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SCV Outdoor Report: A Fine Romance

By: Wendy Langhans


A hummingbird romance in February results in babies later in the spring. Photo by Dianne Erskine.

Chirp!  My sleepy afternoon reverie on a sunny porch was suddenly interrupted by a soft chirping noise.  

I recognized the sound.  It was a hummingbird, most likely an Anna’s, and my first thought was that the bird was checking to see if I had replenished the liquid in the hummingbird feeder.  

But I forgot that February is the middle of mating season.  The sound I heard was more likely the “look at me” noise the male hummingbird makes during his display dive.  These display dives are pretty dramatic, especially if you are a female hummingbird.  The male Anna’s hummingbird ascends to a height more than 100 feet.  He then goes into a rapid vertical dive at a speed of over 50 mph, lets out a loud chirp at the bottom of the dive and pulls up in within a foot or so of the object of his affections.

It’s oh so romantic!  Be still my heart!  Although, in this case, it would be especially hard to do, since hummingbirds have a heart rate ranging from between 500 and 1260 beats per minute.

But wait – there’s more.  Where do you think that sound originated from?  The bird’s beak and voice box, right?  That’s what I thought too.

I was wrong.  Recently, two students at UC Berkeley discovered the chirping sound comes from the bird’s tail feathers.  At the bottom of the dive, the bird spreads his tail feathers for 60 milliseconds, which is too fast to be seen without a high speed movie camera.  The air rushing through the feathers makes the feather vanes vibrate, much like the reed on a woodwind instrument.  

Now when Fred Astaire courted Ginger Rogers in the movies, he danced with her while an orchestra played romantic music in the background.  He even serenaded her.  But the male Anna’s hummingbird dances solo with the musical equivalent of a clarinet or a saxophone.   Now that’s what I call a fine romance.  

Happy Valentine’s Day!

For more information, plus a video and sound, check out UC Berkeley News at:


Upcoming Outdoor Events:  (Remember, heavy rain cancels MRCA-sponsored events)

Saturday, February 9, 4-6 pm.  Twilight Walk.   Romance is in the air as Towsley Canyon’s residents are gearing up for spring.  Meet at the entrance to the park for this 1-2 mile easy G-rated hike.
Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

Saturdays, February 9 and 23, and every Wednesday, 8:00 am.  Trail Maintenance Volunteers at Towsley Canyon.

Come join our trail maintenance volunteers for camaraderie and a heart-thumping workout.  For more information call Steve Ioerger at 661-291-1565 or
Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

Saturday February 16, 8:00-10:00 am. Early Morning Bird Hike.  Join us on an easy hike to see which birds make Towsley Canyon home during the winter months. Bring your binoculars and meet at the entrance to the park.
Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.


You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

For the complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, go to .

SCV Outdoor Report: A Fine Romance

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