Several books on hummingbirds have recently alighted on the shelves, and “Enjoying Hummingbirds in the Wild and in Your Yard” (Stackpole Books) may be the best of the lot.
Although they live in Portal, Arizona’s hummingbird capital, authors Larry and Terrie Gates present a perspective that extols hummers throughout their range. Divided into three parts — the factual, the practical and the mythical — the 196-page paperback is brilliantly illustrated with more than 75 color photos, 11 maps and two figure drawings.
The opening section introduces the reader to the natural history of these most diminutive of all birds, presenting accounts and range maps for 16 species regularly found in the United States (15 of which occur in the Chiricahua Mountains.) Not an identification guide in the traditional sense, “Enjoying Hummingbirds” describes each bird along with its range, habitat, nest and outstanding characters. Reading the descriptions, I was relieved to learn that I was not alone in being unable to identify with certainty all the little green female hummers I see.
Human interactions with hummingbirds come next. In this section, we learn how to create a hummer-friendly environment through flower plantings and nectar feeders. The book includes tables providing common and scientific names of preferred plants for various regions of the country. Red and pink flower arrangements are especially attractive to hummingbirds. A few commercial feeders are recommended, but not any of the pre-packaged nectars: The authors prefer a homemade recipe. And although attracting small insects to your feeder is encouraged (hummers need some protein), the presence of bees and ants is to be avoided. The section concludes with lists of hummingbird organizations and Web sites, as well as tour guides for hummingbird vacations both in Arizona and to such hummingbird Meccas as Costa Rica.
The book’s final section celebrates the roles played by hummingbirds in popular culture. It includes passages on hummers in art, science and poetry, as well as a fun series of Indian myths. A nice index follows an appendix listing the expected occurrences of various species in each U.S. state and Canadian province.
Throughout the book, the author’s fascination with, and wide knowledge of, hummingbirds shines through. Readers learn these elfin helicopters are confined to the New World, there are 329 different species (more are still being discovered) and the smallest edition is the bee hummingbird of Cuba, which weighs only 1.8 grams. Other tidbits include the facts that hybrids are not uncommon, no hummingbird can walk on land and roadrunners can be serious hummingbird predators.
All in all, “Enjoying Hummingbirds” is a most worthy addition to your birding library.
–David E. Brown
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