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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Hummingbirds in the Canyon

Air Date: Week of September 13, 2013

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Hummingbird conflict (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Many varieties of hummingbirds gather to feed in Arizona's Madera Canyon. Writer Mark Seth Lender found they tolerated his presence - but were intolerant of other hummingbirds.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Madera Canyon, Arizona is a famous spot to see a great variety of hummingbirds - if you know where to look. Guided by local expert Bill Forbes, Mark Seth Lender found the elusive hummers and discovered the birds were remarkably tolerant of humans and remarkably intolerant of each other.

LENDER: Like a bee with a buzz with a twist like a top with a sweep with a lunge with a LOUD then stops, right there: Hovering; (Covering); Defending a ground that is Flower that is Food that is Air.

His beak is a lance, his wings are a shout: Beware! Of me! Hummingbird!


Anna's Hummingbird female feeding on cactus flower (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

All of an ounce of anger charges, headlong - chases everyone away. Even the females of his kind. Sometimes, in a rage he will drive her down to the dust and leave her spent, and fluttering. Aerodynamics sets the only limit. His right has no respite, has no bounds. Darts and dives and chitters. Intolerance is his nature; his nature, in a crowd? Never calm.


Broad-billed Hummingbird, male, Acrobatic flight (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Herons and Egrets with great piercing bills; falcons with talons that crush; the terrible saw-toothed beaks of sea birds; the raking feet and spurs of the great birds of the ground – all of them strive against their own but almost always at a distance. They pretend. Noh drama of no-touch. Balinese shadow-play. And when the curtain falls? All grievances are over, and done with.


Broad-billed Hummingbird female vertical flight (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

For Hummingbird, the size of a leaf, the density of a folded pocket-handkerchief the stage is a World and the World is War. Black-chin puffs up the tiny feathers that give him his name into electric purple defiance. Broad-bill, all sapphire and emerald brilliant (even his body glares). Broad-tail, so fierce, brings up the rear - 3grams, no fear.


Black-chinned Hummingbird female backpeddling (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Only Magnificent Hummingbird ignores the worrying by all these others - by weight, and size, and the rumbling spread of his wings. His starlight-turquoise throat glittering in the leafy morning light; he alone owns peace.


Magnificent Hummingbird male feeding (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

So there it is: size matters. I am reminded of that barroom adage (a barroom adage on the wing): Big guy knock you down, but little guy will cut you!

[MUSIC: Carlos Enrique “Hummingbird” from Impressions (Carlos Enrique Music 2008)]

CURWOOD: And using a Phototrap, a special triggering device made by Bill Forbes, Mark was able to capture some extraordinary photos of hummingbirds.

To see them, and find out how you can get one for your own wall at home, buzz over to our website, LOE.org.

 

Links

Visit Bill Forbes’ website

Watch this video Mark took of a Broad-Billed Hummingbird getting nectar

Want a copy of hummingbird pictures? Send an email to Living on Earth's Gabriela Romanow and she'll tell you how. gromanow@loe.org

 

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Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an autographed copy of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.