Beautiful flashes of brilliance catch my attention as two hummingbirds hover close to the window, scanning the blossoms in our hanging baskets. They are Rufous Hummingbirds, the male suitably attired in rusty feathers with an iridescent red throat and his female companion wearing green with dainty iridescent orange at her throat.
At barely three inches long and weighing three-to-four grams, they are the tiniest birds in existence but their apparent fragility is misleading. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology calls them the feistiest species in North America, “relentless attackers at flowers and feeders.” On our deck they aggressively dart at others in defense of their right to an exclusive buffet meal.
I’m amazed at the energy these tiny airborne jewels expend, whipping their little wings at sixty-or-so beats per second. They eat their body weight in food each day and become torpid at night to conserve energy. If adequate food and shelter are available they can tolerate temperatures down to -20°C. but usually make an annual migration run that takes them almost 8,000 miles clockwise around western North America. Some live over a decade and use their remarkable memories to return every year to the same location and feeder.
They are fascinating, belligerent wee beings and I love watching them flit back and forth from the trees, hovering in place or even flying backwards as they jockey for position at the feeder.
Part of my fascination is in realizing how persistent and enduring Hummingbirds are despite their diminutive size. They don’t let their limitations become an excuse, but persevere against the odds, sometimes travelling incredible distances to reach their goals.
Let’s see now, do you suppose there’s a lesson to be learned from them?
Photos courtesy of Ryan Bushby and Sberardi