BASICS: "Hummingbirds.....where is the person, I ask, who, on observing this glittering fragment of the rainbow, would not pause, admire, and turn his mind with reverence..." (J. J. Audubon).
This is a blog about my summer life at the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary, at my winter garden, Calypso, in the Bahamas, and aspects of life in general.
This private sanctuary is now permanently closed to the general public, as a result of a lawsuit brought by a neighbor. Only my friends and personal guests may visit (

Friday, January 29, 2016

Feeding Wintering Hummingbirds; RIP LaLa

LaLa at the end of december. Photo by Kent Gomez

I'm a member of an interesting "List Serve" email group that focusses mainly on hummingbirds in the south-east. Chuck Reinsch recently posted there some "Thoughts on Winter Feeding of Hummingbirds" written by Wally Davis. I'm reproducing here these "thoughts" (without their permissions, for which I apologize) because they seem relevant to LaLa's fate. Although Chuck thinks this approach to winter feeding is mistaken, I'm not so sure. I've written before about hummingbirds' need for protein, via insects, and in lieu of living flying insects some dietary protein supplement seems sensible. In any case, I find Wally's thoughts to be well-reasoned and interesting:-

"Many years ago as a graduate student in zoology at UC Berkeley, I studied hummingbird behavior using both wild and captive birds as subjects.  Species I studied included Anna's (Calypte anna), Black-chin (Archilochus alexandri), Allen's (Selasphorus sasin), and Rufous (Selasphorus rufus).  Most of the time I kept my captive hummingbirds in an 8' x 8' by 8' outdoor enclosure sheathed in window screen.

Rather than feed simple sugar syrup, I fed a mixture containing sugar, vitamin drops, protein, and other nutrients.  In addition, I maintained a colony of fruit flies and a couple of times a week would release a large quantity of them into the hummingbird cages.  It was amazing to watch the action when the fruit flies were released.  All of the hummingbirds took to wing and deftly plucked the fruit flies out of the air or any surface they happened to land on.  The fruit flies didn't stand a chance and were quickly devoured.  Using this approach I kept my captive hummingbirds healthy for over a year and even fledged and raised two Allen's hummingbirds which I collected in order to study learned vs. instinctive feeding behavior.

In 1999 I moved to Snohomish, WA where I put up a bird feeder, hung blocks of suet and, of course, hummingbird feeders.  Many Rufous hummingbirds visited from spring to mid-summer and even nested in the shrubs on my property, but I didn't see my first Anna's hummingbird until 2011.  By 2013 they became year-round residents and were breeding on my property.  When the Anna's showed up I maintained a 4:1 sugar syrup all winter.  When temperatures dropped below the mid 20s I kept the food from freezing with a ball of small Christmas lights.  As a few years passed, I observed that there were fewer birds in late winter than in early winter.  Two possible reasons for this are that the birds leave and go somewhere else or they do not survive.  Because little natural food is available in the winter, I believe it is unlikely that the birds leave.  It is important to note that, once you attract hummingbirds for the winter, you must keep it up even if you are out of town or the birds may starve.

Both of my birding books from the 1960s, Peterson's A Field Guide to Western Birds (1961) and Robbins, Bruun and Zim's Birds of North America (1966), placed the north end of the range of the Anna's hummingbird in California.  Since that time they have moved north as residents more than 400 miles.  According to the National Audubon Society, winter feeding and home gardens have probably supported this movement (

While sugar syrup may be fine to attract wild hummingbirds during the summer, it is not a sufficient diet for captive hummingbirds or, in my opinion, wild hummingbirds lured by feeding to stay in cold climates north of their native range.  While normal winter mortality will cause loss of some birds, I believe the winter diet likely contributes to a reduction in overall fitness. In the near absence of insects and spiders, their primary source of protein and other nutrients is largely missing.  Imagine what it would do to our health if we consumed mostly sugar water with just an occasional nutritionally rich food for 3 or 4 months.

In late 2014 I changed my winter feeding program soon after the first frost; a time when I expect the availability of insects and spiders to be greatly reduced.  At first I tried to replicate the formula I used as a graduate student but found the ingredients are no longer available.  One of the ingredients I did use was baby formula and, consequently, reviewed the nutrients in all of the baby formulas I could find.  Eventually I selected Gerber Good Start gentle as my supplement.  A key reason for this choice is that whey protein is the first ingredient.  Most baby formulas on the shelves at my grocery store use soy protein which is of vegetable rather than animal origin.  The formula also contains a good selection of vitamins and other nutrients.

The recipe on the Gerber can calls for "1 unpacked level scoop (8.9g)" per 2 ounces of water.  Given the high quantity of sugar needed to maintain body temperature, I was concerned that feeding at this rate would provide too much protein and, consequently, settled on 1 level scoop per 8 ounces of 4:1 sugar syrup.  The instructions also say that you can refrigerate for up 24 hours and discard unused formula after 1 hour.  While this level of caution may be reasonable for infants, I have not found it to be necessary for hummingbird food.  I typically mix up 8 ounces at a time then put 2 ounces in each of two small feeders placed fairly far apart (hummingbirds don't like to share).  The Anna's hummingbirds which are using my feeders consume this quantity of food in about 3 days.  In cold weather there is no sign of spoilage of the food outside.  After a week in the refrigerator it still tastes and smells as fresh as when it was made up.  As the weather warms up I will probably change the food more often and, when I see insects I will switch back to just sugar water.

At the end of last winter it appeared to me that there were as many Anna's hummingbirds as at the beginning.  This gives me confidence that there isn't a downside to adding baby formula; it also gives me one subjective data point that the formula I use promotes winter survival.  Time will tell whether this pattern continues in the future.  At least I can feel confident that I am providing the hummingbirds with a more nutritious diet then they would otherwise be able to obtain, and they will hopefully be healthier coming out of winter."

Is it possible that LaLa became weakened by lack of protein and would have survived with Wally's formula?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Internet back up. New vids.

After 8 days down, internet is back on here, and I can start shooting new video. There are plenty of the local hummingbirds around (the Bahama Woodstar) and here is one (young male, or a female) visiting the tubular orange-red flowers of the Geiger tree, Cordia sebestena. 2X slo-mo

And here is an adult male perched on the tip of a branch of a frangipani (or plumeria) tree. These trees are leafless at this time of year, and there's a large one just outside our living room window. It will be covered in gorgeous yellow flowers in may. It's a bit blurry because it was filmed through the window screen.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Still no LaLa sightings

According to there are now 2 reports that LaLa is not around post-storm.
I still have no regular internet access so other postings will be minimal for the moment.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Final Mme W video; LaLa's fate unknown.

My last video of Mme W, in a lull during heavy rain. The prolonged rain  on jan 2 weakened the attachment of the nest to its branch, which was whipsawing during strong winds that night and then jan 23 (the same weather system as the snow storm in the northeast). The nest fell to the ground that morning, ejecting the 2 immature chicks. Efforts to re-attach the nest to its site were unsuccessful, the nest tipped over in continued heavy winds and the mother abandoned her babies, which have now disappeared.
I have no news of LaLa.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

LaLa ok

Our internet is down so I''ll be very brief. A report from MaryLaura this afternoon is that LaLa is fine and "very vocal"!
Mme W is continuing to feed her 2 chicks.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

New LaLa photos.

Yesterday I had several reports of LaLa sightings, and John Gluth took these nice photos. As you can see LaLa is still in great shape, though I worry a bit that the very cold weather is making it difficult or impossible for her to find the insects that she needs for protein.

Monday, January 18, 2016

LaLa still around. Mme W still chicksitting; a guest at the feeder

Although LaLa was seen on friday, volunteers on saturday and sunday did not see her. But today Joy Clenaghan went out, unfroze a feeder and saw LaLa! See for details.

Here at Calypso, on the Bahamian Out-Island of Eleuthera, where we spend the winter, Mme W is still sitting on her chicks, though the nest is becoming more cramped for the 3 of them:

And here is a striking visitor to one of our feeders (filmed through the window screen) - a Bahamian green anole Anolis smaragdinus. I used to think these were the same as the american green anole A. carolina but apparently they are quite distinct species (see But in both cases there is ongoing competition with the Bahamian Brown Anole, A. sagrei. It seems that typically the Greens occupy the top half of trees, and the Browns the bottom half! In this case the small tree is a Frangipani (a.k.a. Plumeria) , which has beautiful yellow flowers in late spring. It loses its leaves in the "dry" season (which so far this year has been very wet). 

2X slo mo.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Video of Mme W feeding her chicks

Finally we have a dry day and I was able to film Mme W feeding her recently hatched chicks. However, they are already quite big, and I'm sure that although I first realized the eggs had hatched yesterday, they actually hatched at least the day before. She's still sitting on them a lot, but I waited until she left for a few minutes, knowing she would soon return with a stomach-full of insects. Which she did. As usual she approaches the nest cautiously, first alighting on a nearby branch and surveying the scene. Then, when the coast is clear, she dashes to the nest. I start the camera rolling when I see her leave her preliminary inspection post.

As of yesterday LaLa is also doing fine. Rufous hummingbirds start their northward migration from Mexico in late winter, reaching their breeding grounds in Washington State, British Columbia and South East Alaska in early summer. Relative to their body length this is the longest migration of any bird.  I wonder when LaLa will start her northeastern migration?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Updates on LaLa and Mme W

In Baiting Hollow, it appears that LaLa is doing fine despite some problems with the feeders (power outage in the area led to the heated  feeder freezing, and also wind damage to feeders - wonderful volunteers have fixed these problems. See for photos and further info!

Here at Calypso, Eleuthera Mme's W's eggs have hatched! - I've seen her perching on the edge of the nest, and delicately feeding the tiny babies which are mere specks down in the bottom of the nest. Then she sits on them to keep them warm and protected. Though it was not raining today, there has been a lot of wind and the branch has been swaying wildly - impossible to film. Tonight and tomorrow morning it might rain again, so I expect Mme W will sit tight in the nest to shield her babies. But as the new cold front moves through the wind should shift to the north. The gumbo-limbo tree in which she's nesting is shielded from the north wind by one of the houses here, so if the rain lets up I should be able to film her feeding the young. But in the meantime here's a photo (by my son Jamie) of the deadbeat dad - or at least the putative father. You can see more of Jamie's bird photos, at Calypso and further afield, at his new blog

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mme W update

Mme W is still patiently sitting on her nest - pretty soon her eggs should hatch. However, as shown here, she sometimes dashes off to feed.

Because her departure is so abrupt, here's a 4X slo-mo version:

Monday, January 11, 2016

LaLa is doing fine; photos

My friend Donna reports that as of saturday LaLa is doing fine, and she took these 2 nice photos:

Sunday, January 10, 2016


Just to vary things, here's a recent video of a kingfisher perching on what's left of a small island in Calypso Pond (overflowing from all the recent, and highly unusual, rain), filmed from our living room window. Mme W doing good, no recent news one way or the other of LaLa.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

New Mme W video

Mme W continues to sit on her nest, which seems intact despite 3 days of heavy rain and periods of strong winds from various directions, which snapped several branches but not the one with the nest - she chose well! Here's the latest video.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

LaLa and Mme W Update

We had, and are still having, 3 days of torrential rain (5 inches total) coupled with very strong north winds, which have driven water through various cracks and crannies in the houses, and caused the power to go off for 18 hours (we are at the end of a remote narrow road between North Palmetto Point and Double Bay, on Eleuthera) - but the good news is that Mme W is still hanging in there, protecting her eggs and keeping the nest fairly dry - no obvious damage. I hope to get video tomorrow if things dry out a bit.

It seems that LaLa is doing okay too: here's a report from Johnny at around 9.30 this morning:

"She is strong and feisty this morn! I watched her Feeding on new feeders I put out replacing the frozen ones. I did not see her using the heated feeder but she must be as all the others were frozen until I arrived around 930 am. She is also confidently defending her area against local chickadees and titmice trying to drink from the ant moats above the feeders! Long way to go but she's off to a solid start!"

I have to say Johnny, that, since she's been there since at least nov 17, she's well beyond a solid start!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Second LaLa Update

I now have a second LaLa update, this from MaryLaura, a local naturalist who has written extensively about hummingbirds and other birds for the "Kingbird", the journal of the New York State Ornithological Association. She reports as follows:

"SHE LIVES!!!!  I just came back and was there for 1 hour. After waiting for 1/2 hour I feared she had succumbed to the below zero temps last night. Then, I thought I heard hummingbird squeaking! Sure enough-I have no idea where she came from-she appeared and never shut up! I thought she was annoyed with me (or perhaps cursing the cold.)  She tried to feed on a frozen feeder (all were frozen solid except the heated feeder) next to the heated one. She then went back to her perch so I waited another 15 minutes and she then finally went to the heated feeder to feed.She returned to her perch again and never stopped squeaking. Maybe she was glad to see me??Anyhow, obviously the heated feeder is keeping her alive. The solution at the top of the heated feeder was frozen but halfway down it was liquid and the ports were full of liquid, so it is working. We had a temp of about 14 last night without the wind chill so I assume it was with the wind about 5-10 below zero."

LaLa yesterday - and today? .......UPDATE!

Here's a nice photo of LaLa, taken yesterday by Stan Furtak. As you can see she seemed to be doing fine, and I am told she was busy visiting feeders and flowers, fluffing up her feathers, and even catching insects. But early this morning the temperature went down to 13 degrees (see for weather history and a nice webcam view of Long Island Sound, just a short distance east of me at Reeves Beach).
I will post information on LaLa's status as soon as I have it.

WELL, I HAVE IT: LaLa survived the night and is flying around as usual!

Here on Eleuthera we had heavy rain overnight, brought by the same cold front  afflicting Long Island, NY). However Mme W is still sitting tightly on her nest, which looks to be in good shape. Here's this morning's video:

Monday, January 4, 2016

Mme W squashes herself low to protect her eggs from rain; LaLa update

Filmed jan 4. There's intermittent light rain, brought by the same cold front that's menacing LaLa with freezing conditions and Mme W is  squashing herself  down on the nest to protect her eggs.
Up north, I have reports that despite the cold and windchill LaLa is fluffing herself up, and visiting the as yet unfrozen feeders and the flowers that will probably not survive tonight, and even hunting insects. Let's hope she makes it successfully through the night and that conditions quickly improve.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Mme W still patiently sitting

Filmed around 4 this saturday afternoon. Although most of the day there was little breeze, it seemed to pick up as soon as I started shooting, so the nest and Mme are bouncing around quite a bit. At one point I zoom out to show the gumbo-limbo tree, then zoom back in again. The camera is about 10 feet from the nest.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year LaLa! But deep freeze is on the way.

The heroic Donna DeSousa went out again today to check on LaLa and maintain the feeders. She's also a skilled photographer and captured this beautiful image:

Many thanks Donna!

It looks as though a hard prolonged freeze is on its way next week. We are going to  try and set up the heated feeder I bought a couple of  weeks ago. If any hummer enthusiast on or near the North Fork is reading this,  is reasonably practical/handy, and would like to help LaLa please contact me.