By Anna Livia
September 2, 2011
Dan has loved birds since he was a kid. When I say he loves birds, well, it’s like this, he gets excited, I mean excited about birds. So we’ve been here for over a week at Welder, living in the dorms. So we have this new found daily ritual that we have started to do every evening, about 30 minutes before dark. We take a nice little stroll, through the grounds and around the back of the lecture hall and student study hall building. We go to the Cone Garden to sit on the little wooden bench at the edge of the garden and watch hummingbirds. It’s an everyday thing and proof of the fact that Dan does not tire of watching these birds. Every evening brings a new wave of enthusiasm for this hobby of bird watching! I respect bird watching and I enjoy becoming more familiar with the birds of the region, don’t get me wrong. But I have started to wonder if I enjoy watching the birds or do I just enjoy watching him watch the birds? Actually watching him watch the birds is pretty entertaining in and of itself, if you know what I mean.
Check it out, though, before sunset we headed over to the Cone Garden and I had no idea that I was about to witness behavior, by these innocent, sweet little birds (or so you might think they are), the infamous darling hummingbird, right? Behavior, that was humorous in its own way. For instance, here are these huge (relative to the size of the bird that is) feeders full of nectar. Enough nectar to keep these little buggars happy for quite some time, I would imagine. Enough for all of them, times ten. But lo and behold here these little torpedoes are darting after each other, in what appears to be an attempt to protect their own claim on the supply, more of the time than they actually spend eating the sweet nectar they covet! Yup, that’s right, the greedy little tyrants! I caught myself laughing once I saw one of them stake his ground by chasing another one clear across the garden. If he could have I think he would have also wrestled him to the ground. Though the hummingbird is king of many acrobatic feats, I think he wants to add wrestling to his list! This was just plain funny, seeing how absolutely no logic was part of the equation. For some reason he favored that ONE hummingbird to pick on, to dart after with zealous emotion and what Sibley would name as a “chase call.” It’s the bird’s version of hollering I guess. It seemed to say, “Get away from MY feeder this instant!” The funny thing, what made me laugh out loud was the little bird being so concerned with that ONE other bird, the one he seems to have decided is the thorn in his side. “If I can get rid of this other guy, life is good, never mind the 12 other hummingbirds feasting at the feeders that I have to share with”, he seems to think.
Literally I have to ask you to imagine, we really saw so many hummingbirds at the Cone Garden tonight. There must have been a dozen to fifteen of them. When we were at the Y.O. Ranch, I think we were doing good to see two or three at a time at the feeders. Not sure why, but these were more like bees swarming around a hive. I mean there were a lot of little birds running around in the Cone Garden tonight! A hive of hummingbirds, a small hive any way. Dan, has looked at hummingbirds all his life, but this is the first time he has seen this many hummingbirds in one place.
Dan’s Hummingbird Biology. A hummingbird’s flight, the way it flies and moves about is solely its own. It flies up, down, backwards, sideways, even upside down. Have you ever seen a hummingbird fumble? They are nimble, graceful and perfect. That is all you can say. Hummingbirds don’t make mistakes.
Tonight, by the way, after we got back from the hummingbird watching, I asked Dan to give me some hummingbird biology.
I asked about the Hummingbirds what do they eat and how often do they eat? Approximately once every ten minutes they have to have nectar (sugar). Hummingbirds are migratory. They are here in South Texas spring, summer and fall. Other than that they are in Central and South America. In other words, when you need nectar every ten minutes you follow the flowers, buddy! Imagine the metabolism of a creature that has to eat every 10 minutes! Add to that it has to eat pure sugar every ten minutes. I dare say, this explains their aggressive behavior. They are hungry and they are on a sugar high 24-7, so to speak. There are two basic parts to the hummingbird’s diet, protein in the form of insects which processes through the stomach, and sugar in the form of nectar, which bypasses the stomach and goes directly into their system.
Back to how humming birds fly, divine engineering, no other bird or instrument of flight is able to perform these feats. In terms of physics there is no other creature or machine that can do what this bird does. What is their secret? Their secret is that they tread air the same way we tread water. When we tread water we don’t beat our arms up and down the way most birds do, we swing our arms back and forth in a shallow figure eight. That is what the hummingbirds do.
Hummingbirds tend be fearless. This is because nothing can catch a hummingbird.
These birds are nimble. They have instantaneous velocity. This means they go from zero to full speed with no acceleration. I said to Dan, “so they are like a cat?” He answered, “They put cats to shame. Have you ever seen a cat bring home a hummingbird?” The last thing he told me, and I don’t know why he didn’t mention this earlier. A hummingbird eats ten times his weight in nectar daily. Imagine that.
The hummingbird species that we see in our nightly visits to the Cone Garden are about 90% Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds and about 10% Buff-Bellied Hummingbirds. We see other birds like night hawks, doves and even a great-horned owl. But we’ll save those stories for another day!
What I have learned about bird watching this past week just hit me last night. What makes bird watching interesting is not just sighting and identifying them, but watching what they do. Once you do this more regularly you start picking up on the “cool” stuff, that is learning more about their behavior and even watching individual birds you get familiar with seeing on a daily basis. This makes bird watching fun, as you look forward to what they will do next. One last notable bit of biology here: these birds tend to be territorial, claiming their own perches around the feeders and defending them. They even take it as far as fighting for their “spot” at the feeder. So this in effect is the hummingbird drama I will be fully expecting to see during our evening hummingbird watching in the Cone Garden.
That’s all folks!