Friday, March 31, 2006

The Hummingbird

We have been staring at Bald Eagles for the past few months, so it has taken our eyes some time to adjust to the arrival of the Rufous Hummingbird. It surprises and amazes us that two creatures so unalike are both seasonal migrators over our backyard. This tiny energetic heart-speeding flyer comes all the way from Mexico to hang out here and drink our little 4:1 water-sugar mixture. Despite its size, the hummingbird is as fierce a competitor and territorial defender as any creature we've ever seen.
Last Friday, one forthrightly announced its arrival. It had traveled more than 3000 miles, came straight to our back door, stared in, and said, "Feed me." We gladly obliged. Rufous Hummingbirds make one of the longest migratory journeys of any bird in the world, as measured by body size. Its 3,900 mi (6,276 km) movement from Alaska to Mexico is equivalent to 784,500 body lengths. In comparison, the 11,185 mi (18,000 km) flight of the Arctic Tern is only 514,286 body lengths.
We hung the feeder, and now every few minutes a hummingbird shows up and extends its long tongue to the nectar. We're glad to offer each one a place to perch while it sips its sugary treat. The photographer in me knows that photographs of these tiny birds with their wings beating while they hover before a meal are always stunning. It is also pleasing to see them at rest.
I sat outside on Thursday just to see if I could photograph them flying up to the feeder. For as long as I was out there, they buzzed and trilled at me. I was as unobtrusive as I could be, but they are absolute tyrants about their space. So, I've given up on photographing them outside. They're much happier when no shadow lurks anywhere near their territory or their food, And, I'm more pleased to have them eat than I am to have a photograph of their incredible wings. They're pretty cute even when they are just sitting! And I can get these shots from in the house.

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