Jøhnny Fävòrítê (johnnyfavorite) wrote,
Jøhnny Fävòrítê

my familiars

I spent as much time today on the back porch watching hummingbirds as I could manage.

According to what I've read, they prefer red plants. The people who made our feeder must have heard that too, because it is solid bright red. Well actually, much of its size is taken up by a clear bottle, but the sugar water inside is red also. And I think the birds grok what is going on there. I saw one of them banging around all sides of the bottle like a moth, trying to find a more direct way in.

Around its base it has four plastic "flowers" with a hole in the middle of each, which they can stick their hypodermic beaks into. Each "flower" has a tiny perch in front of it. I figured they'd be too macho to use them. "HAW, I am the wily hummingbird! I always hover before my prey! Perches are for those wussy cardinals!" But no, they sit right down on the perches almost every time, unless they're too wary, and seem to be happy to take a load off.

That makes sense, now that I think about it. Hummingbirds are likely waging a constant battle against starvation. They must eat half their weight in food every day. They exert so much energy, flying and hovering like they do, so they consume almost nothing but high-glucose plant nectar. Every second they can spend not beating those tiny wings 80 to 200 times per second is energy saved.

The individuals we've got around here look white and brown to me. That doesn't match any of the pictures in mom's bird book. I went inside and got my camera so I could look at them through my telephoto lens. That way I can see that they have a slight greenish iridescent sheen on their backs. So that makes them plain old rufous hummingbirds I guess, the most common species in the U.S. The pictures show the males having red throats, and I've never seen that, so I assume we've got a bunch of females.

Mom's guidebook describes them as "pugnacious." Well, if you say so. Mom has four seed feeders of various varieties in the back yard, so we see a lot of birds, and I'd say they're pretty much all "pugnacious." They love to monopolize a feeder more than they like to eat the seeds, I think. Stronger individuals will chase away weaker ones by pecking at them. And yes, I saw a couple of my beloved hummingbirds doing that as well. In fact, it seemed like most of the fights ended in a draw, with both tiny birds flying away to menace each other, neither one staying for the sugar water.

They have established an "on deck circle." Maybe this is to minimize fighting, since they can't stand to share. It's one particular cluster of thin branches in a tree about 30 feet from the feeder. Almost every bird I saw at the feeder would first stand at the on deck circle for awhile, then come diving down to partake. I saw a couple of birds fight for that particular branch! Lord only knows how they decided on that spot, or how they reached a consensus.

They seem to really dig the stuff in the feeder. When I see them flitting around the yard, they never stay at one particular bud for very long. There's probably not enough nectar in any one of them to warrant much of a stay. But they'll sit in front of one of those fake plastic "flowers" almost indefinitely, dipping into it again and again. The more adventurous among them will go all the way around the "plant," sipping from all four buds. Likely instinctual behavior, telling them that they should keep moving, keep sucking down that sugar water, so they don't die. Well, good for them. I hope they drink it all up in a hurry. The instructions on the bottle say that, once you've put the sugar in, you have to use it all up in 90 days, because after that it starts to break down. Go, hummingbirds.

For being so tiny, they can be awfully bold. I've mentioned having been dive-bombed once. Not surprisingly, I was wearing a red shirt that day. I have taken to sitting on the opposite side of the porch from the feeder, trying not to spook them. Most of them couldn't care less. After I'd been out there an hour or so, the tortoise-shell cat from next door came over for a visit. I let her sit on my lap, thinking that would be the end of the hummingbirds for awhile. Nope, they didn't care, they just kept sipping away. The cat left to go bother the moles or something (I have a good story about that I should write one day). One of the hummingbirds, having gotten tired of the feeder, noticed the potted plant over my head with the red buds. It buzzed over and had a taste, despite the fact that it was now hovering about four feet away from my head. Amazing.

The bird books say that one species is called "Allen's Hummingbird." Ahem. (For those that don't know, that's my real first name. My exact spelling and everything. What, you thought it said "Jøhnny" on my birth certificate?) According to the books we'd never see one of them around here, though. They are not native to the states. Hey, just like me. (Or at least I feel that way.)

Mom has always been into the big, showy birds. We get a lot of cardinals and bluejays and woodpeckers, her favorites. Every once in awhile she'll spot a really rare critter, like an indigo bunting or something. I like watching them okay, because, hey, birds. But they are big loud obvious extroverts. Not really my type.

Now, hummingbirds, that's a bird. They are nimble and skillful. They are unique among birds in being able to hover motionless in one spot. Nature's helicopters! They can even fly upside down. I have yet to see one do so. I'm sure it would require an extraordinary situation to make them want to do that. But just in case they had to, there's that skill they have in reserve.

Stealthy introverts.
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