Hanging with the Hummingbirds…

I was planning on doing some birding yesterday, but life got in the way. I started doing yard work, and couldn’t help but notice several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds flitting through my back yard, moving from flower to flower, and to my one nectar feeder.  After finishing the yard work, I decided to do something I haven’t done all summer…try to get photos of my visiting hummingbirds.

They’re not going to be around much longer.  They’ll start to leave in a week or two, and numbers will dwindle.  By September, I’m usually only left with occasionally young birds and females. By mid-September, they’ll largely be gone.

I’m always so excited when the first hummingbird shows up in our yard in early May!  I figured I’d better take some time and enjoy them while we can.  For now, here’s a male and female (or young) visiting my nectar feeder.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Archilochus colubris

A somewhat scruffy looking male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I probably won’t have males around for too much longer. Mature males are always the first to leave, and will be scarce or absent by the end of the month.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Archilochus colubris

A female (or immature) hummingbird. Pretty soon these will all I’ll have, and then sadly, they’ll trickle away as well, leaving me with a long, 8-month period without my beautiful little hummingbird. 🙁


In The News – Week of January 8th

Science, nature, and other miscellaneous news for the week:

Binary Star Collision

An artist’s impression of a collision of the two stars in a binary star system. In an unprecedented prediction, two stars are forecast to collide in 2022, potentially lighting up the nighttime skies for several months.

Cosmic collision coming in 2022 — The two stars that are found in a binary star system called KIC9832227 have been forecast to collide in 2022, an unprecedented forecast that, if true, could provide some real celestial fireworks. Scientists are using past observations of collisions from a binary star pair to predict the 2022 collision.  In a past collision, scientists noted that the relative orbital speeds of the two stars sped up in leading to the actual collision, a phenomenon that is currently being observed in KIC9832227.  The actual collision has already occurred, but because the star system is 1,800 light years from earth, the light of the collision won’t be visible until 2022. 1,800 light years is actually relatively close in cosmic terms, which means we could be in for a bit of a show in 2022. The two stars are currently too dim to be seen by the naked eye, but it is thought that for several months, the new star created by the collision of the binary stars will be among the brightest features in the nighttime sky. Along with the total solar eclipse coming to the United States this August, there are some exciting cosmic events happening in the next few years!

Extreme tornado outbreaks increasing in recent decades — The most extreme tornado outbreaks in the United States have been on the increase in recent decades. Outbreaks, defined as 6 or more tornadoes occurring in a relatively short time span, are responsible for the most extensive property damage and loss of life.  According to the research, the largest tornado outbreak occurring in 1965 would have had around 40 tornadoes, while today, the number of expected tornadoes might double to 80.  I’m a bit skeptical of studies that deal with numbers of tornadoes.  We’re so much better at observing tornadoes now compared to several decades ago, both because we simply have a much larger population, but also because we have the technological tools to help us monitor tornado occurrence.  Any empirical record of tornado occurrence is undoubtedly biased towards the present day, in terms of the number of tornado observations.  Still fascinating research. The authors don’t make the case that the increase may be linked to climate change, stating that they found outbreaks are most strongly related to a measure called storm relative helicity, a measure that’s not been predicted to increase under climate change. However the authors have a bit of a “diss” towards climate science, stating that it’s hard to tell whether climate change plays a role “given the current state of climate science”.

Costa's Hummingbird - Calypte costae

A Costa’s Hummingbird male in flight. Scientists have found a remarkable adaptation in the visual motion part of the brain, a characteristic that may enable the rapid and precise aerial acrobatics of hummingbirds.

Seeing like a hummingbird — We’re animals…smart, sometimes amazing, sometimes incredibly annoying, but we share the same biological characteristics as most other animals on the planet.  Nearly every 4-limbed animal on the planet has a part of the brain that focuses on the processing of visual signals related to motion. The processing is focused on motion in a direction that comes from behind a creature…a very useful adaptation for detecting and responding to an attack from behind, for example.  Scientists have found that hummingbirds process motion-related visual cues much differently than other animals.This part of the brain in hummingbirds is larger than in other birds, and unlike other birds, individual neurons  are all tuned to focus on motion in different directions.  It is thought that this enables the amazing aerial acrobatics flying hummingbirds are capable of, as they can quickly process motion cues and adapt flight direction very quickly.

Media in a tizzy over giant iceberg — A check of science-news websites over the past week has shown many stories of the imminent crack-up of a part of the Larson C ice shelf in Antarctica.  It is a dramatic event, as a 60-mile long, 300-foot wide crack has split a part of the ice shelf.  Assuming the crack continues to grow, an iceberg the size of Delaware (!!) will break off.  It’s certainly a cool event, and one the media can sink its teeth into given the “cool” factor.  Of course the angle the story is written about often focuses on climate change (particularly in the mainstream media), but it really is hard to tell the role of climate change.  What IS dramatic is the continued thinning of the ice shelf overall, the incredible loss of ice mass in Greenland in the last decade, or the loss of sea ice in the Antarctic, event that are all definitely related to climate change. However, it’s tougher for the media (and people in general) to recognize the slow, inexorable march of climate change, versus dramatic events such as the Larson C crack.

Breathing option in Beijing — Air quality has been so bad in Beijing in recent years that officials recently established an “environmental police squad” to crack down on illegal burning and other contributors to the poor air quality. Additional measures announced this week include cutting coal-fired power production by 30% this year, revamping the most highly polluting factories in the region, and restriction pollution levels from vehicles in and around Beijing.  Air you can’t breathe, water you can’t drink…that’s what happens when you put economic growth over the environment, over human health. Keep that in mind when Trump and the environmentally hostile Congress start putting in “business-friendly” policies in the coming months.

You have a new body organ! — Have you had your doctor check your mesentery lately?  Have you even VISITED your local mesentery specialist? Well, probably not.  Medicine knew of the these structures in the digestive system, but they didn’t fit the definition of an organ because it was thought they were distinct separate fragments and not one continuous unit.  What bothers me about this article? This statement…from J Calvin Coffey, who “discovered” its an organ, stating this discovery “opens up a whole new area of science”.  Just because they discovered it’s one piece, not several pieces? Just because it fits the definition of an organ, it’s a new science?  The categorization doesn’t affect actual function of the organ.  This all goes with my “in the news” from last week, and how much of the human existence is defined by how we categorize the world around us.


A hagfish, a creature that evidently has the capability to evade shark attacks thanks to its loose saggy skin. Perhaps being ugly and slimy has its advantages.

Escaping a shark attack with “loose skin” — Ever wonder how a hagfish escapes a shark attack?  Well, neither have I. Hagfish are kind of disgusting looking things, akin to a lamprey or slimy eel.  Scientists (well, these scientists) wondered how hagfish escape when sharks attack.  They have a “slime defense”, emitting a cloud of slime that repels an attack, but that’s usually after a shark gets in a bite.  Scientists found it’s their very loose skin that makes it difficult for a shark’s tooth to actually penetrate into flesh, allowing them to react to attack without a fatal wound.  You DO have to give these guys points for creativity though, with their creation of an “indoor guillotine” that they developed to drop shark teeth into hagfish carcasses.

Chicken intelligence — Not a lot of bird-related science news this week, but there was this piece about the intelligence of chickens.  They’re not a bird you generally think of as being that intelligent, although when my son and I visited Reptile Gardens near Rapid City last summer, they had a trained chicken that came roaring out on cue and stole dollar bills from an unsuspecting audience member.  Evidently this research group felt the need to come to the defense of the poor, intellectually maligned chicken.  They determined that chickens are smarter than  you think that they have distinct social structures (a sign of intelligence) and even an ability to deductively reason.  A quote from the study lead:

“A shift in how we ask questions about chicken psychology and behavior will, undoubtedly, lead to even more accurate and richer data and a more authentic understanding of who they really are,” says Marino.

I can’t say as I’ve ever thought about chicken psychology.  But I am thankful that soon I’ll be able to get “a more authentic understanding of who they really are”.  🙂


In the News – October 9 – 15

A collection of bird, science, photography, and news links from the past week. Click on the links for the actual stories.

Eastern Screech Owl - Megascops asio

I think I’ve actually been pretty lucky, in that I’ve run across Eastern Screech Owls relatively often over the years, and have many good photos. What I can NOT do is attract one to my yard.

  • Attract Screech Owls to Your Yard!! — HAH!  I’ll believe it when I see it!  This piece from Birdwatching Magazine touts how easy it is to attract Screech Owls to your yard, by building and putting up a nest box.  Three years ago, I bought a box built specifically for Screech Owls.  Over three summers, many a young bird has fledged from that box!  Of course all of them have been House Sparrows, the one thing I do NOT need more of.  Hopefully some day an actual Eastern Screech Owl finds it, evicts the House Sparrows within, and justifies my purchase.
  • Coal Declines in the U.S. — One of the things that bugs me great is lying.  In the world of politics, it’s an art form.  This week, fact got in the way of rhetoric, with a study coming out that refutes those who try to pin the decline of coal, and mining jobs in the U.S., to government policy.  Coal started to decline in 2008, right when Obama was elected.  It’s his fault!! Well…no.  As this study notes, it’s basic economics and the rise of cheap natural gas.  People love to complain about cheap energy prices, but now that we have it?  They’ll find something else to complain about…
  • Get ready to add new species to your life list! — There’s been speculation for a while now that Crossbill species in North America may be split into as many as 6 or more new, distinct species.  This study provides more support for that move, using genomics to look at the rapid evolution of Crossbills that feed on pine seeds. It’s always handy when you can add a new species to your life list, without ever leaving your living room.
  • Hotter than Hell — Which, evidently must be around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, given 1) where people believe hell is likely located (think ‘down’), and 2) the estimated temperature at the center of the earth.
  • Caspian Terns Breeding near Arctic Circle — If you’re one of those that doesn’t believe in climate change, you might as well stop reading my blog altogether. As yet more evidence that strange things are afoot, scientists confirmed breeding of Caspian Terns north of the Arctic Circle…1,000 MILES further north than they’ve been found before. If it were just thing one piece of evidence…sure…could be a fluke.  Where there’s smoke, there’s fire though, and it’s getting damned hard to breath with so much “smoke” around.
  • Fires of Hell

    Ever wonder how toasty it will be when your tortured, evil soul rots for an eternity in hell? Evidently it will be around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Before you die, perhaps you should change into shorts…

    Getting away from it all (Noise, that is) — My son and I usually go fishing in the Black Hills of South Dakota once a year.  You wouldn’t want to be in the area in late summer, when the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is going on, and there are certainly tourist hotspots scattered throughout the area.  But what’s always nice about the Black Hills is that if you want solitude, you can find it. Think of the soundtrack of your daily life.  Think how rare it is to NOT have some background noise, be it street noise, a barking dog, etc.  That what struck me at one point this summer while fishing in the hills…how we were hearing…NOTHING. And it was fabulous.  As this story notes, it’s been darn hard to find a noise-free environment going back at least 50 years.

  • Hurricane Matthew Punches Above its Weight — Hurricane Matthew’s story was fascinating, because of the unusual path, its immense power as it tore through the Caribbean, and because it became an afterthought for many Americans once it avoided a direct hit on Florida. Of course, certain political stories overshadowed Matthew when it raged across the Carolinas, but more than that, it was the feeling of relief, the feeling that the U.S. had dodged a bullet.  Instead of Category 4 hurricane striking Florida, it stayed offshore of Florida and was downgraded to a Category 1 by the time it struck the Carolinas. As this story notes, perhaps we need a new rating system for Hurricanes.  Sandy too wasn’t the most powerful hurricane, but it certainly did some damage, and so did Matthew, with 18 inches of rain in parts of North Carolina.
  • Hummingbirds should listen to their parents!! — It’s rough out there for a lil’ wild critter!  Not only do they have to deal with other critters that may want to eat them, but sometimes they just don’t KNOW what they’re supposed to do to survive. That’s one takeaway from this story, that notes different individual hummingbirds use different feeding and migration strategies.  Hummingbirds that have made the migration before?  They are more strategic, Adding up to 40% onto their body weight right before making a long migratory flight.  First-time migrants? They are less strategic, tending to NOT pack on the pounds, but instead migrate south in short bursts and feeding in between.  The lesson overall…LISTEN TO YOUR PARENTS.  They know best.
  • Climate Change Doubles Western U.S. Fires — According to this study, fires overall have likely doubled in the western U.S. since 1984, due to climate change.  Overall fire increase has been even more than that, but due to other issues like fuel build up, beetle kill, ignition sources, and other risk factors.  I believe that fire risk overall has gone up.  As a scientist though, I do find it extremely, extremely difficult to attribute a certain percentage increase in fire due to just one factor, however.  There’s so many factors that drive fire risk, with complicated feedbacks among them, that I’d have a hard time stating “twice” as many fires are due just to climate change.  Good article though for highlighting the issue.
  • Dumbledore - Harry Potter

    Coming back to a movie theater near you…Dumbledore!! I’d certainly welcome it, but alas, for Michael Gambon, the actor who played Dumbledore in the last 5 Harry Potter movies, this will undoubtedly be Dumbledore when he was much younger.

    Captain Kirk was Brain Damaged — OK, maybe that’s not what this story is saying. But it IS saying that there’s a high risk of cognitive issues for astronauts spending time in space, due to cosmic rays and radiation.  Interesting study, given that this week, Obama said a government and private partnership would help us reach Mars by the 2030s.  That’s certainly a very ambitious goal, one that may be doable, but there are a lot of technical challenges to be solved.

  • Dumbledore Returning!! — Not exactly science.  Or birds.  Or really news for that matter.  But with JK Rowling’s “Fantastical Beasts” coming out as a movie in a month, it was announced that she’s working on at least 4 more scripts, for at least 5 movies in total.  There’s also talk of Dumbledore coming back to play some role in these movies!  My cynical side can’t help but scream out “MONEY GRAB!!!” with the announcement that they’re going to make 5 movies.  But my Harry Potter fandom side is loving it.



Picking up the pencils…

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Drawing - By Terry Sohl

Colored pencil drawing of a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at a honeysuckle plant. Click for a larger view.

Yeah, I haven’t blogged since May.  Yeah, I haven’t really worked on my website since May.  In fact, I just haven’t done much BIRDING since May, and no photography to speak of.  I took on some projects this summer that took FAR longer than I anticipated, and generally have kept busy with other activities.  It’s not the best timing, given that summer has come and gone and we’re now moving towards the cold, relatively birdless hell that typifies a South Dakota winter.  However, after a break, I’m getting back into the swing of things with the website, photography, and…even drawing.

I wish I were more motivated to draw. I enjoy the outcome, but admit that drawing to me sometimes seems like a chore, rather than a fun activity.  There are 3 competing personality characteristics that come into play when it comes to drawing: 1) a lack of patience, 2) a desire to finish an activity quickly, and 3) a bit of a perfectionist streak.  That’s not a great combination of attributes when it comes to drawing, as ideally, I’d be able to draw something very quickly, yet have it be of relatively high quality.  As I’ve improved in my drawing over the years (at least I’d like to think I have improved!), I find that I’m going slower and am more meticulous in trying to capture all the details in a bird.  Therein lies the comment about drawing sometimes seeming like a “chore”….I just can’t finish quickly any more, and I get tired of drawing after a little bit.

I did recently have a free Saturday, with no family around and no real tasks on my plate.  After about a 1 1/2 year hiatus, I did drag out the pencils.  Given that we are transitioning into fall, I thought I’d commemorate my long photography-, bird-, and blogging-free summer by drawing my favorite summer yard visitor, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  It’s usually around May 7th when they first show up in my yard, with males typically the first to arrive.  We’re on the very edge of their breeding range, but they do clearly breed here, as I have them around all summer, and by early July, I inevitably start seeing juvenile hummingbirds in the yard.  By mid-August, i typically stop seeing males, but young and female hummingbirds are still very frequent yard visitors. Numbers slowly trend down from there, and by the last week of September, I’ve typically seen my last Hummingbird for the year.

I’ve done all of our landscaping myself, and have planted a number of items that attract hummingbirds.  However, their favorite plants are the multiple honeysuckles we have in the yard. My favorite Ruby-throated Hummingbird photo is of a beautiful male, hovering in front of a honeysuckle blossom in our yard.  This drawing is a nod to that photo.

I admit that as is typical, my patience was wearing thin as I worked on this one.  I spent about 5 hours drawing the hummingbird itself.  It’s always the bird itself that I enjoy drawing the most.  I never am fond about putting in other elements, such as the honeysuckle blooms here.  Thus, after about 5 hours of working on the bird, I admit I rushed through the drawing of the honeysuckle. Once again, while I was generally pleased with how the bird itself turned out, by the end I just wanted to be DONE, and drawing had turned into a chore.

Which means it will probably be another  1 1/2 years before you see me post another drawing out here.  🙂

Madera Canyon and Santa Rita Lodge in the “off-season”

Phot of magnificent hummingbird

A male Magnificent Hummingbird soaking up some rays at Santa Rita Lodge.

May 7th.  It always within a day or two of May 7th when the first Ruby-throated Hummingbird shows up in our yard. While there are no confirmed breeding records in far southeastern South Dakota, there’s little doubt they nest there. I have birds in my yard all summer, and by July sometime I start to see immature birds. After a great (but short!) summer flitting about our yard, they’re gone by the end of September. That’s less than 5 months, with the “hummingbird off season” consisting of 7+ months of cold weather and absolutely zero hummingbirds.

It’s the “hummingbird off-season” where I am this week, in Tucson.  After peaking in August here, where up to 15 hummingbird species may be sighted, numbers and variety start to dwindle. By this time in November the slow season is definitely underway. There’s just a WEE bit of a difference in the Tucson off season compared to South Dakota. Here in the Tucson area, you can still find plenty of hummingbirds, but “only” 4-5 kinds (typically).

Photo of Costa's Hummingbird.

A male Costa’s Hummingbird, not commonly found at Madera Canyon in the winter.

There are some extremely famous hummingbird locales that attract birders from across the world. Madera Canyon south of Tucson is world famous for many birds, but it’s the hummingbird feeders at Santa Rita Lodge that are the big attraction for many. In the non-work part of my trip I twice visited Madera and Santa Rita Lodge, and I’d be hard pressed to call it the “off-season”. No, there were no Plain-capped Starthroats, Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, or other U.S. mega-rarities that make southern Arizona famous. For the week I “only” saw and photographed five different species, with all five being seen at Santa Rita Lodge (and some species also found elsewhere).

From a photographers standpoint it’s really nice taking photos at Santa Rita Lodge. Until 1:00 or so you have the sun at your back, and most of the feeders are out in the sunlight, making it easy to get beautiful photos of hummingbirds with their gorgets “lit-up”. The ever-present Mexican Jays, Bridled Titmouse, and Wild Turkeys are there to entertain, and you never know what might show up to feed on the suet, fruit, and seeds that are also available. Hepatic Tanagers have an extremely limited U.S. range, but they are pretty reliable in Madera Canyon. Despite it also being the “off-season” for them, I did find a pair at Santa Rita Lodge and was able to add the species to my life list.

Hepatic Tanager

Hepatic Tanager, a southern Arizona specialty.

Santa Rita Lodge is also the only place I have ever found Arizona Woodpeckers. Acorn Woodpeckers are also always around, while the Niger seed feeders typically have a bunch of Lesser Goldfinch and Pine Siskins. Checking the trees around the feeders can reveal all kinds of interesting songbirds, and even in this slow season, I saw Black-throated Gray Warblers, Hutton’s Vireo, Yellow-rumps Warblers, and more. I also got a nice surprise by standing by the one big berry-laden bush in font of the feeders.  A Red-naped Sapsucker flew in and landed literally 2 feet in front of me and started feeding on the berries. A newcomer to the Santa Rita Lodge, a pair of Canyon Wrens started nesting under the building recently, despite the uncharacteristic habitat

Not a bad “off-season” visit!  And this doesn’t even touch on the Elegant Trogon or other birds you can find in the Canyon.

I enjoyed birding this week all around the Tucson area, but in terms of “birdy-ness”, nothing beats a trip to Madera Canyon and Santa Rita Lodge.

Photo of Canyon WrenRed-naped SapsuckerBroad-tailed Hummingbird

Drawing – White-eared Hummingbird

White-eared Hummingbird

Colored pencil drawing of a White-eared Hummingbird, a species that in the U.S. is found only on occasion in far southern Arizona.

A nice relaxing weekend at home (my favorite kind).  The weather this fall has been spectacular, with crisp cool nights and sunny cool to warm days.  Yesterday was a day of fishing with my son.  Not a huge amount of success, although he did tie into a big carp and got a real kick out of battling it for a while.

Today, a day at home. Thought I’d get back to drawing so got out the equipment this morning and rew this White-eared Hummingbird.  If you just looked at the species I drew, you’d probably think I lived somewhere tropical, given that I love drawing hummingbirds and other species I don’t typically get a chance to see in South Dakota.  There is a method to the madness though, in terms of choosing what to draw.  I typically draw things that I don’t have photos of!  It fills a needed gap on my regular website!  Given that I have species description pages for every species seen in North Dakota, I need some image for each, and drawings work nicely when I don’t have a photo.

I also chose a “rare” U.S. hummingbird because I have a work trip coming up next month to Tucson.  I’ll likely take a couple of vacation days on my own, and go out birding.  November isn’t a great time to look for Hummingbirds, as it’s really summer when you get the biggest variety, and most chance to see a rare one that’s made it’s way up to southern Arizona from their more normal range in Mexico.  But there will be some hummingbirds around.  This is a White-eared Hummingbird, a species normally found in Mexico, but sometimes found in far southern Arizona.

I don’t know why I don’t draw more.  It always seems like a chore to get all the equipment out and devote several hours to it.  But I’m always so happy when I’m doing it and when I’m done. I’m more pleased with how this one turned out, than for most I do.

Playing “Jenga” with nature

Ecosystems are like the game of Jenga...take one piece away you don't know what will happen.

Ecosystems are like the game of Jenga…take one piece away you don’t know what will happen.

You never know what will happen when you remove one piece of the puzzle.  Can it survive for a little while longer, albeit in a weakened state?  Or will it all come crashing down when that one piece gets removed?

Yes, I could be talking about the game of “Jenga”, something many of us have played.  But in this case I’m talking about nature.  In the journal Science Advances, research was just published that discusses a link between hawk populations in the southwestern U.S. and breeding success of Black-chinned Hummingbirds.  One wouldn’t immediately think there was much of a link between the two species.  Hummingbirds are far too small and quick for most hawk species to deal with.  They likely couldn’t capture them, and even if they did, they wouldn’t be more than a mouthful.  So how are the species linked?

As the paper discusses, there are actually three bird species who interact to affect nesting success of the hummingbird.  In addition to the Black-chinned Hummingbird, the study looked at Cooper’s Hawks and Mexican Jays.  What they found was that nesting success was much higher for the hummingbirds when they nested very close to Cooper’s Hawk nests.  The Cooper’s Hawks don’t feed on the hummingbirds, but they ARE a threat to Mexican Jays, and Mexican Jays will readily eat hummingbird eggs and young if they get a chance.  In one case, after Cooper’s Hawks left one nesting location, the researchers immediately saw Mexican Jays move in and decimate all hummingbird nests in the area.

Jenga…ala Mother Nature.  That’s what so scary when human beings start to interfere in natural systems.  One of the most publicized impacts of the removal of one species from a system is the Yellowstone ecosystem, before and after the reintroduction of wolves.  It was expected that the reintroduction would impact ungulate populations in the area, but it soon became apparent just how far-reaching an impact wolves have on the ecosystem.  Without wolves, elk and deer browsed freely in lowlands, resulting in nearly all young aspen trees to be browsed to the ground.  Aspen habitat all but disappeared in the park, but with the reintroduction of wolves, that habitat is now being reborn.  With increased aspen came more beavers.  With more aspen habitat and beaver ponds came an influx of more songbirds and other species that use those habitat.  With more wolves, there were fewer coyotes, which meant more small mammals and an increase in numbers of red fox, eagles, and ravens.

All due to the removal of one species.

Be it hawks in the Southwest or wolves in Yellowstone, the removal of one key species can have cascading impacts on the entire ecosystem.  The same certainly can be true in the “reverse” case, where a new, exotic species is introduced into the system.  As a scientist, it’s fascinating to see the incredible impacts humans have on ecosystems, both through how they manage the landscape, and in how they manage the wildlife within that landscape. As just a human being…it also can be pretty depressing to see how we negatively impact so many ecosystems.

Hummingbird perspective

Photo of Rufous Hummingbird in FLight

Drink up little Rufous Humminbird! One flower down, 1,163 cans of Coke (hummingbird equivalent) to go!!

From, there’s a nice feature today about the “fierceness” of hummingbirds:

Hummingbirds are Fierce, Deadly Gods of War

I can relate to this.  Pop (hey, I’m from the Midwest, it’s “pop”, not “soda” or anything else) is my downfall.  I don’t drink coffee, and especially during the week, a can of pop somehow makes it into my office.  Mostly it’s Coke.  If I’m really having a bad, tiring day, a Mountain Dew has been known to slip into my office.  But having an occasional can of Coke is nothing, if you read this story.

Given the metabolism of a hummingbird, they consume half their body weight in sugar every day.  As the article notes, an equivalent would be a human being drinking 1,163 cans of Coke a day, or 1,106 cans of Pepsi (Pepsi has more sugar).

Therefore, I have determined my occasional can of Coke isn’t bad.  It may actually be a health food, based on this comparison.  Not only am I drinking the “right” pop in Coke (the less sugary one), but I’m only drinking 0.09% of my daily allowance of sugar, in hummingbird terms.

It’s all a matter of perspective…

Hummingbirds “trapped” in garages and other structures

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at honeysuckle

Hummingbirds are easily attracted to brightly colored objects. To them, a dangling red object in your garage may represent flower and food! Hummingbirds can easily get “trapped” inside a structure like a garage, and its imperative to help them find their way back outside before they become exhausted.

A beautiful South Dakota summer evening, and thus I was out doing yard work last night.  As I typically do when I’m outside, I had the garage doors open, even as I worked in the backyard.  After cleaning up some branches from a tree I’d trimmed, I came in the back door of the garage and immediately saw a hummingbird hovering in the garage, near the door.  As I approached he (a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird) was a little confused as to the way out, but fortunately he did manage to find the door and head out.

The timing of this was interesting, in that just yesterday I came across this story of a hummingbird “trapped” in a fire station, with the firemen rescuing it and feeding it sugar before sending it on its way.  Unfortunately it’s not that rare to have a hummingbird trapped in a garage or other structure.

A couple of years ago, I again was working outside, returned to the garage, and saw a hummingbird flying around.  Our garage roof is rather high, perhaps 15 feet to the ceiling.  However, the doors themselves are the standard 7-8 feet high.  Hummingbirds seem to have difficulty with structures such as this.  They become attracted to something in the garage and come in the open door, but their first instinct to get out seems to be to head upwards.  Once they do so and get above the height of the garage opening themselves, they seem to get “stuck”, and aren’t able to understand the way back out through the garage door.

In the incident two years ago, it was very disheartening to watch the hummingbird (again, a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird) quickly wear itself out as it flew madly around the garage, trying to find a way out.  All my efforts to “shoo” it out through an opening failed, as did efforts to lure it to a lower height with a hummingbird feeder and flowers.  “Out” for it seemingly meant “up”, and it soon became so tired that it perched on a wire going to my garage door opener, refusing to move. It was my wife who saved the day.  She got a very long feather duster with a long extendable handle, and moved the feathery end up towards the hummingbird.  The exhausted hummingbird was so tired it didn’t want to fly, but it did eventually cling to the feather duster.  Very slowly and carefully, my wife lowered the feather duster and moved outside through the garage door.  The hummingbird was still so tired it didn’t want to move, but after resting for perhaps 10 minutes on the feather duster, it finally did fly off…hopefully to find a nectar source to feed on.

Having a hummingbird trapped in your garage or other building definitely isn’t a rarity!  It can be disheartening and frustrating to try to make the hummingbird understand where “outside” is.  One thing you can do to prevent a “trapped” hummingbird is to remove any attractant within a open structure.  Do you have a cord that dangles down from your garage door opener, a manual release?  Chances are the end of that cord has a red ball or other such component.  My garage door openers both had red plastic balls on the end, and to a hungry hummingbird, such a dangling device potentially means “flower” and “nectar”.  I removed the red balls from my garage door openers and replaced them with large plain weights in the hopes of lowering the chances of hummingbirds flying into the garage.

You’re not alone if you have a hummingbird “trapped”in your garage!  If it happens to you, don’t wait for the bird to find its own way out, do everything you can to “assist” the bird in finding the way outside.  It doesn’t take long for a trapped hummingbird to burn through its energy supply and become exhausted, and without help, a trapped hummingbird can easily (and quickly) perish.

Hummingbirds in the U.S. Virgin Islands!

Green-throated Carib - Eulampis holosericeus

A Green-throated Carib, hanging out on their favorite tree with the pink tubular flowers. As always, click for a larger view.

I have quite a few bird (and other) photos from our trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands, and am just starting to go through and process them.  From a birding standpoint, it was certainly a blast to see a number of new species!  However, as a rule, the smaller the island, the fewer the number of species are found, and St. John’s isn’t a very big island.  Over 430 bird species have been found in South Dakota, quite a few for a location over 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean.  St. John’s, on the other hand, hasn’t had many more than 150 species.

While the number of “new” species for me wasn’t high, there were certainly some very cool birds that you’re not going to find in South Dakota!  A highlight for me as a birder is finding and photographing new hummingbird species (one reason why I love Arizona so much!).  While other species have visited one or more of the islands on rare occasions, but the U.S. Virgin Islands only have two regular hummingbird species, the Green-throated Carib and the Antillean Crested Hummingbird.  I’ve never been in the Caribbean, and neither is found in the United States, so both were new for me!

The U.S. Virgin Islands are experiencing quite the drought right now, and one thing that shocked me upon arriving was just how dry and brown much of St. John’s was.  Most of the island is a dry scrubland forest anyway, but from what the locals told us, it was quite unusual to see things as dry as they were on our visit.  Despite the drought, however, there were a few species of trees and plants that were blooming profusely, including on the property of the beach house.  It didn’t take long to see both species.  We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, and within an hour of arriving at our beach house, I had seen both species.

An Antillean Crested Hummingbird, one of the few relatively clean shots I was able to get of the species.  Despite seeing them at close range multiple times, they were much more difficult to photograph, as they seemed more active and more likely to perch in heavy cover than the Green-throated Cariibs.

An Antillean Crested Hummingbird, one of the few relatively clean shots I was able to get of the species. Despite seeing them at close range multiple times, they were much more difficult to photograph, as they seemed more active and more likely to perch in heavy cover than the Green-throated Cariibs.

I don’t know the name of the tree, but there were a number of large trees with tubular pink blossoms that both hummingbirds seemed to really love.  The first hummingbird I saw and photographed was a Green-throated Carib feeding on nectar from blossoms in this tree.  In sunny St. John’s, it’s hard to miss the brilliant flash of green when you see a Green-throated Carib!  They’re also a relatively large hummingbird species, making them even more noticeable.  Unlikely pretty much every hummingbird species I’ve seen in the United States, they also have a very strongly decurved bill that’s quite noticeable.  I also came across a few other Green-throated Caribs on other locations on the island, but every time I saw one, it was hanging around one of these pink-blossomed trees.

Green-throated Carib - Eulampis holosericeus

Another Green-throated Carib, this one hovering right before heading to a pink bloom to feed.

The Antillean Crested Hummingbird is the more highly sought species from what I was told by birders familiar with the area.  They’re not hard to find on St. John’s, but they do have a pretty small range overall in the Caribbean, making them a nice addition to a birder’s checklist.  The Antillean Crested Hummingbird is quite small hummingbird, very noticeably smaller than the Green-throated Carib.  Perhaps it’s because of the size difference, but there were obvious behavioral differences between the two species.  While the Green-throated Caribs around the beach house were seemingly quite aggressive, attempting to chase away Bananaquits, Lesser Antillean Bullfinches, and other birds using their favorite flowering trees, the Antillean Crested Hummingbirds seemed to stay closer to the ground in more hidden locations.  They too really liked the pink-flowered tree, but would only use it if the Green-throated Caribs weren’t using it at the time.  They also seemed to stay closer to the ground, visiting blooms lower in the tree canopy and generally staying closer to thicker cover.  There were a number of times when I would walk around the pink-flowering trees and I would see an Antillean Crested Hummingbird perched in a thicket nearby.  They tended to stay there most of the time, flying out on occasion to feed, but immediately returning to thicker cover once they were done feeding.

That first day I was just THRILLED to see both species at very close range, and didn’t even try to photograph them.  At one point, while standing next to another tree with gorgeous orange flowers, an Antillean Crested Hummingbird began feeding on blooms a mere 3 feet away!  It was such a thrill to watch this gorgeous male Antillean Crested Hummingbird at such an extremely close range.  Given how easy they were to see that first day and how close they would feed to my position, I was quite excited for the rest of the week, anticipating many good photo opportunities!  However, as it often works with bird photography, things didn’t exactly work out as planned!  I continued to see both species throughout the week, but frustratingly, I couldn’t get nearly as close as I did that first day!  I’m not complaining much however, as I continued to get great looks through my binoculars, and did manage to get enough decent photos of both species to keep me satisfied.

Green-throated Carib - Eulampis holosericeus

And one more Green-throated Carib and the favored tree. Gives you a better look at the tree…anybody that can tell me what those trees are?

One aspect of the trip that did NOT work out as planned…I had brought along a small hummingbird feeder in my bags, anticipating setting it up and enjoying close range action not only from the hummingbirds, but from Bananaquits and other species that feed on nectar on the islands.  I set up the hummingbird feeder near one of the pink-flowering trees that first day, and waited for the heavy hummingbird action!  I waited…and waited…and waited…and not ONCE did I see a hummingbird even approach the feeder, much less start feeding on the sugar water I had put within it.  Very strange, given that both species are known to visit feeders. The Bananaquits (an ever present species on the island!) also showed no interest.  The only species that visited the hummingbird feeder? Interestingly, it was “Swabby and Captain”, the pair of Pearly-eyed Thrashers I had discussed in a previous post.

A real treat seeing both hummingbird species at close range and getting some decent photos!  I’ll post more photos of other species from the trip as I get them processed.

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