Fall Away

Where did Summer go? One minute it was in full swing and now the nights are so chilly you can almost see your breath. I can always tell when Fall is on its way just by watching the changes in my backyard. Every year about this time a male Wilson’s Warbler visits the trees in my backyard, gleaning insects from the foliage. My rabbit brush swells with buds, and from my butterfly weed springs fluff-coated seeds that drift on the wind.

Rufous Hummingbird. Photo by Jamie Simo.

My favorite sign of the cooler season to come, however, is the passing through of the hummingbirds. While the mountains and foothills are the places to be to see the full glory of migrating hummers, for a short time in late Summer shading into Fall, they spend a few tenuous weeks loading up on nectar in my backyard.

Unlike the East Coast, Colorado is fortunate to have a number of regularly occurring hummingbirds: Broad-tailed, Black-chinned, Rufous, and Calliope are all here at one time or another. Of these, by far the most abundant is the Broad-tailed (Selasphorus platycercus). One of the coolest things about the male Broad-tail is that he has a notch in each wing that makes a zipping trill when he dives. He employs this trill as part of his courtship display. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are mostly what I see in my backyard.

But this year I had a special visitor to my yard: a Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). The male is especially striking with orange back and sides and red gorget (throat patch). Unlike the Broad-tail, the Rufous doesn’t breed in Colorado, choosing instead to breed farther north in cooler climes. It may be small, but the Rufous is fierce, driving away all competitors from a desired nectar source.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird drinking nectar from hyssop flowers. Photo by Jamie Simo.

This year, the desired nectar source was the Sunset Hyssop (Agastache rupestris) I planted last spring. It was huge this year and blooming when almost everything else had already gone to seed. My feeder just couldn’t compete.

In general, hummingbirds are attracted to tubular-shaped flowers, particularly those that are pink or red. Penstemons are a good choice to attract them, as well as honeysuckles. I already have plans to plant some other hummingbird-friendly flowers.

Now the hyssop is fading and the hummingbirds have started on their trek south. I haven’t seen one since the beginning of the month. With the cooler weather and longer nights will come a new crew of birds to entertain me and carry me through winter into spring.