Starting in February in coastal areas, keep an eye out for a change in your local hummingbirds. Our resident Anna’s will be sharing the stage with the Allen’s flying in from Mexico and Southern California. Who needs Cirque du Soleil when you can watch the springtime aerial displays of the male Allen’s hummingbird? After these three-inch-long birds migrate to their breeding range in coastal California and southern Oregon, they find prime feeding territories and defend them aggressively. Wildlife biologist and Santa Cruz Bird Club leader David Suddjian says the male swoops through the air in great pendulous swings, shaking his tail feathers at the apex of each swing to show his colors. For a finale, he climbs 100 feet, only to turn and dive-bomb toward the ground, the air whistling through his feathers with the sound of a passing bullet. At the conclusion of the show, he flashes his coppery-orange gorget (throat) feathers for the audience of the display, which, oddly enough, is often another male. The males hang out in the open posturing for one another, while the females watch from the sidelines, emerging only to copulate before returning to the trees.
One good place to watch the Allen’s in action is at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum. Most of the hummers you see at the arboretum from February to late spring are Allen’s. The slightly larger Anna’s breed in late December and January. “When the Allen’s leave, our year-round resident Anna’s come back out just like the locals return to the boardwalk after all the tourists leave,” says Todd Newberry, author with Gene Holtan of The Ardent Birder and a popular docent at the arboretum.
Allen’s are found throughout Bay Area coastal locales, including in Golden Gate Park at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Join Allan Ridley and Helen McKenna on their bird walks the first Sunday of each month at 8 a.m.; meet at the main gate near the bookstore.
To see the Allen’s at the Santa Cruz arboretum, go on your own or join the organized plant and bird tours on Hummingbird Day, Saturday, March 8, 2008. Go to the UCSC Arboretum website for more information.