When asked (though, admittedly, no one who knows me well would dream of doing so), I would find it impossible to name a favorite bird. The heron strikes so many funny poses, genially not objecting to my lens. The common feeder visitors are well known and all admired, particularly those who sport the brightest colors. The raucous jay entertains me well, having trained the dogs to come running when he demands his daily quota of peanuts. And of course having the great horned owl was a once-in-a-lifetime treat, even if it only came here to die.
Still, the tiny hummingbird has to be close to the top of my list. As tame as any, it continues to buzz my garden hat with the big red posy and never hesitates to feed while I'm sitting just a foot away. I remain amazed that one so tiny should seem so intrepid for I would think its size would make it exceptionally vulnerable. The helicopter-like paths also intrigue me. I know of no other bird able to hover while of course this beauty can also fly backwards, but not, like other birds, glide or soar.
It is also blessed with a memory much better than mine for it can return to the same feeder it cherished the preceding year even when that feeder has not yet been ahem! filled and hung out.
Yet it seems equally at home on a windowsill indoors, in my hand (the next obvious step to getting it back outside) or, for that matter, just about anywhere it seems to want to go. Certainly among the loveliest with its iridescent coloring, it has my full admiration.
Or so it did until I came across an old (very old; I keep everything it seems) magazine article on the little beasties. Among the smallest of the warm-blooded animals, it is also said they rank among the meanest. Rating a minus number for sociability, their only desire seems to be to eat. And feed they must to survive.
A typical hummingbird, I read, needs seven to 12 calories of energy each day. Not much, you say? Not for us certainly. (I take in more than that just looking at a picture of food.) But it comes out to be the equivalent of over two-hundred-thousand calories for a 180-pound man. (And you know that's way too much if he wants to stay at 180 pounds!) For our bird, this equates to its needing to drink close to twice its weight in nectar daily, a requirement needing a thousand flowers to satisfy.
When the bird is full of nectar however briefly it will also (surprisingly) eat insects which are needed for the required protein and fat.
Having wings which can hum at 2280 revolutions, while their heart is beating more than 1,200 times in the same minute, makes them ravenous enough to be absolutely fearless.
So, it's not my company they come for, it's anything that even remotely resembles food. Even an artificial flower on a very old hat.
This now lost "Smithsonian" article goes on to quote one expert guide: "They're fighter pilots in small bodies. We've seen a bird knock another hummingbird out of the air and stab it with its bill. We're probably," he continues, "lucky these things aren't the size of ravens, or it would not be safe to walk in the woods."
Point well taken, I'm sure, but hardly reason enough to stay away from the forest or, for that matter, even away from the nectar I easily zap in the microwave from May till September. I only have one trustworthy feeder, though I have been given a number of gorgeous blown glass orbs which drip unceasingly so now sit unfilled though occasionally appreciated for their beauty.
One is enough.
I have the birds. They have their food. And I have flowers everywhere around.
Looks like we'll all be happy for another gorgeous summer.
Susan Crossett is a Cassadaga resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org