Species: Anna’s Hummingbird, or Calypte anna
Family: Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)
Star sign: Pisces
Ideal Date: Spending a weekend up north in Seattle
Hummingbirds are strange and beautiful creatures. Found exclusively in the Americas, they fly around, beating their wings faster than the eye can see, sticking their proboscis-esque beaks in flowers, and looking like weird, tiny, beautiful, crystalline darts. They’re so specialized that they’re incapable of walking around — but they look great while flying! Anna’s Hummingbird fits right in with the rest of its jewel-like brethren. Its shimmering emerald coat and glittery ruby-pink throat and crest (fun fact: on a hummingbird, a colorful patch of feathers around the neck is called a gorget!) make it look like a finely cut piece of tourmaline. This fantastic friend has something extra to set it apart from the crowd: an especially loud song, scratchy, high-pitched, and heard easily wherever these birds may hover! What excellent friends!
Anna’s Hummingbird is a relatively new arrival to the state of Oregon. In the early 20th century, these brilliant birds lived exclusively in California and the Baja Peninsula, and only ever went as far north as San Francisco. But since the mid-1900s, their range has been moving steadily northward. They were first seen in Oregon in 1944 and in Seattle in 1964; nowadays they nest in these parts regularly, and sometimes visit as far away as the south of Alaska. But why? What gives? The answer isn’t climate change (whew!), but it is human activity — specifically the introduction of non-native plants and other supplemental food sources, such as nectar feeders, to the area. The expansion of suburban areas in the Pacific Northwest brought the proliferation and increased supply of food, which Anna’s Hummingbirds need to survive, thus allowing them to spread out of their initial range. This new metropolitan hummingbird sticks to the suburbs, relying on people to survive. Although this has led to increased competition between hummingbird species, its main effect has been letting us Oregonians see more cool birds. Finally, a human impact on nature that doesn’t make you want to curl up in a ball and die! What’s not to love about a bird of Improvisation, Adaptation, and Overcoming? Especially a bird that does all these things in great style!
Anna’s Hummingbirds are non-migratory, which means that they can be seen on Reed campus all year round! Hummingbirds as a family are pretty easy to identify, but the question of what kind of hummingbird you’re looking at can be more difficult to answer. Relative to their kin, these glamorous friends are of medium size (which is teeny tiny compared to most birds) at about 4 inches long. Males are an iridescent green with a distinctive magenta gorget, females are a much drabber metallic green with only subtle red flecks around the neck, and juveniles are grey overall with brilliant full gorgets. Listen for their buzzy, high-pitched song. And remember: the only reason you can even see these wonderful birds in Oregon is because the clowns who built the place planted the wrong trees.