Help the Hummingbird Thrive

Rick Lewis    Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte Anna, helps itself to lunch. The birds are sighted in Alameda frequently.

Among the smallest birds found in Alameda during the winter are Anna’s hummingbirds. They feed on the nectar in flowers, insects that they find on plants and sugar water from hummingbird feeders. Because Alameda has flowers all year round, Anna’s hummingbirds can find food here all year around. 

So, look for them wherever there are flowers or hummingbird feeders; backyards or the visitor’s center at Crab Cove make good starting places. They sometimes perch on a branch near the top of a tree and sing, and they may fly off and then return to the same perch. If one flies away, watch that spot for a minute or two to see if hummingbird returns. 

Anna’s hummingbirds are relative newcomers to Alameda and the Bay Area; in the early 1900s they only bred and raised their young in Baja California in Mexico, but they have moved north as people have planted flowers that they feed on. Now they are found here year round and have been spotted and counted in every Oakland Circle Christmas Bird Count for more than 30 years.

Anna’s hummingbirds are about four inches long and weigh about .15 ounces, like one french fry or a fourth of a piece of bread. The feathers on the male hummingbirds’ throats are called a gorget; it reflects bright colors from the sunlight. The color can be seen when the bird faces in the right direction to catch the sunlight, but when the sun is not right, it just looks brownish. 

While Anna’s hummingbird males have a pinkish-red gorget, the females may have a little spot of iridescent pinkish-red on the breast. The backs of both the males and females are greenish. Sometimes a courting male flies very high and makes a fast dive down, creating a whistling sound as wind flows through his tail feathers, while flashing his brilliant gorget hoping to attract a female.

Anna’s hummingbirds build their nests in oak, sycamore and eucalyptus trees, but they also use bushes and may even nest in poison oak — nice to find at least one use for poison oak. 

In the spring they use small sticks, pieces of leaves and grasses to build their nests, fastening everything together with spider silk. They lay two white eggs, about the size of beans, and sometimes will have two sets of chicks in a single year. If so, they usually build a new nest, but may use some of the material from the first nest.

Because these birds nest in parks and near buildings, they are frequently injured or even killed by flying into large windows. Birds don’t perceive glass as solid, so when a hummingbird moves suddenly, perhaps to avoid a larger bird threatening it, it can easily fly into a window in its haste to escape. 

In 2013, staff at the California Academy of Science in San Francisco searched the grounds near the building every work-day morning for 10 months. They found 355 birds that had struck the three-story building’s windows; 42 percent of those birds were Anna’s hummingbirds. 

Two other hummingbirds were the second- and third-most frequently found birds. That’s one of the reasons the recent change to the Alameda building code requiring large buildings to have bird-safe windows is so important. Let’s give a shout-out to the City Council and the planning staff for all their work in considering and enacting this new requirement. 

Make large windows bird-safe by using screens, roller shades, or solar blinds or, the most fun, selecting and attaching decals on the windows. Be sure the decals are quite close together, so the birds know the space between the decals is too small for them to fly through. 

Then add a hummingbird feeder to a tree or hanging from a pole, surrounded by hummingbird-friendly plants and watch for Anna’s hummingbirds. 


Marjorie Powell is a member of the Golden Gate Audubon Society.