Archive for April, 2008

I think there’s an allegory happening on my back deck

April 22, 2008

We seem to have only four summer-resident hummingbirds this year. A much larger flock flew in early, but they moved on after feeding. However, these four little birds are providing a real sideshow.

If you think all hummingbirds look and act alike, you’re not paying attention. Each has distinct personality and characteristics. And perhaps it’s just overload with all the election-year hype, but it’s hard not to see in them a reflection of a greater drama playing out.

So I have given them nicknames, referred to here with acronyms. I’ll tell you about them.

They are all of the rufus species, although two are male and two are female. I didn’t think the different sexes hung out together, but that seems to be the case this year.

The first to arrive was GWB. I remember him from last year, because he makes such weird noises I thought he was ill and was very surprised to see him back. His chitter has an odd sound, and when he flies he makes a distinct metallic noise that is very different from the others.

He flies around most of the time with his bright orange gorget exposed, daring the others.

In the manner of rufus birds, because he arrived first at the feeder he claimed he owned it.

However, the second to arrive was the largest of the birds, a female I call HRC. She is testy and irritable, and she quickly disabused GWB of his ownership status. She chases all the other birds away when she can, although sometimes they gang up on her. She scolds them constantly, feeds without alighting, generally buzzing and making a lot of racket. She thinks she owns the race. (I can’t believe I wrote “race.” I meant “feeder.”)

The other female is BHO, although personally I refer to her as the philosopher. On a number of occasions I’ve seen BHO sitting quietly on a branch trying to reason with HRC, explaining, I’m sure, that the feeder has six flowers, plenty for everyone, and that the complacent voter sitting there on the deck will keep filling it up.

She talks in a gentle assertive voice. HRC pays no attention whatsoever, squawking and scolding and attacking. Then she tries to chase BHO off.

The fourth I call JMC. He is in some ways the most furtive and interesting. He does his best to avoid the other birds, although when he’s surprised, out pops the gorget and he does battle. But he prefers to wait until things are quiet, then sneak in and feed furtively until he’s full, and fly off. His preference is for lack of confrontation, but he definitely has a temper.

It’s fun to watch these four jockeying for position of “top bird” and finding ways to feed that suit their individual styles. Of course, the season is less than half over, so things may calm down.

But probably not. Rufus birds are just plain territorial and contentious. And it would be awfully boring if they all just got along.

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