Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Of things unknown but mostly hummers

There is a tiny fly in the jungles of South America that lays its eggs in an ant's head.

And a toucan can eat an adult hummingbird in revenge for stealing from its own nectar supply.

We used to enjoy hummingbirds every summer when we lived in Houston. Their teeny wings emit a deep bass sound, and they are sooooo aggressive that if they were particularly busy, even I would have to duck when going out onto the deck. In the late summer they gorge themselves on sugar water and fight wildly for it, which in the process strengthens them up for the migratory flight to the Caribbean. New ones would pass through on the way south from Canada sometimes, but our main type down there was, I think, the Lucifer, which looks a lot like the Ruby-Throated but it's not. Both are emerald green with buff-coloured bellies and a crimson or ruby patch on the chin - but the difference lies in the shade of red.
Their feathers are iridescent and it was something to watch them glinting in the sun as they weaved about catching tiny flies, or ducking and weaving at the feeder. They are nature's best aerobats and the only birds that can fly backwards. But they expend so much energy and their hearts beat so fast that they must feed almost non-stop, many times their own weight each day.

One time, Dad and I were standing at the dining room window watching a pair body-batting each other to the ground. At one point, they both went down and only one buzzed back up. We both ran outside to find the loser. Now, the grass in Houston, St. Augustine, is very coarse and stiff. The poor hummingbird had been pushed in so that his wing feathers were tangled up with the grass blades. Dad gently slid the little wings from the grass with his index finger, it let out a little squeak and hummed away.

The worst time was when I spotted a dead one. It seemed a shame to throw away such a gorgeous jewel-like creation. So we called a local taxidermist, who said that as hummingbirds are migratory birds we'd have to call the US Forest & Wildlife service for permission. Otherwise we'd be committing a felony or something, even though it was already dead (unproven of course).

Twice in my life I've held a hummer in my hand. They arrive in the spring, around March or April, when we still have a few chilly days - such temperature variations are dangerous for the hummers. They sleep in a sort of physical torpor so that when they awake it is necessary that they feel warm, and that they feed as soon as possible.

One morning, again gazing through the dining room window (it was like TV), I spotted a little body on the deck. I ran outside to pick him up, and returned with him to the warmth of the kitchen. I cradled him in my hand until he warmed up, and then he buzzed up out of my hand, knocking against the glass like a fly until I shooed him out and he went to the feeder.

The best time was when I picked another hummer out of the grass. Mum hastened to mix up a batch of sugar water, and I must have hand-fed him 3 large spoonsful before he was ready to go. Cheeky little thing just lay there in my hand, slurping it up like a Sultan.


Anyone missed the daily dose of amusement?

Video: Who DOES he think he is???

Game: Try to jump into the MINI!

McCord University interactive fashion quizzes


And finally, St John's Wood is the only station on the London Underground that does not contain any of the letters in the word "mackerel".

Who thinks of these things?


Jia Li said...

loved you little hummer stories...we don't get them here in NL, we atleast I've never seen one

OliviaJoules said...

I see many here in the Northwest, they are these cute little birds love them! :)

rebecca said...

I was just wondering if there were any underground stations that didn't contain any of the letters in the word mackerel!! I may have to borrow that for my site (I will quote you!)

JP said...

Nice hummingbird memories, that would be pretty special to hold one in your hand and give it some help. I finally wrote the book on Greece, definitive, of course, printed in full on my blog. Tell me more about your blogger/20six peace treaty

Olivia said...

Jia - I guess you wouldn't see hummers in Nfld. The marine climate is not gentle enough.

OliviaJ - and that is why you would see them in the NW. Isn't Vancouver the first city in Canada to bloom in the spring? So there you go.

Rebecca, go ahead and borrow the SJW mackerel thingy, but now I don't remember where I found it.

JP! Yay, thanks for finally leaving a comment on my blog, someone get out the champagne!

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