Hummingbirds are awesome little creatures, scrappy yet elegant, and we host two species now in the height of breeding. One is the rufous...

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Hummingbirds are awesome little creatures, scrappy yet elegant, and we host two species now in the height of breeding. One is the rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), which breeds farther north than any other hummer in the world. Some fly from southern Mexico to Alaska and back, the longest bird migration on Earth when measured in body length, which is 3.5 inches, beak to tail.

The other is Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna), which is more of a homebody, wintering in Baja California, Arizona and New Mexico. A few even stick around here during the winter. Hummingbirds are bold and feisty little creatures. I’ve had them drink from the feeder while I was still holding it. A friend observed a hummingbird trying to rumble with a wind chime, dinging the bell while all the other hummers were at the fuchsia. What was it thinking?

Rufous are extremely territorial and will try to eradicate all other hummers from the area, including the larger Anna’s, an imposing 4 inches long. This one had it in for an inanimate object, however, missing out on the fuchsia feast. Natural selection.

Male Anna’s are territorial as well, making elaborate dives at the enemy, plummeting in a near-vertical dive from an altitude of sometimes 130 feet, ending with an explosive squeak within about three feet of the object of wrath.

If you have an Anna’s hovering at, oh, six or 10 feet in front of you, it’s not inviting you to tea; it’s drawing a bull’s eye on your head. My advice: Don’t stand under one during its display — you may lose an eye. Nor with your mouth open — you may end up having one for lunch.

Birds are very focused during courtship and sometimes lose their street smarts. Sadly, on rare occasions, bees or wasps become impaled on the bill of an Anna’s, causing the bird to starve to death. Hummingbirds are a joy to watch and delightful little aerialists, but under that delicate exterior hides the heart of a tiger.

Patricia Thompson is a wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. She can be reached at http://wdfw.wa.gov.