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Male birds know when it's time to take a mate

We've read with interest your columns about hummingbirds. The other evening we saw something unusual. It looked like the little male who frequents our feeder was flitting around next to a female in a tree in the yard.

He's solitary and always chases other hummers off, even females. What do you think is going on? Isn't it too early for mating season?

— Joyce K., Medford.

You might try telling him it's too early, Joyce, but we doubt he'll listen.

Mating season for Anna's humming-birds began last month and runs through late winter and most of the spring (in California it begins as early as Novem-ber). It's thought to be prompted by the winter rains.

You're right about one thing. Anna's are not social birds. In fact, males and females come together only for mating, an act which ends the male's contribution to the family. The females build the nests, incubate the young and rear the brood.

When a female enters a male's territory in breeding season, the male does a series of spectacular dives in the air and begins chasing the female. The mating dive may begin 100 feet or more in the air.

The males spread their tapered outer tail feathers at the bottom of the swoop, creating a unique mating "call" as the feathers act like a clarinet reed in the wind. A good place to see this amazing behavior is atop Table Rocks.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.