August is the peak of hummingbird season in Teller County. Our local breeder is the Broad-tailed, but starting in July a couple of others move in: the Rufous and Calliope. They are all greenish in color except for the male Rufous that is reddish-orange. The male Rufous also stands out because he relentlessly chases all the other hummers from food sources.
Hummingbirds are the smallest of birds. They use their needle-like beaks to probe into flowers for nectar, needing a high sugar diet to propel their high revving body engines. Most males have brightly colored throats known as gorgets. As you would expect all hummers migrate south to avoid the colder winter months. Another less common species that may roam into our area from the south is the Black-chinned Hummingbird.
We don’t see the Rufous in the spring because they migrate north up the Pacific Coast, then breed in the mountains north of us, then funnel south through the Colorado Rockies on their fall migration. Expect them to arrive in early July and leave by early October. The Rufous has the most widespread range of any western hummingbird. They summer into Alaska and winter into southern Mexico.
The coppery male is whitish below and has a reddish gorget, but if the light is not hitting the iridescent throat just right it can appear dark. The adult female has a small iridescent patch on the throat, buffy flanks and a green tail with bands of rufous, black and white. Also note that the immature Rufous and Broad-tailed have spotted throats and appear very similar.
Hummers prefer the cover of forests, woodlands and shrubby areas, but can also be found feeding on flowers in open meadows and grasslands. They also like canyons and riparian areas and during migration they can turn up just about anywhere. Flower nectar is their main food and they are most attracted to red flowers. They also need protein so will snack on insects and spiders, and a bit of tree sap supplements their diet. The Rufous vocalizations are high-pitched chips and chattery calls. With practice, you can differentiate their wing humming noise, which has more of a buzzy quality than other hummingbirds.
The bully is back in town, but the other hummers are used to his antics so he won’t be leaving anytime soon.
Notable reports in June from the Woodland Park Yard Area:
• Calliope Hummingbird — arrived on July 8
• Rufous Hummingbird — arrived on July 13
• Clark’s Nutcracker — one on July 20
• Western Bluebird — some sightings at water features, juvenile on July 20
• Red-breasted Nuthatch — one on July 16
• Yellow-rumped Warbler — one at water feature on July 2
• Black-headed Grosbeak — a few around in late July
• Green-tailed Towhee — one on July 12
• Pine Siskin — some around all month, larger flocks of up to 18 with juveniles in late July
• Cassin’s Finch — one on July 18 and 28
• Red Crossbill — some around all month, juveniles on July 30
Joe LaFleur studied wildlife biology and communications at Colorado State University and is the creator of “Better Birdwatching,” a DVD series on North American birds. Contact him with questions and feedback at email@example.com.