Ross Hawkins is fascinated by hummingbirds, and has devoted his life to bringing awareness and protection to the fleeting flier.
Male Annas hummingbird. iStock
It might have been the spiritual connection that brought Ross Hawkins and wife Beth Kingsley Hawkins from Delaware to Sedona. It happens often enough. But it was probably the hummingbirds.
For the guy who founded The Hummingbird Society, and is married to a woman who runs the Hummingbird Gallery, it makes sense that they’d want to live where the hummingbirds live. With 14 species in Arizona, and five in Sedona at some point throughout the year, it has proven to be a good choice for the couple.
It’s also why Ross is organizing the first Sedona Hummingbird Festival this summer, August 3-5. In August, thousands of resident (Black-chin and Anna) and migrating (Rufous, Broad-tailed and Calliope) hummingbirds visit feeders and flowers around hot spots such as Tlaquepaque, Red Rock State Park, and the Hideaway restaurant. The festival will offer an opportunity for hummingbird enthusiasts worldwide to learn how to attract the curious birds to their own gardens, tour private hummingbird gardens, and hear talks from conservationists.
From his office off scenic State Route 179, Ross, the short, gray mustachioed gentleman whose license plate bears a version of his nickname, Hummingbird Man, says his passion for the miniature bird evolved from his wife’s interest. After they married in 1987, she put in a garden with feeders and flowers, “and I got hooked!”
He started photographing them and then opened a business, Hummers Inc., to sell hummingbird decoys to attract more. When people began sending letters and questions to him about the fascinating birds, addressing his company instead as “The Hummingbird Society,” he decided to start the non-profit.
“As I started to learn more about hummers, I was struck by the fact that of the 331 species, 30 of them are endangered…and nobody knew they were endangered!” Ross says.
Since 1996, it has been his mission through the work of the Society and its board of directors to help educate the public about hummingbirds and help protect endangered species by providing funds to conservation efforts, particularly in Latin America.
In the United States, where 16 species live, none are endangered, he says. But east of the Mississippi, only one – the Ruby-throated hummingbird – calls the land home. “It’s probably the most recognizable,” Ross says.
Telling his wife, who steps in from her office next door, to “pull up a chair and join us,” it’s easy to see their mutual passion for the birds. They both jump up when it’s time to go look for nests that the Anna’s attached to the building’s rafters outside. They both point out the paint chips the momma birds used to help camouflage the nests. When he mentions the decoy, she runs back to her gallery and brings one back in a box. “Yes, they really work,” he says.
“Hummers are curious. There’s no other bird like it. They eat an exorbitant amount of food, and they eat it frequently – every 15 minutes. If we ate and metabolized like they do, it would be like us eating 252 Big Macs a day without gaining any weight. They are so full of these extremes.”
They hover like a helicopter, using a lot of fuel to go nowhere. They’re fearless and will eat right out of your hands. And the tiny, 3-inch birds can travel 600 miles in a single flight. Before they head out on such long migration journeys, however, they have to fuel up, eating enough nectar, sugar water and bugs to double in size.
Their mating rituals also seem extreme. In his attempt to get the female’s attention, the male does a dive bomb dance, flying 100 feet straight up into the air and then right back down, landing just inches in front of his woman, spreading his colorful wings. He vibrates a little and then…snap! He woos her with a cap pistol-like sound. He does it again and again till it works. It takes three seconds to do the deed. Then she sends him away. His colorful feathers would bring predators like Jay birds to the nest, threatening her baby chicks.
Such are the stories that fascinate Ross. If you want to know how to attract the hummers yourself, follow his advice.
It’s not just about the plants, he says, but they do like to feast on salvia, agastache and penstemmon – or any kind of flower with tubular blossoms of red or orange color that detracts bees. It’s even better if they hang upside down. Fill feeders with a fresh supply of cane sugar water (one part sugar dissolved in four parts water) on a daily basis. The more bugs and mosquitoes in your yard the better, as hummingbirds eat them for protein. Hang unprocessed cotton nearby so they can grab it for nest building. And keep the praying mantids away. They’ll snatch a hummingbird right off his feeder – and then start eating him on the spot.
Lastly, it’s always a good idea to make sure hummers have access to running water for bathing. “Nectar is a sticky business,” Ross says.
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