North America’s most common “brood parasite.” A female cowbird makes no nest of her own, but instead lays her eggs in the nests of other bird species, who then raise the young cowbirds.

brown-headed cowbirds

Here is a photo of Mr. and Mrs. Brown-headed Cowbird, taken in early April.

They are very “chill” birds, slow to startle, deliberate and focused in their feeding, mixing easily with other species. I remember one spring day I kept an eye on a pair as they sat still for (it seemed) hours on a branch in the maple tree, staring at each other.

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center: Brown-Headed Cowbirds: From Buffalo Birds to Modern Scourge

Cowbirds earned their common name from the habit of following herds of buffalo (and cattle) in search of the insect prey that were flushed up by the large grazing mammals.


Cowbirds have been called songbird chickens because they can lay more eggs than any other wild bird. A single female is capable of laying nearly one egg per day at the peak of the breeding season, and produces a total of 30-40 eggs over the 2-3 month breeding period (May-July).



Cowbird eggs require an incubation period of only 11-12 days, whereas most host species require 12-14 days, and some as many as 17 days of incubation. Consequently, cowbird young hatch earlier than the host young, affording the parasite a distinct advantage in competing for food with its younger foster siblings.

Fascinating stuff! All learned while sipping my morning (bird-friendlycoffee.

The prize


Titmouse Nabs Nut, Flees Scene!

Doesn’t this Tufted Titmouse look like a little thief, caught in the act?

Titmice are in our yard year-round, maybe a bit less in evidence in the warmer months.


Titmouse in winter, when we have the see-through feeder stuck on the bedroom window. In summer, the screens are up instead. The cat loves it here, of course.

Titmice seem to eat almost any bird food we offer, just like their cousins the chickadees.

From All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology: The large black eyes, small, round bill, and brushy crest gives these birds a quiet but eager expression that matches the way they flit through canopies, hang from twig-ends, and drop in to bird feeders. When a titmouse finds a large seed, you’ll see it carry the prize to a perch and crack it with sharp whacks of its stout bill.

May I just say… the writers at All About Birds do a lovely job.

I’m standing right next to Forrest Gump

Downy Woodpecker

Some birds are easier to get close to than others.

I can walk within a few feet of this Downy Woodpecker before he flies away. When he flies, he reminds me of a moth. He flutters around and just sort of ends up somewhere.

You can see he is a male by the red patch on his head. This fellow has a distinctive bit of black mixed into the red.

Downy Woodpecker

Behavior is also a way to identify this particular bird. He seems a bit “touched.” Sort of out of it.

Can individual birds be crazier or dumber than other birds of the same species? Did this one fly into a tree, hit his head and boggle his brains? Is he a woodpecker changeling? Or is he one of the young ones still learning his way around?

In these photos, he is a few feet away from a suet cake. Suet is the preferred food of Downy Woodpeckers in our backyard. But he is clinging to a tube feeder, with perches for the finch-type visitors, and staring at the seed.

Downy Woodpecker

A couple of days ago, I watched this woodpecker (I call him Forrest Gump) cling to the tube feeder in this position absolutely motionless for about 8 minutes.

Can woodpeckers fall asleep with their eyes open? Was he in a trance?

Downy Woodpecker

Forrest Gump is awestruck, lost in the moment.

He is going to need some luck to survive in this backyard, with the Broad-winged Hawk and other predators nearby in the woods. Strange little creature.

Ubiquitous worm eaters


I am perfectly still.


Then I am running.

American Robins are often found running around on the lawn, stopping sometimes to pull worms out of it. Sometimes they hold very still, waiting for some worm clues.

But this afternoon I also watched a couple of them rustling around awkwardly and atypically in a bush in the backyard.


I went over to inspect the bush and found that the first blueberries are ripening. I guess they like a bit of blueberry pie for dessert after worms.

American Robins are industrious and authoritarian birds that bound across lawns or stand erect, beak tilted upward, to survey their environs.

Big bird in small bird body


Portrait of a scruffy little chickadee.

Black-capped Chickadees are year-round backyard residents and frequent visitors to our feeders. They seem to eat every kind of bird food – seed, suet and nut.

From All About Birds: A bird almost universally considered “cute” thanks to its oversized round head, tiny body, and curiosity about everything, including humans. The chickadee’s black cap and bib; white cheeks; gray back, wings, and tail; and whitish underside with buffy sides are distinctive. Its habit of investigating people and everything else in its home territory, and quickness to discover bird feeders, make it one of the first birds most people learn.

Cute. And tough and fearless. Chickadees remind me of those little dogs that think and act like big dogs.

Relax and stop hiding your eggs, Grace Kelly

My hens usually lay two or three eggs a day. Lately I have been getting one or two.


But I discovered that’s because one chicken has been hiding her eggs under the back deck behind a piece of wooden lattice leaning against the wall.

buff orpington

Here is the culprit: Grace Kelly the Buff Orpington.

She was always the hen that seemed most likely to go broody. When I had a rooster (named Caesar) she was his favorite. I suspect she decided she was going to hatch a clutch of eggs and fulfill her biological destiny – impossible, of course, since Caesar went to live on a nice little farm in the next town north of here.

Or else she just didn’t like the coop nest boxes anymore.

Yesterday I got, in the mail, a little treat for myself and my chickens: Chicken Nesting Box Herb Blend.

(Fresh Eggs Daily photo)


This wonderful blend of aromatic culinary herbs and edible flowers in your chicken coop nesting boxes will act as a natural insecticide, rodent-repellent, stress reliever and laying stimulant for your chickens. And your coop will never smell better!

Basil – insecticide, antibacterial, aids in mucus membrane health
Chamomile – kills mites and lice, antiseptic, antibiotic, calming, relaxant, detoxifier
Lavender – stress reliever, aromatic, insecticide
Marigold (Calendula) – insecticide, antioxidant
Marjoram – laying stimulant, detoxifier, improves blood circulation
Peppermint – insecticide, rodent repellent
Red Raspberry Leaf – antioxidant, relaxant
Rose Petals – aromatic, antiseptic, antibacterial

Sprinkle liberally in your nesting boxes during regular cleanings or any time you wish. The herbs have wonderful health benefits so your chickens will thank you. As an added bonus, your coop will look and smell wonderful !

Will Grace Kelly be more inclined to spend time in a pretty-smelling nest box in the coop? Who knows. But I enjoyed sprinkling liberally and sniffing the nice smells.

When my daughter Anna saw me open the package and I told her what was in the muslin bags, she said: “That’s it. You ARE a witch.”

“No,” I said. “If I were a witch, I would be gathering and blending these herbs myself instead of ordering them from Etsy.”

More on Chicken Aromatherapy from Fresh Eggs Daily.