Hummingbirds: hovering on the brink of extinction

I have been fascinated by hummingbirds ever since I was given a pack of wild animal cards in hospital while my tonsils were removed and fell in love with Heliothrix aurita, a speck of fire and jade. And also wine-red Topaza pella, perched in a jungle whisking a crimson tail.

I still have those cards. Their pictures seem crude now, but when I was eight I was enraptured. The Aztecs said the Earth’s first flower was fathered by the god of poetry in the shape of a hummingbird; and everything about hummingbirds seems tailor-made for a poet.

Birds see ultraviolet light, and female hummingbirds have a taste for iridescence, so males have turned themselves into flying jewels. Their metallic sheens, glancing as soap bubbles, are reflected in equally iridescent names for which taxonomists have plundered all the shimmer in the lexicon.

There are more than 300 species: words such as emerald, copper, bronze, gold, fire, sapphire, lazuline, emerald and sunbeam spill like Aladdin’s treasure through the list: amethyst woodstar, blue-headed sapphire, Brazilian ruby, buff-winged starfrontlet – you marvel not only at nature’s capacity for spangly variation but the human urge to match it in language.

Hummingbird nests – the size of a nutshell, spun out of plant down, covered with lichen, bound by spider’s silk – are works of art straight out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Hummingbird tongues, almost transparent, are liquid-trapping miracles of bioengineering that change shape as they flick in and out of the nectar. Their tips are forked: the V’s inside edges have feathery tufts that draw in nectar by capillary action. When hummingbirds sleep they fall into hibernation-like torpor. Metabolism drops, temperature zooms to near-hypothermic levels and breathing slows so drastically that if you find a sleeping hummingbird you think it’s dead. Which, in the Peruvian Andes, makes it a symbol of resurrection.

Read more at The Telegraph

4 thoughts on “Hummingbirds: hovering on the brink of extinction

  1. Now that’s a beautiful bird. I have seen some hummingbirds this summer. I planted a flower garden to attract birds and butterflies. The hummingbirds come up to the patio doors and stay there and hover, just like they’re looking inside to see what I’m doing. Hummingbirds make the world a beautiful place.

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      1. I haven’t seen any Monarchs at all. I’ve had many smaller butterflies and a million moths.

        The moths are trying to get into the house. There’s also an insect that resembles a mosquito, but much larger. I have hundreds of them.

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      2. I was telling Jane today over at FBA about your male hummingbirds challenging their male “rivals” reflected in your patio glass door. That is so funny.

        The Monarch has eastern and western migratory populations. The eastern population is the one showing serious decline. Climate change is certainly a major factor, in my opinion. The fall migration south has always passed through here in early to mid October. Last year I saw a Monarch in my garden three days before Christmas. Climatic patterns are looking completely disrupted. I’m not an expert on climate change, but I know that one of the clearest indicators of climate change will be observable in the habits and life cycles of plants and animals.

        The large, mosquito-looking insects are crane flies (family Tipulidae). They are harmless and kinda cool.

        Say, listen. If you wouldn’t mind, try to stop by FBA once in a while. I could really use your help.

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