The Flower Kissers
That’s what the Portuguese call them: Beija-Flor, “flower kisser.” They’re hummingbirds, and I’ve been having a grand time photographing them lately. Okay, well – grand and frustrating time, considering their average flight speed is 25-30 mph and they can do a nose-dive at 60! I’ve been nearly impaled by one a couple of times this past week – they’re oblivious to me once engaged in defending their territory, and they’re ALWAYS defending their territory! Little ruffians, these guys. I had known that hummingbirds eat gnats for protein, but was surprised to witness one eating a spider, so I researched it when I got home, and yes, hummers not only eat spiders, but being opportunists, will eat all the insects caught within the web!
Another interesting behavior noted was what a friend calls “rain bathing.” I’m not a naturalist or ornithologist, so I was puzzled when I saw a female ruby-throat sliding across wet leaves…I thought she was trying to perch on one, and was losing her grip. Julie Zickefoose (who IS an expert – as well as a talented watercolorist) remarked that she was merely washing her feathers in the drops of water saturating the leaves.
Remember blowing bubbles as a child? (or, if like me, as an adult?) The color we see on hummers is like the color we see on those soap bubbles…not from pigment, but iridiscent, flashing on and off depending upon your angle when viewing them, and where the light source is. Their forked tongues absorb nectar like a paper towel absorbs water – through tiny capillaries. And their small hearts can beat at an amazing 1200 beats per minute or more! Those that migrate between Canada and Panama travel a distance, roughly, of 2000 miles, which includes a 500 mile journey over the Gulf of Mexico, in non-stop flight. Small and Mighty they are, not at all the fragile things that their appearance presumes.
In flight, they are marvels of engineering. The wings beat in a figure 8 while hovering, and when flying they can move backwards, forwards, up, down, sideways, or even briefly upside-down! I still long to catch some of that bottoms-up action on camera, but haven’t yet been quick enough.