Something to do this weekend
July 2, 2020 10:30 PM   Subscribe

I have two hummingbird stories.

I once was reading on a hammock and had a hummingbird land on my hand that was holding my book. It was entrancing and didn't last very long, but I felt honored to be a brief place of seemingly safe rest on their search for more fuel.

I also once lived in a house that was weirdly subdivided and I lived in an apartment with nice downstairs but up what was basically an Exorcist staircase to an attic bedroom with a closet with a non-closing door that led into the attic space through which my vaguely feral cat could come and go.

One morning in the early dawn hours my cat came into my bedroom and let go of *something* that was fluttering around the peak in my attic bedroom for what seemed like ages and finally settled on a speaker wire. I thought it was a moth but it was an exhausted hummingbird, somehow caught live and completely unharmed and "thoughtfully" given to me as a token offering.

I managed to get the hummingbird off the speaker wire (OMG THEY WEIGH ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HOW DO THEY EVEN EXIST THEY WEIGH LESS THAN MERANGUE!) and down the horrible Exorcist stairs in the pre-dawn light and to the front door and it flew away. I don't know if it was grateful, but I do hope I helped saved its life.

I later gave that cat to my house-neighbor when I moved out. He was sort of a pain in the ass.
posted by hippybear at 11:18 PM on July 2 [13 favorites]

Favorite hummingbird fact: their Latin name is apodiformes, which means "without feet."
posted by kaibutsu at 11:50 PM on July 2 [4 favorites]

(they do have feet though)
posted by hippybear at 11:53 PM on July 2 [8 favorites]

This is fun, but also feels wrong other than in those places where they gather on migrations. I can't imagine 'training' them more than replenishing their sugar-water and waving at them when they curiously hover in front of a storm door. Hummingbirds are magic.
posted by holgate at 12:12 AM on July 3 [3 favorites]

The best part of this bizarre video is no hummingbird has ever needed exposure to a shoddily constructed dummy to be basically unafraid of humans. As far as I understand it hummingbirds have two things on their minds: food, and bloodthirsty rage towards their fellow hummingbird. They barely care if you’re holding the feeder itself.
posted by sacchan at 12:28 AM on July 3 [31 favorites]

America's Boldest Bird
posted by amtho at 12:35 AM on July 3 [2 favorites]

Growing up our family had a homemade hummingbird feeder. My father would love to sit out on the porch and watch the hummingbirds feed and fight over the feeder. At one point there was a bird that decided the feeder was their territory, and you could see it sit a bit out of sight, waiting for another hummingbird to feed, and then it would dive bomb the offender, fighting them offer from their loot.

At some point there was a connection made between the feeder and my father. It resulted in an amazing situation where there would be multiple hummingbirds essentially squawking at my father if the feeder got low. I can't say they actually made noise, but for a good while if there was something wrong with the feeder they'd come over and dive bomb him until it was fixed.
posted by Carillon at 12:42 AM on July 3 [18 favorites]

I found a hummingbird nest in a tree next to my parents' house a couple weeks ago. It appeared that the female was ripping it to shreds over the course of a day and I began to wonder if she just wasn't very good at nesting. Looking closer I noticed she was deliberately deconstructing it, pulling out threads and fibers, dropping some pieces and flying away with others, so finally it dawned on me that she was using the materials to build a new nest somewhere else. This one was either an old nest from the previous year or it was one she'd built earlier in the spring and had second thoughts about the location. Regardless, I found the new nest too and now we're waiting to see the hatchlings. There's lots of bee balm growing nearby and a couple of feeders, so they'll be well-fed.

My other hummingbird story is that I once squandered an entire afternoon of a vacation in France taking photos of a hummingbird feeding in a flower garden. It wasn't until I looked at the pics blown up on a computer screen that I realized it wasn't a hummingbird at all, but a giant goddamn moth. Turns out there are no hummingbirds in Europe, but there are hummingbird hawk-moths.
posted by theory at 1:50 AM on July 3 [9 favorites]

Yup, hummingbirds are strictly New World these days. In prehistoric times, giant ones lived in the Old World. Giant as in robin sized, that is.

I have told this story before -- my relationship with hummingbirds is of long standing: I have maintained feeders and planted flowers upon which they love to feed with delight -- Chilean Glory Vine, Trumpet vines and Phygelis Cape Fuschia are favorites.

But I have seen them working Joseph's Beard, which has huge pink complex flowers comprised of the tiniest florets, a process which seems incredibly labor intensive. Those must have the sweetest nectar.

One time when the feeders ran low, I was sitting on my back step and a female nesting in a spruce nearby -- I knew this from watching her rise up into its branches to a chorus of teeny tiny pings and wheezes -- flew up and hovered a foot from my face, looked me in the eye and clicked quite emphatically. I filled the feeders forthwith.

They are smart little birds and they recognize people. I have a male planted on a telephone wire across the street watching over the courtyard who drives any interloper from the yard with screeching fury in corkscrewing dogfights that oft end in hovering beak to beak swordplay. Oh, how they hate each other! The Roger Tory Peterson guide includes this in their description:
Temperament: Pugnacious
By the way, they are the only birds that can fly backwards. It is a never ending delight to have them in the yard.
posted by y2karl at 3:54 AM on July 3 [17 favorites]

I will add this: having a hummingbird hover before your face and look you in the eye is a mystical experience -- diminutive though it may be, it is quite a thrill.
posted by y2karl at 4:07 AM on July 3 [20 favorites]

Hummingbirds have been my "sign from the universe" for a long time. Any time I see one I force myself to stop, breathe, and watch their wings, or, if I'm lucky, one's body if I happen to catch one stopping on a vine somewhere briefly. Their presence reminds me to do things a little at a time, something I struggle with. I look forward to having a feeder for them someday when my housing situation allows for it.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 5:39 AM on July 3 [5 favorites]

I am reading this sitting on my front porch where a feeder hangs 20" from my head and our resident hummers annually get comfortable enough to frequent it flitting back and forth to the other one out in the yard - it is wonderful to have them so close you can hear them chirp and buzz and they occasionally will just hover around our heads within inches.
posted by thecincinnatikid at 5:43 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]

Recently some friends gave me a hummingbird feeder as a gift, and I realized that I had considered hummingbirds to be minor cryptids, semi-mythical creatures who might as well be fairies. I had never seen one in person. Well, now that they have a feeder they’re visiting daily and I’m delighted to get to know their chirps and hovering buzz. When I was sitting outside one of them came over to scope me out, and it was a weird feeling.

Those guys eat a lot of bird juice, I tell you what
posted by overeducated_alligator at 5:52 AM on July 3 [7 favorites]

When I was teen growing up in the rural bands beyond the suburbs, hummingbirds were frequent visitors at both the feeders and the flowers. A female ruby-throated managed to trap itself in the garage one day, and despite my efforts to guide it towards the giant door leading back outside, it couldn't quite figure it out. Finally the poor thing stopped to rest on the door opener arm, but still too far overhead for me to reach. So I grabbed a nearby broom and held the handle end up to it, gently encouraging it to hop on.

And you know what? It did.

The little thing just hopped right over onto the handle and stayed perched there while I carried it back outside. I held it for another moment while it gathered itself, and then it took off with a chirp.

Decades later, they are still just as reliable visitors. My dad says at this point he'll open the bedroom curtains in the morning and they'll be hovering outside, waiting to remind him he needs to refill the feeders.
posted by Zargon X at 7:08 AM on July 3 [9 favorites]

This is great, but where are A Bird In The Hand videos #1-3?
posted by filthy light thief at 7:33 AM on July 3

Hummingbird story: Years ago I strung a wire from my house to a tree, and from that wire, midway, suspended the hummingbird feeder, so it was sort of in mid-air above our deck. Multiple hummingbirds fed there all summer. The next spring, before I had gotten around to hanging the feeder, I was out on the deck one day when I heard the familiar buzzing of a hummingbird. Sure enough, this hummer was visiting the precise spot in space where the feeder was supposed to be, coming at it from different directions but not finding it. So this little guy (it was a male) had traveled from our neighborhood all the way to Central America for the winter, and came back to look for food in the exact spot he knew it had been the year before.
posted by beagle at 7:39 AM on July 3 [16 favorites]

I saw my first one last week in like 10 years.
it was magic.

is that a cincinnati reds hat on that dummy.
posted by clavdivs at 8:07 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]

My hummingbird story: deep into a long, miserable summer, a hummingbird was found in the construction warehouse where I worked. It was nearly dead. I took it over to my mother-in-law’s house since she lived nearby (and she also loves hummingbirds.) We hurriedly mixed some sugar and water and put it in a jar lid, and then put it so that the hummingbird’s beak was resting in the sugar water. It laid there motionless in my hand for a little bit. We were starting to wonder if it was too late. Suddenly, without getting up or anything, it started drinking fast and furious. You’d swear you could see the gulps going down like a cartoon character drinking. Then its eyes popped open, and it took off and started flying all over the house. We had to corner it and catch it in a paper bag. Once we did, we took it outside and released it, and it quickly figured out there was a feeder in the back yard.

That’s one thing about living in southern Arizona. We’re along a migratory corridor and we get several different species here. Once in a while we’ll see a rufous hummingbird, which is funny because they’re even smaller than most and compensate with an attitude. These are the species we get around here. The foothills of the mountains close to the border attract a lot of birders, and hummingbird feeders down there can get amazingly crowded.

One thing that bears stating, though: do NOT use red hummingbird food. The dyes are not good for the birds and can damage their kidneys. We make it with 4-6 parts water to 1 part regular ol’ sugar. That’s it. And they happily slurp it up and fight over the feeders.
posted by azpenguin at 8:23 AM on July 3 [7 favorites]

theory: Turns out there are no hummingbirds in Europe

This is true. I'm not sure I've ever seen one at all. Maybe in a zoo, maybe never.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:31 AM on July 3

WARNING: Do not attempt this with woodpeckers.
posted by srboisvert at 10:03 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]

Although if you have insects tunneling under your skin perhaps woodpeckers are the solution to your problem. Take some Aleve first.
posted by hippybear at 10:14 AM on July 3 [4 favorites]

: Turns out there are no hummingbirds in Europe

This has always seemed strange to me. We do indeed have creatures like hummingbird hawk moths - but they are not very common and the niche just seems to be sitting there waiting. Are our plants just not tasty enough or something?
posted by rongorongo at 10:26 AM on July 3

Had one in the VW campervan last weekend, it was simultaneously horrifying about it maybe bumping into something, and also fascinating about being able to see it so close.
posted by Afghan Stan at 12:25 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]

...the niche just seems to be sitting there waiting. Are our plants just not tasty enough or something?
It's not just that there are no hummingbirds in Europe. There are no nectar-eating birds of any kind in Europe, despite there being an abundance of of deep-necked, nectaring plants.

It's particularly strange since it appears hummingbirds originated in Eurasia about 42 million years ago when they broke away from swifts. Now they're only in the Americas. Here's a nice article about this mystery in Audubon.
posted by theory at 12:28 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]

Has anybody tried putting up fruit-fly attractors for their hummingbirds?

I have bears that visit my yard and so I haven't wanted to establish a practice of leaving decaying fruit around, but I saw a feeder constructed for the purpose for sale locally and realized that it had never occurred to me previously that nectar is only part of the hummingbird diet. I was wondering, if anybody has tried them, what the response from the birds has been.

There is usually a pretty constant stream of rufous hummingbirds flying around my small deck garden during the summer months and I'd be interested in learning what more I can do to make the area hummingbird-friendly besides cultivating favored plants and putting up a nectar feeder.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:29 PM on July 3

Nerd of the North: I have seen hummingbirds steal insects from spiderwebs (they also steal spider silk to build nests). This is a common practice, so if you've got lots of spiderwebs around try to leave them intact. There are some tips here addressing your specific question, but it looks like most of the easy ways to attract small insects are also easy ways to attract bears.
posted by theory at 12:44 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]

As it turns out, the salmonberry and huckleberry bushes surrounding the yard are starting to produce this time of year and there should therefore be more than enough fruit to attract insects that favor it. Putting out a banana or two is not going to significantly change the amount of fruit-fly food this time of year, though it might earlier in the season before the berries really get started. But then again that's also when our bears are at their hungriest. Maybe next spring I'll try placing a homemade feeder in an elevated location that would definitely be outside of bear reach. Or maybe not -- if they're determined to get at something they can wreak a fair amount of havok before giving up.

As far as spiderwebs go -- I brush aside the ones that are really inconveniently located but live in a temperate rainforest. There are more than enough webs left over, I'm sure..

I've often wondered why there are comparatively few pestiferous insects here compared to where I grew up. On my evening walks I always see swallows and bats working down by the creek a block down the hill. I hadn't considered, before this year, that hummingbirds are part of the effort there as well but now I appreciate the little fighty buggers even more.
posted by Nerd of the North at 2:35 PM on July 3

One thing that bears stating, though: do NOT use red hummingbird food. The dyes are not good for the birds and can damage their kidneys.

That is not always true. It helps to read the labels.

A pertinent factoid: hummingbirds are insectivores. Insects can make up to 80% of their diet.

Audubon Park uses cochineal or carmine, both of which are natural colors made from the same bugs, as in
Cochineal, red dyestuff consisting of the dried, pulverized bodies of certain female scale insects, Dactylopius coccus, of the Coccidae family, cactus-eating insects native to tropical and subtropical America.
Which is why I recommend it.

Definitely don't buy Perky Pet or other mixes or pre-made liquid solutions as those usually contain artificial red dyes and preservatives. But Audubon Park ? Pfft! The little buggers can drain feeders in a day or two when that's in the bottle.

Upon posting: Well, I see I could have read the last few comments more closely.
posted by y2karl at 2:52 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]

And here's food for thought: As cochineal and carmine are natural food dyes, we all are insectivores at times.
posted by y2karl at 3:04 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]

Well I certainly was until they stopped using it in campari.
posted by Carillon at 3:50 PM on July 3 [3 favorites]

I thought we had it the saddest about the fact that we don’t have fireflies here on the US left coast, but the fact that Europeans don’t know the wonder of these gorgeous little badasses makes me so sad! I have Anna’s hummingbirds every day in my yard and rufous ones sometimes, and they are one of those few things that keep me going In These Uncertain Times.

Sports teams with their macho names are so ridiculous—they should name teams after hummingbirds. I’ve seen them go after my cats when they’re in the mood. They’re not afraid of anything.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 4:11 PM on July 3 [7 favorites]

While the east coast of North America has, IMHO, the more interesting set of warblers, the west coast certainly gets the better deal with hummingbirds. Perhaps we can arrange some sort of shared custody deal.
posted by mollweide at 4:26 PM on July 3 [3 favorites]

(To follow a derail, if you want to drink red bugs - like the hummingbird do - St George's Bruto Americano is a very nice choice. "Some ingredients are hot-steeped, others are cold-infused. The resulting mixture is filtered and then colored in the traditional manner with cochineal to achieve a natural ruby red hue.")
posted by kaibutsu at 6:17 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]

One would think a natural ruby red hue would be achieved by grinding up rubies.
posted by hippybear at 6:29 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]

It's so delightful to read everyone's hummingbird stories. Thank you. :)

Ours here are fearless and smart, as noted. I've more than once been taking down the feeder and had one zip up within a couple feet of me, hover, and check me out while I unshipped the thing. As soon as I bring it back out, they're at it just a few seconds after I walk away.

Just in the last week they've realized they can sit on opposite sites of the feeder, obscured from each other by the glass, and drink their fill without being required to satisfy their bloodthirsty rage. I don't know what brought about this settlement but this goodwill is escalating. Today we had three sitting on the feeder, so each of them could see an enemy.

(My wife reports that her father was trained by hummingbirds. They'd come and chirrup at his office window when the feeder got empty. It always worked because they're such charming little crankypants.)
posted by introp at 7:33 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]

Hummingbirds! Fuck yeah!

I filmed one just last week drinking nectar from our window feeder. At approximately 06:00 in, the shutter speed flips to slow motion (look for the ripple speed to change) and then be prepared for when he/she looks you in the eye and flies off.
posted by jeremias at 8:12 PM on July 3 [7 favorites]

I have a covered screened porch in my backyard. Last year a humming bird created a tiny nest in the screened area (one of the screen doors was removed due to damage). This early spring a humming bird (the same one? an offspring?) used the same nest (after being fixed up a bit), to raise a couple of babies, and it has just been used again (twice this season)!

It has been fun to watch the babies first attempts at flying. I have a string of lights that go around the top which is usually what the tiny young hummingbirds first sit on after their first successful flights. Their balance sitting on the string of lights is usually not so steady at first. (And I've also seen unsuccessful first flights where they'll sit on the ground for a bit trying to figure out what they did wrong)

The mother, entering the porch area, finds an empty nest and has to look around to figure out where they've gone off to so she can feed them.

Just a couple of days ago, they must have gotten big enough and confident enough so they are now gone.

y2karl, I've gotten that emphatic stare too, as I've watch through the window. The mother flies right up to my face and gives me a look that says "One wrong move buster, and I'll poke your eye out!"
posted by eye of newt at 8:31 PM on July 3 [6 favorites]

Fun hummingbird facts! The hummingbird's tongue is so long that goes the length of its bill into the jaw, into the bottom of the skull and then wraps in a circle up the back of the skull, over the top of the skull and terminates in their forehead between their eyes. You can see the feathers on the top of their head wiggle as their tongue goes in and out.

Woodpeckers have a similar long tongue but you don't usually see it because they use it to probe in crevices for bugs.
posted by JackFlash at 9:07 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]

theory: Thanks for the Audubon article about the mysterious lack of European hummingbirds. They mention, in passing, that captured hummingbirds were brought to Europe in the past to be shown in exhibitions and collections. So what would happen if these creatures were to have been released in the wild? Did anybody try that?
posted by rongorongo at 4:21 AM on July 4

We have giant hovering moths in the US as well. The much-maligned tomato and tobacco hornworms (Manduca sexta and Manduca quinquemaculata, but both will eat tomato and tobacco) grow up to be large hawkmoths that hover as they drink from flowers. I've seen them many times on evening primrose in particular.

Some bird books include these moths because they're so frequently mistaken for hummingbirds.

(Once I saw a group of people gathered around an Echinacea watching a "hummingbird" drinking nectar, and I put my hands under it for contrast so they could see that it was a moth. The moth didn't seem too spooked.)
posted by Belostomatidae at 7:05 AM on July 4 [2 favorites]

Via the YT algorithms after clicking on jeremias' link, a hummingbird nesting story.
posted by y2karl at 8:06 AM on July 4 [2 favorites]

kitten kaboodle, we have a three story birch tree in our western courtyard which I can see from the #9 bus terminus on Aloha. I was waiting to catch the bus to work one morning when I spied a crow alight upon its tallest branch. I then saw the Lord of All He Surveys dive bombing said crow until he drove it off.

One winter I learned the song of Anna's hummingbirds -- another Anna's fact is they sing all year long -- which is a quiet reedy zzt! zzt! zzt! And having learned the song, I learned to see them alit and alight -- which was when I learned I didn't have nearly as many retinal floaters as I thought. They were and are zipping by far more often than I could have imagined.

Learning their song brought to mind a story by Andrew Weil about helping a friend search for psilocybe mushrooms. Weil couldn't see them at first, not even if they were at his feet. But even so, they gathered enough to grind up, eat and trip a night fantastic. The next day, while looking for more, Weil could see them everywhere, from his feet to across the meadow.

The same is true for seeing hummingbirds once you learn their songs and calls.
posted by y2karl at 8:37 AM on July 4 [4 favorites]

rongorongo: If hummingbirds were introduced to Europe I'd expect they wouldn't survive the winter for lack of food and no prior experience of migration routes to places that have enough nectaring flowers. Although they do eat insects/spiders as well (and need to for the protein), they still require huge amounts of energy from sugar.

On the other hand... maybe in some Mediterranean regions there would be enough of the right kinds of flowers or sources of sugary sap to support a population in winter? Maybe a diet primarily of insects would actually be sufficient -- I just found this really interesting article from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that suggests hummingbirds don't rely on sugar as much as we think!

And just because it's fascinating, here's a short piece from the BBC about the relationship between hummingbirds and sapsuckers (a type of woodpecker). I've seen elsewhere that hummingbirds' pugnacious behavior is beneficial to sapsuckers because they chase away all the other, larger birds that would like to drain the sap wells that sapsuckers worked so hard to drill.

Another good article from Bird Watcher's Digest about hummingbird diets.
posted by theory at 10:08 AM on July 4 [3 favorites]

Perhaps of interest to Seattle area nearby members:

I managed to over-order boxes of the aforementioned Audubon Park nectar mix -- I blame my phone -- from Amazon and am too lazy to send them back. I also happen to have a spare feeder. I may even be able to find the test tube hand feeder I bought but never used.

If anyone interested in a free starter kit of 3 boxes and 1 feeder, by all means drop me a memail.
posted by y2karl at 8:18 PM on July 8

Nature: Super Hummingbirds
Full episode -- available until 08/02/20
posted by y2karl at 1:37 AM on July 15

They bite and fight and bite,
Fight fight fight,
bite bite bite,
The Super Hummingbirds Show!

posted by y2karl at 1:46 AM on July 15 [1 favorite]

« Older Eyeball Kicks: the surreal art of Ruth Marten...   |   Art Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments