Friday, May 30, 2014

Hummingbirds as Diversion in Hectic Times

May days have dashed by in double time, largely because of the frenetic pace of kids' sports. Strangely enough, one way to slow down for a few minutes has been to pull up a lawn chair and watch the antics of one of Nature's swiftest creatures -- the Hummingbird.

So far this Spring has brought my steadiest hummingbird traffic ever at our nectar feeder. Every 10 or 15 minutes, a solitary customer has been diving in with wings beating furiously, gone into hover mode, even thrown itself into reverse a time or two for re-positioning -- all the while licking up the nectar (at up to 17 licks per second, believe it or not) to pack on the energy needed for a go-go existence.

For weeks, I thought we had just one little nickel-sized wonder of our own, a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. But lately I've seen other hummers without the ruby throat. And this morning two engaged in a fierce fight right in front of me, battling over territory, before whooshing off, perhaps with one in pursuit of the other. I'm not sure, but I think one may be a a Rufous Hummingbird that got attached to our climate and stayed through the winter.

I have been keeping our one feeder super clean and stocked with one part sugar, four parts water, but now I think I may need to set up another feeder out of sight of this one and see if we have two feeding at once, peacefully unaware of each other, perhaps.

While lounging and sipping coffee, I have been finding some intriguing nuggets of information about these absolutely incredible tiny beings. For instance ….

* Hummingbirds weigh between 0.07 and 0.7 ounces, which compares with the 0.20 ounce weight of a U.S. quarter.

* Hummingbird's hearts are very big (well, in relation to their minuscule bodies) and heartbeat can reach  the mind-boggling rate of 1,400 beats per minute, declining to a mere 420 beats per minute when the hummer is perching.

* Scientists calculate that a hummingbird may ingest in one day an amount of sugar equal to its body weight. Who says sugar is bad for you -- not if you are a hummingbird, for sure. (I'll have a slice of Hummingbird Cake, thank you.)

* When diving to impress a potential mate or intimidate a foe, a hummingbird can reach speeds of 60 to 80 mph. It can be scary when they go flying by you, making you pray that their navigational gear is in good working order.

That barely scratches the surface of fascinating facts about this most amazing creation of God. My source today has been "World of Hummingbirds," by  Erik Hanson (Stackpole Books, 2009). It is a beautifully illustrated book and I highly recommend it. I purchased it on a visit to Brookgreen Gardens, one of South Carolina's most exquisite natural preserves.

I will be on the lookout for more hummingbird antics and fun facts. As fast as they move, they actually are a little slower than life itself nowadays, and so they provide a needed diversion.

                                             © Robert G. Holland  2014

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