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Audubon Society offers ‘Hummingbirds at Sunset’

Following a delightful breakfast and birding at the V.A. Poma Ranch last Saturday, the Weminuche Audubon Society will now turn to up-close encounters with hummingbirds — lots of them.

A week from tomorrow (Friday, Aug. 7), society board member Pamela Novack and her husband, Paul Midgley, will welcome the general public to their home at 292 Saddlehorn Pl., to witness a true hummingbird feeding frenzy. Entitled “Hummingbirds at Sunset,” the leisurely affair begins at 6 p.m., with peak viewing expected between 7:30 and 8:15.

During a brief conversation Monday, Pam suggested that at least 300 hummers are either feeding or competing for a feeding station at her house at any given time. This comes as no real surprise since, by Monday, she tended 11 feeders equipped with approximately 30 stations, all well supplied with free-flowing sugar water prepared daily.

In fact, during routine preparations, Pam said she goes through four to five pounds of sugar a day, and that hummers are now feeding in full force. She believes activity will slow by the third week in August but, for now, she has placed another order for an additional $80 worth of feeders.

At this point in the season, Pam reports four separate hummingbird species frequenting her feeders on a regular basis. And, according to noted author Mary Taylor Young, four species regularly visit our area. Two nest here, and two others simply pass through on their way to or from summer nesting grounds in the Northwest.

Of those most often seen in the Colorado high country, the largest and most common is the Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus). At four-and-a-half inches from beak to tail, it’s hardly a big bird, but it’s at least 30 percent larger than the other three.

The broadtail’s plumage is largely emerald-green with an off-white chest. The male’s throat is a brilliant purplish-pink, while the female’s is pale with faint streaks. Because of the male’s luminous magenta throat, many people mistake it for a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, which is common east of the Mississippi River, but not found in Colorado. Arriving here in April, broadtails nest and rear young in mountainous areas, and by late September, they’ve departed for their winter range in Mexico and Central America.

As its name implies, the male Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) is also iridescent emerald-green with a black chin and luminous purple band beneath. Both males and females have white throats, but females have more pale underbellies. As medium-sized hummers, black-chins are three-and-a-half inches from beak to tail.

Both broadtails and black-chins nest in Colorado, but black-chins prefer lower-elevation pinon and juniper forests, mainly along the mesas and canyons of the Western Slope. They too, arrive in mid-April, returning south again, by mid-September.

Rufous (Selasphorus rufus) males may be the prettiest of the four species, with gleaming copper-colored plumage, a reddish-orange throat and white chest. Females have striped throats and greenish backs, with rusty sides and pale underbellies. All are medium-sized hummers, measuring three-and-a-half inches from beak to tail.

What rufous hummers lack in size compared to broadtails, they make up for in tenacity. Though their stay is relatively brief, they waste little time driving the larger birds away from feeders and claiming them as their own. Once food sources are conquered, rufous will aggressively defend them against all comers venturing in to feed. By late August, they are leaving the state in favor of Mexico, where they spend most of the year.

Calliopes (Stellula calliope) are the smallest birds in North America, and in the world, only the Bee Hummingbird of Cuba is smaller. At three-and-a-quarter inches from beak to tail, they stand out among other hummers at the feeder, with bills and tails much shorter in relation to body length.

Calliopes aren’t quite as colorful as other hummers, but they do have distinct metallic-purple streaks running down the throat into a white breast. As fairly docile creatures, they feed alongside broadtails until late August, when they continue southward to southeastern Arizona and western Mexico.

To get up close and personal with these marvelous birds, Pam recommends bringing a folding chair, favorite snacks and beverage, and arrive around 6 p.m. Be sure and come prepared for a couple of evening hours outdoors.

To get there, drive north on North Pagosa Boulevard, approximately 5.5 miles from U.S. 160 (2.5 miles north of Mission), and turn right on Saddlehorn Place. With only two homes at the top of the hill, hers is No. 292.

As always, this Weminuche Audubon Society-sponsored event is free and open to the public. Members only ask that you leave pets at home and consider appropriate childcare for toddlers.

For more information on Hummingbirds at Sunset, or for more detailed directions, call Pamela Novack at 946-0534 or 731-3626.

chuck@pagosasun.com