Flying Jewels

One of the perks of living in North America is the yearly visitation by winged creatures so fabulous, they might have flown out of the pages of a fairytale. Named for the hum or trill created by the wings of some of the world’s 340 species, hummingbirds’ amazing appendages beat 50 to 60 times per SECOND, but brief bursts exceeding this frequency are possible. With an average lifespan of 4 years, and a maximum of 12, as one banded individual attested, this amounts from 7 BILLION wingbeats in shorter-lived birds, to about 21 BILLION in “longevitous” individuals. Their capability to propel themselves forward, backward, sideways, up, and down, and to hover in place, must be every flight engineer’s envy.

These fairy-like beings are among the most wonderful of avian wonders. Compared to Cuba’s Bee Hummingbird that weighs under 0.1 ounce (0.07, to be exact), and measures 2.4 inches in length, the Giant Hummingbird of the Andes tips the scale at a ponderous 0.8 ounce, and reaches 9 inches between tip of beak and tip of tail, though most species are from 3 to 6 inches long. To support the pumping wings and pumping heart which contracts 250 times per minute when resting, up to 1200 plus times when active, their metabolism, the highest of any homoeothermic animal, is about 100 times that of an elephant. In an attempt to conserve energy at nighttime and during cold spells, they enter a state of torpor not unlike hibernation, during which their core temperature and heart rate plummet. Even though not all species equal the Rufous Hummingbird’s twice yearly migration from Mexico to Alaska, and back, approaching a round-trip of 10,000 miles, most easily qualify for the frequent flyer club.

Apart from catching protein-rich aerial insects, hummingbirds are predominantly nectarivorous and frequent flowers whose blossoms accommodate their long, needle-like beaks from which they lap up the liquid with their long tongues, but they are amenable to man-made nectar proffered in feeders. Because many gravitate to shades of red, commercial feeding stations usually incorporate this color. The recommended mixture of four parts water and one part sugar sounds sweet enough, but I have a friend who uses both parts equally. His saccharine liquid is the stuff of hummingbird legend.

Sexually dimorphic, females tend to be slightly larger and may be surprisingly plain and easily confused, whereas males are typically more colorful. Iridescent hues are the result not of pigment, but of feather structure. The throats of adult males may seem black in dim light, but when hit by sunshine, suddenly shimmer and shine in shades borrowed from the rainbow. These resplendent patches are called gorgets, from the French word gorge, meaning throat, but might be derived from their gorgeous appearance as well. Paradisiacal in look only, their behavior is anything but. Territorial and aggressive, they regularly chase one another from food sources, leading to a paradoxical waste of energy.

The male performs J-, U-, or O-shaped courtship dives, accompanied by vibrant buzzing of his wings. Once his bravado behavior and sparkly plumes dazzle a girl, he performs his evolutionary duty, then takes off for other pursuits. Females build nests the size of walnuts, and lay eggs the size of beans. The typical clutch of two is tended to by the mother alone, until the young ones are ready to fledge after three weeks.

Of the three hundred-plus hummingbird species that solely exist in the Americas, 24 spend part or all of their lives in North America, and 4 of them occur regularly in our corner of Colorado. Their appearance in mid- to late April, often while a late blizzard blows and blankets burgeoning blossoms in white, is a longed-for and cherished sight, and the beginning of their all-too brief sojourn in our latitudes. My heart, still gladdened by their presence, is saddened by the knowledge that these precious creatures will soon move on.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus), male, breeds at elevations of up to 10,500 feet, where nighttime temperatures often drop below freezing. Männlicher Breitschwanzkolibri, kann auf Höhen bis zu 3,200 Metern brüten, wo es nachts oft gefriert.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus), male, with pink gorget clearly visible. Männlicher Breitschwanzkolibri, dessen pinkfarbenes Halsband gut sichtbar ist.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird, female (Selasphorus platycercus), with protruding tongue. Weiblicher Breitschwanzkolibri, mit sichtbarer Zunge.

Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), male, the “bully of bullies” at the feeder. Männlicher Zimtkolibri, oder Rotrücken-Zimtelfe, einer der aggressivsten Kolibris.

Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), male, whose flame-red gorget appears golden in the sunlight. Männlicher Zimtkolibri, dessen feuerrotes Halsband im Sonnenlicht goldfarben erscheint.

Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), female. Weiblicher Zimtkolibri.

Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope), male, the smallest bird in the United States (it weighs 0.1 ounce). Männliche Sternelfe, der kleinste Kolibri in den USA (er wiegt 2,7d Gramm).

Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope), male. Männliche Sternelfe.

Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope), male, with magenta throat stripes. Männliche Sternelfe mit pink-violettfarbenen Halsstreifen.

Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope), female. Weibliche Sternelfe.

Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri), male. The black chin is not seen, and the gorget does not appear purple, as it might in the sun. Schwarzkinnkolibri. Das schwarze Kinn ist nicht sichtbar, und die lila Kehle nur andeutungsmäßig.

Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri), female. Appears slender, long-billed, and does not have reddish flanks. Schwarzkinnkolibri, weiblich. Erscheint schlank, langschnäbelig und hat keine Rottöne.

Seeing stunning hummingbird photos by many capable photographers reminds me of my woeful state of photographic ineptitude, but I hope I still captured the charisma of these magnificent marvels.

44 thoughts on “Flying Jewels

  1. Lovely photos Tanja
    and thank-you for the German captions.
    Das macht es mir einfacher genau zu verstehen. Mein englischsprachiger Wortschatz ist zu klein, die Translator sind oft etwas ulkig. Aber ich lerne hier gern in den Blogs dazu…
    Have a nice day and many greetings from the little tomcat Steve and me, Jutta

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Steve and Jutta. Ich komme leider zeitlich nicht immer zum Übersetzen, und die Übersetzerfunktion will ich nicht einschließen, weil ich immer davon enttäuscht werde. Du hast recht, manchmal ist sie sehr ulkig, was gut ist, wenn frau sich kugeln will…😊
      Thank you for your visit.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Das sind doch wunderbare Aufnahmen von diesen zauberhaften Geschöpfen, Tanja.
    Unglaublich, ein Nest so groß wie eine Walnuss und Eier, so groß wie Bohnen.
    Ich freue mich für dich, dass du diese fliegenden Juwelen live und vor allen Dingen freilebend beobachten kannst 🙂
    Ich sah sie mal in einer Schmetterlingsausstellung in unserer “Botanika”, aber es gibt für mich zwei no go. Das eine sind Vögel in Zoos bzw. Tierparks und das andere sind Delfine etc.
    Lieben Dank für diesen Beitrag und liebe Grüße

    Liked by 1 person

    • Danke, liebe Brigitte. Die Vögel sind so schillernd und lebendig, was in meinen Photos einfach verloren geht. Das ist offensichtlich, wenn ich sie mit denen von guten Photographen vergleiche. Aber ich bin froh, daß ich sie überhaupt mit Hilfe meiner Kamera festhalten konnte.
      Ihre Zahlen sind in der letzten Woche im Garten stark rückläufig, und viele sind bereits auf dem Weg nach Mexiko.
      Ich danke Dir für Deine lieben Worte.
      Herzliche Grüße,

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this interesting blog post.
    Did you take the pictures? Because it is not easy to capture them, I am still waiting to get my picture of one of them on the feeder…. but so far no luck!
    Kindest regards,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Christa. I did take the photos, but even though they show the birds, they are not nearly as crisp and colorful as they ought to be. My technical skills are too limited.
      I think it is best to put your camera on a tripod, dedicate some time to sit near your feeder, and push the trigger.
      Good luck,

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I know, this is the way to go!
        However, I hava e a bit of a „technical“ problem… 🙂 My tripod would be in front of my entrance door, which has a window, however, my dog would not want me to sit outside and wait and inside, he would probably „move“ the tripod….. 🙂 🙂
        Maybe obe day, I will catch one, for now I just feed them….

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The birds are very cute – love them and really appreciate all the information around them. It’s a pleasure reading your posts, as I said recently; they are always leisure time to me!
    Regards from Frankfurt/Germany – Ira

    Liked by 1 person

    • So many details about them boggle the mind, Neil. I think most of them live a much shorter lifespan, but when one considers all the perils they face during their twice yearly migration, it is surprising that they survive at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ooooh, die sind so zauberhaft und deine Bilder sind fantastisch!!! Wie schön, daß du sie so aus der Nähe beobachten kannst. Einer schöner als der andere. Und so niedlich! Agressiv kann ich mir die gar nicht vorstellen. Was machen die denn? Einen anpicken ;-)? Ach ja, ich kann deine Wehmut nur zu gut verstehen. So geht es mir hier immer mit den Mauerseglern. Ich ahne schon, wenn sie sich sammeln, daß sie bald weg sind und von einem Tag auf den anderen, ist der Himmel leer. Aber so können wir uns immer besonders auf die Zeit der schönen Vögel freuen 🙂 Liebe Grüße von Vogelfreundin zu Vogelfreundin! Almuth

    Liked by 1 person

    • Herzlichen Dank, liebe Vogelfreundin. Auch wenn es uns traurig macht, müssen wir den Vogelzug doch akzeptieren, denn die andere Erdhälfte würde ja sonst von vielen Wundern ausgespart, und die Vögel haben ja auch so ihre Gründe.
      Manchmal nenne ich diese Juwelen meine Teufelchen, denn sie jagen einander von der Futterstelle davon, und machen dabei einen bedrohlichen Lärm mit ihren Flügeln und ihren Kehlen. Einen eigentlichen Kampf habe ich glücklicherweise noch nicht beobachtet. Die weniger aggressiven Individuen machen sich dann aus dem Staub. Der Klügere gibt nach!
      Aber ansonsten liebe ich sie von ganzem Herzen.

      Liked by 1 person

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