Glittering gems of the desert

Birders that visit southeastern Arizona in the spring are treated to the dazzling displays of brilliant color and iridescence by the smallest of the many avian migrants from Central and South America — the hummingbirds.

Anna's Hummingbird-

A male Anna’s Hummingbird looking straight forward at another male would present an intense and intimidating glare of brilliant pink.

Broad-billed Hummingbird-

The many-hued iridescence of the male Broad-billed Hummingbird coupled with his bright red bill must make him very attractive to the ladies (and to human fans of hummingbirds).

The flash of color seen on their throats and heads is a product of specially constructed feathers that contain layers of elliptical plates that reflect certain wavelengths of light.  In the absence of direct sunlight on these feathers, they look black, but in direct light, they shimmer with brilliant color.  (Read more about iridescence in bird feathers here.)

Magnificent Hummingbird

The throat and head of this male Magnificent Hummingbird don’t look all that magnificent…

Magnificent Hummingbird

until you catch the bird in just the right light, and then the flashes of color are truly magnificent.

More than 15 species of these glittering gems pass through the cooler canyons of the southwestern deserts, attracted to seasonal blooms of flowers, and all the sugar water feeders in residents’ backyards.  Eventually, they will migrate to higher latitudes and altitudes, such as the flower- and insect-rich meadows of the Rocky Mountains to breed.  But for a few weeks, hundreds of birders come to southeastern Arizona to enjoy their displays.

Female Magnificent Hummingbird

Female Magnificent Hummingbird Backing away from a feeder, tongue still extended.

Female Anna's Hummingbird

Female Anna’s Hummingbird, maybe not as “pretty” as her mate, but every bit as fun to watch.

Male Blue-throated Hummingbird

Male Blue-throated Hummingbird, aptly named. The largest of the hummers in southeastern Arizona, these birds stay and breed there. Some may even overwinter there, if there is a constant supply of sugar water available.

7 thoughts on “Glittering gems of the desert

  1. Such a gorgeous array of photos, Sue. I have birded SE Arizona in the spring, many years back, but I would love to visit again, and you just reminded me to push forward with that plan. Thank you.

    • Lucky you — We were too early this year with our visit in the first two weeks of April. Only a few HBs had arrived, and the flowers really hadn’t started blooming yet. Next year — better timing!!

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