A Charm of Hummingbirds in DTLA

September 10, 2015

Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) is cast as one of the most iconic concrete jungles, with skyscrapers, cars, and miles of concrete. Many think of this as a place bereft of nature. But, over the last number of years pocket parks have been built, landscapes have been changed (think City Hall), and street-side planters have been added (though the habitat value of the plants in the Broadway bump-outs is questionable at best). Nature has always been here, and will continue to be so. But the often cited examples of urban nature, rats, pigeons, and ants, aren’t the only ones calling DTLA home.

At our recent BioBlitz L.A. event at City Hall we worked to document the wildlife in downtown. With a dedicated crew of 9 citizen scientists, we managed to document 28 species in 1 ½ hours. From orb weaver spiders and argentine ants, to flower flies and fox squirrels.

At that event I met Michael. Michael is one of our repeat citizen scientists. This year he participated in our ButterflySCAN project and I’ve often seen his posts on our L.A. Nature Map. As you can imagine, I was pretty excited that he was going to join us.

Michael had walked over to the event from his nearby apartment where he lives on the fourth floor.  We got to talking and he told me about the wildlife he sees every day from his living room windows. Michael has two window gardens with 2, 24-inch wooden planter boxes outside of each window. Each planter box contains different types of flowers. Michael knew his garden would attract the bees, butterflies, and other pollinators he’d seen flying around DTLA.

Shortly after putting in his window garden, Michael looked out of his window and began thinking about installing a bird feeder.

“I was trying to decide if I wanted to put up a feeder with seeds in it, or a hummingbird feeder. I was pretty much resigned to putting up the seed feeder because I hadn't seen any hummingbirds in the area of downtown where I live. I hesitated though, because seed feeders can get pretty messy. Suddenly, just as I was about to make my decision, a hummingbird flew up from below my window, stopped about 3 feet from me and stayed for about 10 or 15 seconds while looking straight at me, as if to say, "Of course there are hummingbirds here!’”

Inspired by this nature sighting, Michael purchased and installed one hummingbird feeder. Hummingbirds found the feeder (and his garden), and overtime Michael increased his feeders to four. At times there have been over a dozen hummingbirds visiting at once. As Michael put it, “I’m visited all day long by the beautiful flying citizens of downtown Los Angeles.”

Michael has documented two species of hummingbirds using his feeders: Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna) and Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin). Michael thinks that he may have seen a Rufous Hummingbird, but he couldn’t verify it since it didn’t stay long.

When Michael shared that he had four hummingbird feeders installed, I was a bit surprised since that seemed like a lot. I asked him what the largest number of hummingbirds he has ever seen feeding at one time.

“One cloudy spring afternoon earlier this year, at dusk, there were 26 hummingbirds feeding or perched in my south-facing garden, and another 10 or 11 were doing the same outside my west-facing window. I was so awed by so many hummingbirds in my garden at the same time that I just stood there and stared, counting. I don't think I even got any photos of that special afternoon!”

Can you imagine seeing 36 hummingbirds outside a window in DTLA? I wonder if people walking on the sidewalk below had any idea there was a charm (yes, that’s what a group of hummingbirds is called) of hummingbirds flittering around above their heads.

For those of you who have or had hummingbird feeders, you know that it can be a lot of work to maintain them. It is recommended that feeders are cleaned and changed every 5 days to prevent bacterial growth. Michael works hard to follow that protocol.

“Now, with so many birds feeding here… I end up cleaning and refilling them about every two or three days because the birds have eaten all of the nectar already! Sometimes it's a lot of work keeping up with my little, energy-hungry neighbors.”

Clearly this must be a labor of love for Michael. He doesn’t have to work so hard to maintain a healthy habitat for these DTLA hummingbirds. So why does he do it?

“They make me happy. I love to listen to them all day long while I'm working in my home office, and love to watch them dance through the skies here. In fact, as I'm typing this, I'm sitting 3 feet from a hummingbird outside my west-facing window.”

Michael’s story resonates with me, because it shows that if wildlife friendly habitats are built then wildlife will come. The window gardens that Michael installed are visited by bees and butterflies, and his feeders help provide food for hummingbirds. I want to thank Michael for beautifying DTLA with his gardens, for providing habitat for wildlife, and for inspiring me to do more to help nature in L.A. I live in an apartment in Hollywood, and surely I can create a mini-garden of my own. I wonder what animals will visit me and my garden.

Check out Michael’s Flickr page to view more of his stunning photos.

Michael posted some of his hummingbird photos, and other wildlife photos, to NHMLA’s L.A. Nature Map.


(Posted by: Richard Smart)

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Selfie Sticks and Hummingbird Nests

January 7, 2015

We found another hummingbird nest in the Nature Gardens! On December 28th Miguel Ordeñana, Museum Citizen Science Coordinator, found an Allen's Hummingbird, Selasphorus sasin, nest in our cork oak tree.

Female Allen's Hummingbird, photo courtesy of Felipe Lepe.

As you can see she's (only female hummingbirds build nests and care for the young) sitting pretty in her nest, but are there any eggs? Over the last few weeks we've observed her sitting in the nest for extended periods of time. This behavior led us all to believe that there were definitely eggs in there. But, we wanted to be sure. As luck would have it, I received a late Christmas present last night–a selfie stick.

It was sort of a joke gift, I am a vocal selfie stick hater! I mean, I just can't imagine using one without feeling like a total idiot! However, upon opening this metal and plastic item made in China, my mind immediately went to the hummingbird nest. Would it be long enough to help me see inside, to find out how many eggs were in there? This was something I wouldn't feel like an idiot doing.

First thing this morning, I excitedly walk over to the cork oak and telescope my selfie stick out to its maximum length. I get my remote ready, but the thing just wasn't long enough! I trudge back into the Museum, retrieve a step ladder and head back out.

In my opinion this is the ONLY valid use of a selfie stick, notice how my face is NOT in the shot!

As I get back to the nest the mother hummingbird was nowhere to be seen. I erect the ladder, slowly wobble upto the top step and hold my selfie stick aloft. It's really hard to keep a long pole with a smartphone steady, but after a few seconds I get a number of shots. I carefully lower my monopod device and look at the pictures. Right there, in the heart of her nest sat two tiny and perfect eggs! Soon after this the mother returned to the nest, and began incubating the eggs again.

Although a bit blurry, the image also gives a great view of the fluffy inner lining of the nest. This soft, inner sanctum in comprised of varying natural materials collected by the mother and includes spider webs. That's right, hummingbirds use spider webs to line their nests so they can stretch over time. As the eggs hatch and the two nestlings grow, the nest becomes, as you can imagine rather full. The spider webs help the nest to stretch with the babies!

Over the coming weeks (eggs take about three weeks to hatch and the young take just over another three weeks to leave the nest), we'll be keeping a careful eye on this nest. We'll keep you posted and let you know if the eggs hatch successfully, because who doesn't like cute little baby birds? In the meantime, I hope that you, just like me, have a warm fuzzy feeling right next to that selfie stick loathing!

p.s. Please feel free to share any nature related #selfiestickhacks #naturespy!

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Blooming Agaves

February 11, 2012

More plant news from the North Campus. Recently some of our blue lotus agaves, Agave ceslii 'Nova', have begun to bloom. This is an impressive sight as these plants send forth long spikes, (between four and six feet long), that look a lot like giant asparagus stalks. This type of agave is monocarpic, meaning that it only flowers once, and this particular selection happens to flower at a relatively young age compared to other species. Incidentally, the genus is commonly called century plant because it can take decades for them to flower. The entire stand of this agave (approximately eight plants) is flowering at the same time, because they were all propagated from the same tissue culture, which is a common nursery practice for certain landscape plants. Although flowering signals the end of the plant's lifespan, we can expect to enjoy the flowers and fruits for the next several months!

Agaves reaching up to the floss silk treeThere are over 300 species of agave in the world, with 100 species native to North America. This large array of species includes well known agaves such as the tequila or blue agave, Agave tequilana, and the sisal or hemp agave, A. sisalana. Other species are also farmed to produce agave nectar, which is sweeter than sugar and honey. The blue lotus agaves we have planted are native to Mexico and are becoming more common in the nursery trade. As with all agaves, the flower stalks possess literally hundreds if not thousands of individual blossoms, which are visited by many kinds of pollinators. The flowers will be a pale yellow color and will hopefully attract the numerous Anna's and Allen's hummingbirds that are already resident in Exposition Park. Unlike other agave species, the ones planted on the North Campus will not attract mammalian nocturnal pollinators, aka bats, which is a shame since we will be very soon putting up a bat box (more on that to come later)!

Four stately stalks!Stop by the North Campus and check them out today! They are close to the Dueling Dinos on the North side of the Car Pak along Exposition Boulevard.


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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On the Twelfth Day of Christmas the North Campus gave to me...

Twelve skippers skipping

 

 



Eleven pill bugs pillaging

 

 

 

 



Ten fritillaries a-feeding

 

 

 

 



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Eight mantids a-milking

 

 

 

 



Seven caterpillars a-crawling

 

 

 

 

 



Six ladybugs a-laying

 

 



Five phorid (fly) wings

 

 

 

 



Four calling crows

 

 

 

 



Three French hummingbirds

 

 

 

 



Two turtle fox squirrels

 

 

 

 



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(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Hummingbirds: Born to be Sword Swallowers!

May 26, 2011

We've got more bird babies at the Page Museum (you know the one at the La Brea Tar Pits)! We were informed about an Allen's Hummingbird, Selasphorus sasin, nest in the atrium about two weeks ago, and jammed over to scope out the scene. When we arrived we found two tiny eggs in a beautifully crafted nest, suspended about ten feet up in one of the plants.

This past weekend Sam Easterson captured the footage below. I really like the way you can see the nest stretch as the nestlings move around. This is because the nest is partially constructed from spider webs! When constructing the nest, the female hummingbird collects materials such as plant fibers, moss, lichen, and small bits of bark or leaves. She also collects the spider silk for its elasticity. As the nestlings hatch and grow the nest can stretch with them! Check out the video to see it and then be wowed with feeding time. The first time I watched this footage, I couldn't help thinking about a sword swallowing circus act. Enjoy!


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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165 and Counting...Earlier this week, Kimball Garrett, NHMLA Ornithology Collections Manager, spotted a not-so-common sight, a pair of Rufous Hummingbirds, Selasphorus rufus, in the Rose Garden. This hummingbird species is now number 165 on Kimball's Exposition Park Checklist. Over the last 28 years, Kimball has been keeping track of all the birds he sees in Exposition Park, even those that are just doing a fly-over!

Male Rufous Hummingbird An Annual MigrationMost of the year Rufous Hummingbirds cannot be found in our region, but in March and April they are often seen passing through. Every year this bird makes an over 3,000 mile migration from its overwintering grounds in Mexico to the Pacific Northwest. It is easily confused with one of our local hummingbirds, the Allen's Hummingbird, and so is often missed in species counts (maybe that's why it has only just made it onto Kimball's checklist). Males of both species have red-brown markings on their sides and tails, but only the Rufous Hummingbird also has them on its back. If you have a hummingbird feeder in your yard, keep your eyes open for this hummingbird stopping by to fuel up!


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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