Thursday, May 22, 2008

Flying Jewels!

Hummingbirds are found only in the Americas. There are about 340 species of which the vast majority are located in South America with about 16 occurring in the western US and only one in the east. Early Spanish explorers called them joyas voladores, "flying jewels" and John Audubon referred to them as a "glittering fragment of a rainbow". Their feathers have a metallic sheen called iridescence that makes them glitter in sunlight. I use four flash units aimed at the bird from all sides and above which gives the best chance of seeing it. The male's flaming red gorget, which is composed of VERY tiny feathers, appears black or various hues of brown unless the light hits it just right as it did here. They have very long tongues with which they "lap" nectar much like a dog.

A common myth (there are many) is that H'bird feeders must be taken down in Sept. or else the birds may perish if a cold snap occurs. All birds have a light sensative area in their brains called the pineal body. Migration is triggered by shortening peroids of daylight as fall approaches and has nothing to do with food avalibility. It's actually smarter to leave your feeders up so birds at the northern edge of their range have something to eat as the pass by on their way south. Hummers fly the 500 mile wide Gulf of Mexico non stop in about 20 hours. Myth # 2. They don't hitch a ride on the back of geese :o)

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