Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Handling Hummingbirds

I held a bird in my hand last night. And I do know that's not a bird in my oldest son's hand in the photo. That's a cicada. More on that later.

We have had so many hummers (and I don't mean SUVs) get into our garage and trapped there, that I have become experienced in their differences. Here in the East we have only one species - the Ruby Throated Hummingbird. They are, like most hummers, attracted by the color red. When I figured out that my garage door opener's red handle, dangling on the emergency cord for disengaging, was drawing them into the garage, where they would then be startled into going up above the door and stuck (they don't look down when panicky, so they can't find their way back out!) I exchanged the red handle for a big aluminum washer. That finally stopped the regular "capture and release" program I was running. I could have been banding the birds, I suppose, but it didn't occur to me at the time.

I have a loose wire for the garage door opener (I just stapled the wire across my garage ceiling and it hangs down over one of the vans) and the poor weary beasts always land there for the night. I climb the van in the dark, get up close to the tiny bird, and gently pluck it from the wire. They peep pitifully and struggle feebly while I climb back down off the van roof (hard to do with one hand full of fragile bird). They stop peeping when I get them outside - they can tell they are no longer trapped indoors. They get quiet. When I let them go they usually buzz me, and one attacked (it's a bit like having a radar guided tavern dart aiming for your face - no matter how you move, it follows). So I'm ready to duck when I let go.

But I look at them before I release them. I had always thought them quite uniform, bird to bird, but it's not at all true. They move so fast it's normally hard to see the differences, but in hand, they are remarkably unique. Some are long and thin, others are short and curvy (my favorites - just like women). Some have longer beaks, and some of the beaks are more curved than others. The color of green is not uniform, either, some being a true leafy green, and others more aqua. And even their feathers are not the same - like the way our hair grows on our heads, some have feathers differently around their eyes and beaks, and the tail feathers can be broader or narrower, shorter of longer, from one individual to another. It was a revelation to me. And every one I've handled was female - not one male has been trapped in the garage. I'm not sure what this means.

Last night we had another one in the garage; I'm not sure what lured it in there. It's been over a year since the last one.

I have probably held over a dozen of them by now - maybe as many as eighteen. It's a small miracle every time I do it. First I'm always struck by the fact that they will not try to escape as long as it's dark and their feet are still on the wire. They only struggle once I have them off the perch. Weird. That must make them very vulnerable in the wild at night. Second, I'm blown away every time by their pulse; it's insane. And finally I can't believe they are so tiny. I've held a lot of insects that are larger. Amazing. And these things descended from dinosaurs?!?

About that cicada above - some of these guys are bigger than hummingbirds; that's why it got in this post. This time of year we can take a night bug (1) walk (2) and see many of them, in their last hours of life, on the pavement under street lamps. We pick them up (because it's fun! and they are so wildly different from us - like aliens have landed!). The males buzz so loudly that it can make you drop them even if you're prepared for it. They do it by vibrating a series of their back plates. Here in NC the great loud buzzing of these insects is a daytime mark of summer - it just wouldn't be hot without them. The females (like this one - note the ovipositor (egg laying tube) on the end of her abdomen) are silent.

In the evenings the cicadas gradually give way to the sound of katydids. They can also be ridiculously loud, and I LOVE their sound (only the fall sound of field crickets is better, to me). I used to try to listen for the moment each evening when the cicadas stopped and the katydids started, wondering if there was a gap between, of if they overlapped. For years I never could pay enough attention (I'm easily distracted) to actually hear it. Now I hear it regularly - funny how you can learn to see and hear differently. They overlap every evening this time of year, just as the colors are beginning to disappear (a sad moment for me every day).

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille #13 <<<<

Sometimes Grenouille gets homesick for France. Then I might find him mooning about looking at things like this Orangina bottle that came home on the same trip. Back then you could not find Orangina in the U.S. - and it was gentler, more European, than it is here now. That makes ME homesick for France...

Purple cone flowers are one of my dearest's favorites - she has several kinds, and they bloomed better this year than any time in the last twenty.


linda said...

I adore hummers! I have alot of them with 3 feeders out right now and yes, they do buzz me when they want something. They also look in the windows if they hear my voice...crazy, insane little birds but maybe that's why I love them so much :)

OMG, that bug....no thanks, I will not be coming there anytime soon in the summertimes. YIKES! I am such a wimp.


Steve Emery said...

Linda - You have so many more interesting types of hummers out there, too, right?

And as for bugs... You know unless we go looking for these guys, we almost never see them. It's like your scorpions out there - we in the East can't abide the thought of them, and don't know how you could live with something like that (or rattlers) - but you don't actually see them that much, do you? That's what I told myself when we toured New Mexico, Colorado and Utah - we probably would never see a rattler or a scorpion - and we didn't. Were we wrong? Maybe we were just lucky not to encounter any?

Liberality said...

We have hummers too. They swarm our feeders. My crackle glass collection in the kitchen windows bring them to the house every year. The glass is orange, yellow, red (especially red) and pink. Only one female got trapped in our window (don't ask me how) and hubby got her out and let her go. While their feeders are being filled they swarm around our heads but it's more like they are telling us hello and waiting for us to get out of their way. They sleep in the trees and bushes by our house too.

linda said...

I have seen 3 different hummers but they move so fast I am not absolutely sure they were not 2...as for scorpions, they do exist around here but I have never seen one ... we do have rattlers and they have been known to create large nests under shrubs but so far, so good... they love to get in my garage to get out of the heat! and now my garage door is broken and that's when they come in, when the door is left open, EEK! Snakes are part of life here, mostly good guys not rattlers, but can't be too careful. I live in CA not Utah, etc. so wouldn't know how hideous their creatures are...Texas is full of monstrous creatures!

Pagan Sphinx said...

This is such a sweet post. How lucky for your little hummers that it is your garage they end up in. (hug)

I love the delicacy of the wings of the cicada. Amazing.

And Grenouille has good taste in drinks. I love Orangina. Part of it is that I see my name imbedded in it.

Anonymous said...

I love our hummingbird visitors. This was a delight to read.

okjimm said...

OK. Anybody that goes around freeing hummingbirds.....is OK by me. Great photos, too!

susan said...

My friend pagan suggested a visit so here I am and very happy to meet you. We also have hummingbirds and as Linda said it's sometimes hard to tell how many there are since they spend a lot of time chasing each other. We've never seen cicadas here in Portland - nothing like in New England - but sometimes in late summer we hear them after dark.

Your paintings are wonderful.

Steve Emery said...

Liberality - I'd love to see that glass.

Linda - and some of those Texas monsters haven't stayed in Texas?

Pagan - So is your name Gina? Ora (prayer - that might fit), Angi (angel - that might fit)...

DCup - thanks! And thanks for the tip to go read DCap.

OKJimm - I've been spending some time round your place - thanks for linking to mine (I just linked you).

Susan - We found each others blogs at the same time, then - because I was looking at yours (and your wonderful "outsider art" post) about the time you were looking at my blog. I followed you from a well considered comment somewhere else...

Gosh, this is such a new experience for me - thank you all.