July 2016 – While RV camping in Libby, Montana, we had some fabulous encounters with wild birds: a beautiful big bald eagle and a mixed flock of tiny hummingbirds. Over at Libby Dam, we were thrilled to see a bald eagle soaring high overhead.
This eagle was well known to the employees and volunteers who work at Libby Dam. He liked to fish in the water just below the dam where the fish pile up as they migrate upstream and find themselves trapped by the dam. The pool of fish made a smorgasbord for this very happy eagle, and he had an easy time getting breakfast, lunch and dinner whenever he got a bit hungry.
One morning we spotted him sitting high up in a tree right by the dam.
We started snapping photos as we crept towards him, and assumed he would fly off any second. Surprisingly, he stayed put!
He sat still for a while, preened a little bit, and then started making noises. I think he was trying to talk to a good buddy on the other side of the Kootenai River. He let out a loud squawk.
We didn’t hear a response, but he squawked a few more times.
He must have heard a reply, or decided to go looking for his friend in person, because suddenly he crouched.
What a magnificent sight in the sky!
Meanwhile, back at our trailer, we had noticed some hummingbirds poking around, peeking in our windows, and generally scoping us out. We put out our window hummingbird feeder that attaches to the RV window with suction cups, and sat back to see if anyone would find it.
Within minutes, the word was out. The hummingbirds in this area know what feeders are, and they have passed the info on from friend to friend and generation to generation. As soon as a new feeder is found, a memo goes out to the whole community.
By sunset, the feeder had been drained! By noon the next day it had been drained again!
We’ve always had a few hummingbird feeders with us, but we were chagrined to find that they all leaked because we hadn’t used them in a long time. We were also out of regular granulated table sugar. So, we went into town to get another five pound bag of sugar and a second feeder. Luck was with us, and there was one last window feeder left on the shelf!!
For the next 10 days, we filled these two feeders every morning and every evening, and our world was abuzz with hummers.
We noticed that these little hummingbirds had different spots and colors, and we got curious about which ones they were. Our general purpose Peterson bird guides and National Geographic bird guide don’t make it so easy to tell one hummingbird species from another.
Luckily, we have found a super book about hummingbirds that makes it really easy to know who’s slurping up all the sugar water we’re putting out.
It’s a small book called the Beginner’s Guide to Hummingbirds by Donald and Lillian Stokes.
What’s neat is that the very first two pages show which hummingbirds can be found in which of the four regions in the country: East/Central, Gulf Coast, West, and Southwest. It also delineates the species by the color of the male’s throat: Orange, Red/Pink, Purple/Violet, Green, White and Blue.
It also marks the sides of the pages by color, so you can easily flip to the appropriate section and see multiple photos of both the males and females and see a map of where they live.
We determined that we were seeing Black Chinned and Rufous Hummingbirds. The males were easy to spot because they have dramatic coloring on their necks and heads. But the muted and spotted colors of the juveniles and females made them all look alike!
The fun thing about the Black Chinned hummingbirds is that they truly buzz when they fly. They sound like a bunch of bees as they zoom around, but they’re a whole lot cuter.
The Rufous hummingbirds have bright orange on their necks and an orange tint to their little bodies. They are beautiful and very petite. But they act be like little Napoleons sometimes. They are extremely skittish, but nonetheless some of them want to rule the world anyway, and they make every effort to.
All hummingbirds can be very territorial about their feeders, and the turf wars can be astonishing to watch.
The King of the Feeder will stand watch over it from a nearby branch, and will dive bomb any other hummingbird that tries to get a drink! It is particularly funny when one little Rufous decides to chase off twenty other hummingbirds from his personal feeder. He is one busy little guy!
Over the years, when it has seemed that one particular hummingbird has become a little too dominant at our feeder, we’ve found a good solution is to put out multiple feeders in such a way that one hummingbird can see only one feeder at a time. Hanging them on opposite sides of the trailer is a good trick.
But for the most part, it seems that everyone gets a turn eventually.
We got immense pleasure from watching these guys from inside our RV. Our trailer’s windows are darkly tinted, and with the feeder mounted on the window, if we didn’t move or make any noises in the trailer, we could watch them from just a foot or two away from inside.
We were astonished to see that sometimes the hummingbirds would double dip, with two of them poking their beaks into one hole in the feeder at the same time, even though the holes in the feeder are tiny. At other times, the bird sitting on the perch would lean way back while the one hovering overhead got a quickie slurp. They would take turns drinking that way.
Sometimes they even lined up in front of the feeder, like airplanes in a landing pattern, with each bird getting a chance to drink his fill before flying off.
By the way, the recipe for hummingbird nectar is super easy:
1 part sugar
4 parts water
I like to mix up one cup of nectar at a time. I’ll put 1/4 cup of sugar into a 1/4 cup of warm water and stir it until it dissolves. Then I’ll add another 3/4 cup of cold water and stir some more before serving.
Hummers aren’t Natural Food fanatics, so they don’t go for Raw or Turbinado sugar or brown sugar, and they don’t like other sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, agave syrup or confectioners sugar either.
There was lots of wildlife in around Libby Dam and in the neighboring Kootenai National Forest, and staying in the Libby area, it felt like we were a world apart.
If you take your RV to northwestern Montana, and especially to the small town of Libby, pay a visit to the Libby Dam and keep an eye out for the big, beautiful bald eagle. And if you are there in July, put a hummingbird feeder out, and be prepared with a stockpile of sugar and your camera!!
There’s more info on Libby, Montana and hummingbirds below.
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More info about Libby Montana and attracting hummingbirds:
- Window mounted hummingbird feeders
- Book: Beginner’s Guide to Hummingbirds
- Libby Montana Tourist Website
- Libby Dam and Recreation Area – US Army Corps of Engineers
- Fireman Memorial Park & Campground
- Locations of Libby and the Libby Dam in Montana
More blog posts about birds and Montana:
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- Burrowing owls in Gilbert, Arizona – They’re a Hoot! 01/13/15
- To Catch a Hummingbird (on camera!) 01/18/14
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