Hummingbirds 101 with a birding expert at the Lynnwood Library June 17

An Anna’s hummingbird using its beak to extract nectar from a bee balm plant in the Washington Park Arboretum.

With their diminutive size and beguiling flight maneuvers, hummingbirds are among the most charismatic of birds. Here in the Puget Sound, we are lucky to have a hardy species – the Anna’s hummingbird – that lives here all year long, even during our drizzly winter months.

And we’re lucky to have a hummingbird expert in our midst: Seattle-based master birder, educator and author Connie Sidles. She will share her knowledge about these jeweled aerialists with a free presentation, Hummingbirds: Masters of the Air, from 6-7:30 p.m. Monday, June 17 at the Lynnwood Library.

Plan to arrive early to secure a seat as her last library lecture, Crows: The Avian Einsteins, was standing-room only.

Connie Sidles. (Courtesy photo)

Here’s an edited version of a recent conversation with Connie.

When did you have your bird epiphany?

When my oldest son was about six or seven years old, somebody gave us one of those bird feeders that you stick on the window. And pretty soon some birds showed up. And my son said, “What bird is that?” and I didn’t know.

And pretty soon some more birds showed up. We could tell they were different so he asked, “What bird is that?”

I said, “I don’t know that one either.”

“Well, you lived in Seattle all your life, why don’t you know?”

I thought that was a good question so we went out and got a bird book. We ended up getting quite interested in birding as a family.

What topics will you cover in your talk?

Why we call them hummingbirds, what is special about their anatomy, how many different species there are, why their feathers are iridescent, how they eat.

A lot of people don’t realize how territorial and aggressive hummingbirds are.

A juvenile rufous hummingbird in the Washington Park Arboretum.

Yes, in fact I often tell people that the universities in Washington ought to rethink who their mascots are because hummingbirds are a lot fiercer than cougars or huskies! I’ve seen them attack eagles.

And the Aztecs recognized how aggressive they are – they believed that their greatest warriors would come back after death as hummingbirds.

What can people do to attract more Anna’s hummingbirds to their gardens?

Gardening choices and feeders. They’re not fussy about whether a plant is native or non-native. They like salvia, fuschia, salmonberry, twinberry, clover, red hot pokers – there’s a large variety.

Do you recommend using red dye in feeders?

Absolutely no dye, it’s very destructive (to birds’ health). It’s really easy to make your own feeder solution: just mix table sugar with water at a 1:4 ratio. And it helps if the feeder has yellow or red on it because they’re attracted to those colors.

A little bird told me that you’ve got another fascinating bird presentation coming up later in the year … is that true?

Yes, I’ll be giving another presentation at the Lynnwood Library on Nov. 18 called All About Owls: Understanding Our Most Mysterious Birds. Owls are extremely interesting, it’s a wonderful family.

A juvenile great horned owl in Yakima County.

We have the most species of owls (15) here in Washington, more than any other state in the union. I’ll include the places for people to go where owls can reliably be seen. Like hummingbirds, they’re highly adapted to a particular lifestyle that is unlike any other family of birds.

Thank you for sharing your love of birds with us, Connie!

— Story and photos by Clare McLean

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