We are fast approaching the so called “Dog Days of Summer,” a time when our brightest star in our galaxy, Sirius,” dominates the evening sky. It also correlates to a period of time that our days are long and hot. Like most of us, birds are not all that thrilled to deal with the heat. Our featured birds are our summer residents, a group with colorful plumages and interesting life styles. The key to enjoying birds at this time of the summer is to get up early and watch them when they are most active.
As for active birds, one has to look no further than their backyards where a great deal of “humming” is going on around the feeders. These tiniest of birds have me trained pretty well to look after their daily need of sugar water. As much sugar as they collectively scarf down every day, one would think that they would be too fat to fly. However, we all know that they need this energy source to keep their motors running at full throttle. I have been fortunate to have at least a couple of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in my “stable” to add a little variety to the normal contingent of Black-chinned Hummingbirds.
It seems my hummers are less aggressive now than in years past. Sometimes, as I watch the two feeders with eight portals each, I see that there is no room on the perching ring. When this happens, I have noticed two birds taking turns sipping sugar water out of the same hole. I once witnessed three birds trying to insert their bills in the same hole at the same time, a feat that only happens at first light when the birds are all trying to “fill their tanks” at the same time. Hunger trumps manners and a usual aggression exhibited by the birds.
In the last week of July, a little orange tiger shows up in the Hill Country from his normal breeding range in the Pacific Northwest. The Rufous Hummingbird is known for his feisty attitude and relentless protection of what he considers to be his sole possession, your feeder. Coincidently, many of the male Black-chinned Hummingbirds are sensing that their primary role in the breeding process is over and make a quick exit to the tropics. The females and youngsters generally stay until the end of August before departing. After September 1, almost all of our hummers will be migrating ruby-throats.
Our most colorful summer resident is the Painted Bunting; however, he is not an active backyard feeding bird unless you offer white millet on your menu. I was thrilled a couple weeks ago when I happened upon a pair of Painted Buntings involved in a courtship ritual. Early one morning I noticed a small bird on my paved road. As I approached the bird, I noticed his red, blue and green plumage and immediately stopped. Only ten yards in front of me, I noted the male quivering his right wing as he moved away from me. Then, he changed wings and continued the fast wingbeat. Suddenly the female landed in the road between him and me.
When the male noticed the female’s presence, he lifted both wings into a vertical position over his head and wafted back and forth towards the female until he was only a foot from her. In an instant, he “attacked” her and this led to an intense confrontation what appeared to be “fighting.” Five seconds later it was over, and I doubted it was “combat.”
They separated, he flying away to my left and she to my right. I was so pleased to have witnessed the full courtship ritual. What a show to counter the idea of a boring “Dog Days” syndrome.
If you want to see Painted Bunting up close, I would suggest a trip to the bird blinds in South Llano River State Park near Junction. Here, one can see a variety of our summer and permanent resident birds visiting the water features. You might be lucky and see one or both endangered species, Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo, stop by for a bath and drink. Lesser Goldfinches, Rufous-crowned and Black-throated sparrows, Orchard and Bullock’s orioles, and Yellow-breasted Chats may also appear. Colorful birds can be an excellent remedy for coping with the less exciting birding times presently.