Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hummingbirds and Hurricanes, Bald Birds, plus Terms of Venery

Photograph Courtesy of Phillip Jones and the South Carolina DNR

Remember Sally of TN and others who asked what happens to hummingbirds in hurricanes? I could only find a few direct observations but Betty Jo of CA knew just who to ask, Bill Hilton of Hilton Pond. He's a regular hummingbird mavin. Here's what Mr. Hilton had to say on the topic and links for more on his work with hummingbirds--

Bill Hilton Jr.
York SC
Hummingbirds and hurricanes have been intertwined for hundreds of thousands of years. When bad weather hits, hummers hunker down as tightly as they can in the most sheltered place they can find, often in dense vegetation on the downwind side of a tree trunk. Their feet are very strong and can hold onto a twig very tightly when the wind blows.

Hummers have very little surface area and probably find it easier to get out of the wind than larger birds do.

The majority of hummingbirds will survive hurricanes over land unscathed--as is shown by folks who have reported hummers feeding heavily when the eye of the hurricane passes over, and by those who have observed them feeding as soon as the storm passes by but when winds are still strong.

Some enthusiasts in hurricane-prone areas secure their feeders with wire or duct tape prior to the advance of a storm so the birds can take sugar water whenever conditions allow. (Be sure to remove the duct tape after the storm, lest hummingbirds get stuck to it.)

All said, hummingbirds are not the delicate little creatures some folks perceive and can survive rough conditions. A far bigger danger than hurricanes over land are unexpected northbound winds in the Gulf of Mexico during migration. A bird that heads out into a hurricane is destined to become barracuda food. Many Ruby-throated Hummingbirds probably succumb to the dangers of long-distance migration, of which hurricanes are a major part.

Somewhere around 70-80% of all young Ruby-throated Hummingbirds produced this year will die before next spring; otherwise we'd be up to our eyebrows in hummingbirds. Keep your feeders clean, enjoy the ones that make it, and don't worry about those that succumb to the forces of nature.

-- NOTE: All pages on the Web site for Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History are permanently archived. The main page has a Search Engine (as does every page on the site).
Plug in your search term and you will find the info you seek. :-)

Best wishes,


Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History at
"Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project" at

And here we have contributor Karen Anne Kolling's photos of scruffy birds. Now I'd seen some bad molts but this Cardinal looked like he might be suffering from something a little more serious so I sent Karen's photos off to rehabber Cathy Horvath for her advice, which follows.

Hi Donna...

That looks like a weird molt that crested birds like blue jays, cardinals and crows get. They are juvies, they have all their feathers and then they go bald all of a sudden. They grow new feathers on their heads in a few weeks.
It doesn't happen to all of them, but it does happen.

Hope this helps... Cathy

(By the way, Karen says the above Cardinal seems to be doing better in the feather department so it looks like Cathy is spot on. D.B.)

And here's a Blue Jay whose neck and head appear to be improving from a worse look previously.

Speaking of which Karen found the "Bald Bird" topic addressed on Cornell's FeederWatch site.

You want to see some bald birds? Take a look. Some of these guys haven't so much as a smidgen of feather on their heads. Their unadorned ears make them look like they have holes in the heads. Which of course they do, but they're currently so embarrassingly bare.

As I let on about my affection for the collective names for different species of birds, Jackie of the Tulsa Hawk Forum, sent in a list. Be sure you check out the last paragraph on birder etiquette.

Hi, Donna:

Given your recent mention that a group of turkeys is referred to as a "rafter," you might be interested in a list of other such bird group names ("terms of venery") which entertained us on our Forum last month (with the summer's slowdown in hawk activity, we make our own fun). Our member Catbird suggested that this might entertain you, as well. The website from which this list and the following quotation came appears now to be no longer accessible:

A bevy of quail

A bouquet of pheasants [when flushed]
A brood of hens
A building of rooks
A cast of hawks [or falcons]
A charm of finches

A colony of penguins
A company of parrots
A congregation of plovers
A cover of coots
A covey of partridges [or grouse or ptarmigans]
A deceit of lapwings
A descent of woodpeckers
A dissimulation of birds

A dole of doves
An exaltation of larks
A fall of woodcocks
A flight of swallows [or doves, goshawks, or cormorants]
A gaggle of geese [wild or domesticated]
A host of sparrows
A kettle of hawks [riding a thermal]

A murmuration of starlings
A murder of crows
A muster of storks
A nye of pheasants [on the ground]
An ostentation of peacocks
A paddling of ducks [on the water]
A parliament of owls
A party of jays

A peep of chickens
A pitying of turtledoves
A raft of ducks
A rafter of turkeys
A siege of herons
A skein of geese [in flight]
A sord of mallards
A spring of teal
A tidings of magpies
A trip of dotterel

An unkindness of ravens
A watch of nightingales
A wedge of swans [or geese, flying in a "V"]
A wisp of snipe

The site continued: "Any of these group names may properly be used by birders who wish to display their erudition, although it is probably linguistically inaccurate (and it certainly is bad manners) to upbraid someone who refers to 'a bunch of ravens' by saying, 'Surely you mean "an unkindness of ravens," my good fellow.' Most of these terms date back at least 500 years. Some of them have been in continuous use since then; others have gone out of fashion and been resurrected in the last century or two; still others only exist on lists.

Most of these terms are listed in James Lipton's An Exaltation of Larks [1968].
Lipton's list is substantially based on very old sources."


Did anyone else pick up on the phrase "terms of venery" in Jackie's email?

The first dictionary I looked it up in, had only one definition, it said, "sexual intercourse".

Terms of sexual intercourse for bird collectives? Something is wrong. I checked my spelling. Yup. Venery.

I looked it up in the Merriam-Webster, which didn't mention coitis until definition 2.

Venery \Ven"er*y\, n. [OE. venerie, F. v['e]nerie, fr. OF. vener to hunt, L. venari. See Venison.] The art, act, or practice of hunting; the sports of the chase.

"Beasts of venery and fishes." --Sir T. Browne. [1913 Webster]

I love hunting and venery. --Chaucer. [1913 Webster]

Fascinating, a hunting term of the chase also used for sexual intercourse. There has to be a connection that sprouted the usage, wouldn't you say?

Donegal Browne

1 comment:

Karen Anne said...

Also, feather-challenged grackles. I had a one-time-only bald grackle visitor.

Thanks a lot for checking with Cathy.