Sunday, October 07, 2007

Thinking About Hummingbirds

Photograph by Thomas Mathieson
As I said, I've been thinking about hummingbirds on and off since the one buzzed by Silver, (the African Grey Parrot) and I while we sat outside near the feeder. We might have been invisible for all the Ruby-throat seemed to care. Did the hummer even note us? I don't know.
Above is a humming bird sitting on her nest. I'm told the reason her face looks strange is that she reportedly has managed to obscure it partially with spider's silk. That does seem clever but most likely it's wired in. How many choices do hummingbirds make in life? How much is innate?

Photographs courtesy of

At this feeder and perhaps at many others, if one puts one's finger on the perch and waits the hummingbird will perch on the finger to feed.

Speaking of feeding, hummingbird tongues are the length of their bills and in most cases are split at the tip and the tongue itself is concave for better nectar retrieval. The tongue can flicker up to 13 times per second. Hard to fathom actually. It also divides in the back where it curves around both sides of the head and attaches to the skull between the eyes. (I'd love to know the adaptive feature that precipitates that. So far I haven't been able to find out.)

And here's an example of the finger perch. Just look at those tiny talons. Does she know she's sitting on a finger or does she just not care one way or the other? I can't wait for Spring to try it.

It seems that hummingbirds spend nearly 80% of their lives perched. Hovering must take any number of calories so I suspect they may appreciate a perch.

And another tidbit, just how does iridescence work? Hummingbirds seemingly up there with Peacocks in the world of flash. According to Michael Klesius of National Geographic, "It arises from microscopic, air-filled platelets in the feathers, which split sunlight into its component colors, then reflect only certain wavelengths."

Other amazing hummingbird factoids? The smallest hummingbirds can flap their wings 80 times per second and then accelerate to 100 times per second for short bouts.

And during a hummingbird altercation, they are very territorial little buggers after all, their hearts can speed up to 1,200 beats per minute.

Give that some thought...

You can also give some thought to Dovey here. Dovey was discovered lost in a backyard in NYC some weeks ago. Dovey is a Java or Laughing Dove. They are a white mutation of the Ringneck Dove.

These birds, Sacred Doves", you see them on hordes of Christmas cards, have been bred as pets for centuries. They can't really fly, they've no homing instinct, and in actuality are downright domesticated to the point they are completely unable to take care of themselves due to their off balance fluttery non-flight abilities. And they seem to be appearing sporadically all over NYC wondering around by themselves in need of rescue.

Do people foolishly "release" them at weddings? No romantic flight into the sky for these guys, they no doubt immediately flutter-flop to the ground and then walk off.

I rescued the one who lives with me, Pinkie, out of a snowbank. A neighbor has rescued two. Dovey, is in the backyard of a young person who has been giving her food and water and attempting to keep her safe at night but who's mother won't let Dovey into the house.

Dovey has been in the backyard for a good month, unflighted remember, and as whoever bought her in the first place hasn't claimed her, it's way past time for Dovey to find a nice safe home.

A little about Laughing Doves: They're good with people, like attention ,and they do make a sound that is rather like laughing. And they often do it while bowing repeatedly. Pinkie thinking he's much bigger than he is, will decide to keep the much larger pigeons from the bath bowl on occasion by making his startling at least to pigeons laughing sound while bowing several times. He then does several two footed hops towards the other bird in question and then repeats the sequence. Usually other birds find it so weird they immediately get startled and fly off. Humans find it utterly charming.

Now some Laughing Doves probably have their act together a little better than Pinkie does. (Dovey obviously does or Dovey most likely would not still be extant in that backyard.) Pinkie on the other hand, though the sweetest with people, will sometimes be doing his laugh bow routine from the back of a chair, lean too far back and topple off into the floor. Don't worry, he's always undamaged and immediately hops up and starts doing his routine there as if nothing had happened.

These birds can be very loving, funny, and sweet and Dovey in particular truly needs a home where she'll have protection from predators and the upcoming winter. If you're in the NYC area and can give her a home, send an email my way and I'll hook you up with her current young protector. Give it some serious thought, she is truly in need.

Donegal Browne

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