Archive for the ‘Hummingbirds’ Category

Hummingbird Smiles

May 5, 2009

hummingbirds-at-4ur-2Some biologists are at work on a hypothesis known as “field theory.”  The science is, at best, elusive and perhaps wrong; but the effort brings up something we speculated about recently, the probability that much of reality is unknown to us because of our limited sensory abilities.

This biological field theory is distantly analogous to the quantum mechanics idea of “action at a distance.”  In the dancing world of subatomic particles, physicists have proven that electrons have “spin”. Separate two electrons with the same spin and place them so far apart that nothing traveling at the Universe’s speed limit of 186,000 miles every second (the speed of light) could possibly cover the distance between the two; then, change the spin on one of the electrons and the other instantaneously changes its spin. One electron, placed at the outer edge of the universe — billions of light years away — would instantaneously change its spin when the spin of its mate on earth changes.  Nobody knows how that is possible.

In the more mundane macro world, the one we live in, biologists have studied African Grey parrots which seem to be able to tell the researcher what playing card the parrot’s owner selects even though the owner is in a different room.  At least one Border Collie in Germany is able to go into a room and select the dog toy the owner, who is out of sight, is silently thinking about.

These biologists have looked at the relatively common phenomenon of pets which seem to react when their owners, who are away, form the intent to go home.  And these studies are not simply based on the pets’ knowledge of the routine of the humans.  Pets often know the schedule of their humans and wait at the door when the normal schedule of returning home from work is followed.  In some studies the humans were called at random times by the scientists and told to come home.  Some pets, even though the timing was completely wrong, went to the door and waited.  Biological fields may also explain the sense that some people get when someone else is staring at the back of their head.

One explanation for this phenomenon is a kind of field theory.  If it is real, and it is too early to say one way or the other, it joins the spinning electrons in the pantheon of things nobody can explain. But it may be that living beings emit some kind of force field that is detectable at a distance by other sentient beings.

That might explain the direct, visceral connection that hummingbirds have with that portion of the human brain that makes us smile.


Rupert Sheldrake is one of the leading proponents of the theory which he calls morphic fields.  He believes morphic fields operate and resonate at the cellular level and may be inheritable.  For a brief introduction, here is Dr. Sheldrake.  He also has a web site which seems to be up-to-date.

Happy Easter Weekend

April 11, 2009

We here at the FatFinch are pleased to wish you a happy weekend and to report that the first hummingbird arrived this day.  It is a Black-chinned Hummingbird and it arrived with the first thunderstorm of the year.  A fine day indeed.

The Return of the Schrodt Hummingbird Feeder

November 3, 2008

We’ve waxed eloquent about Schrodt Hummingbird feeders which seemed, for a time anyway, to have gone the way of the Dodo.  We are happy to report that, for now anyway — and we’re not holding our breath — they have returned and we are selling them again.  As you can see from the photo, they are beautiful feeders and, more important, hummingbirds love them.  We carefully hoarded our last two, hanging them in locations where, if one fell, it would have a soft landing and not break.  That required us to hang them in a garden farther away from our normal hummingbird watching post on the back porch.  The first thing we noticed was that fewer hummingbirds came to the back porch.  They were all out in the garden with the Schrodts.

The hummingbirds have departed from most of the United States but they’ll be back in a few short months.  These feeders make great Christmas presents.  Buy now.  We can’t guarantee how long they will be around.

Spatuletail Hummingbird

August 22, 2008
© Roger Ahlman

© Roger Ahlman

One of the rarest of hummingbirds, the Spatuletail lives in Peru, only on the east bank of the Rio Utcubamba, much of which is accessible by car. Wildlife photographer Greg Homel got high definition video of a male Spatuletail in a courting display. Spend a minute watching it. By the way, those are not leaves stuck on his tail; that is his tail.

Then, if you have just a little more time spend a few more minutes at the Peru Birding Routes web site. In turn, that will make you want to spend a few weeks in Peru in order to see the birds which live there.

And, according to the American Bird Conservancy, you can also travel to an accessible hummingbird feeder which is currently frequented by some Spatuletail Hummingbirds. But you shouldn’t wait, the bird is endangered as humans continue to cut down the small area of forest which is its only home.


We found the photo of the Spatuletail on the home page of Andean Birding another web site that will make you want to leave for Peru as soon as you pack your gear.

That is mine! It’s all mine! Don’t you dare touch it!”

July 30, 2008

And so the Rufous Hummingbird goes about its day, not calmly, not peacefully, but with great vigor and enthusiasm. Not for it the placid summer days. Not for it the quiet sunlit uplands. Always vigilant, belligerent, and bellicose, it protects its chosen feeder; giving no quarter and expecting none.

Cleaning Hummingbird Feeders

June 5, 2008

At the risk of stating the obvious, we’d like to remind you that Hummingbirds don’t like ants, mold and other extraneous substances in their feeders. Here is a short video about keeping the feeders clean.

Counting Hummingbirds

May 24, 2008

Since hummingbirds are returning to their summer ranges in North America we thought it a good thing to remind you how to count how many you may have at your feeders. We’ve done two posts on that the subject but if you are pressed for time, the second one summarizes all the methods we’ve discovered so that is the one to read first. Here is the link for the first post.

We also just did our first YouTube experiment which explains how to make syrup for them. More videos will follow about which feeders are best and how to care for them.

And, if you are interested in a little science about hummingbirds, here is a post about that. We’ll be doing more on hummingbird science as the summer continues.


April 19, 2008

Spring arrived in our little corner of the universe this week. After several days of plodding through the paperwork of tax time here in the U.S. we were ready to get outside for awhile and the weather cooperated.

Our yard has become home to two species of birds which did not join us last year. Two Red wing Blackbirds and four Inca Doves have joined the menagerie, at least for now. “Now” is a key word when one spends anytime observing birds or nature. Nature, by nature — if you will forgive the pun — is not controllable by us. Those Red winged Blackbirds which are here today, may be gone tomorrow. Some or all of the little Incas may spend the summer or move on. Grasping at the hope they will stay will not keep them here any longer than they choose to be here. All that can possibly be done is enjoy them while they choose to stay.

And enjoying Red wing Blackbirds is not a difficult thing to do. Here is a brief video of a male calling. Blackbirds tend to flock and, in our experience anyway, enjoy large fields which we do not have around the house. Since we have never had any here, we lack confidence they will stay but are hopeful. And, for “now” we have them and their song.

What is more, on April 16th, the day after we paid our American dues, the first hummingbird of the year arrived. It is a Black chinned Hummingbird and currently has six feeders all to itself. Now there is a bird which is enjoying its “now.” Soon it will be sharing with many more hummingbirds and we’ll get back to our pseudo-science of trying to count them all. (You can read about methods of counting hummingbirds here, here and here.)

But, for now, it is “now” in our yard and it is good.

Other Birds

March 24, 2008

This article about recent discoveries of new planets outside our solar system raises the question: How many species of birds exist out there? Our life lists may seem paltry one day when it is necessary to travel to other planets to bird. What will their Hummingbirds look like?  What will their crows and ravens be able to do?

Hummingbird Science, Part I

January 21, 2008

Last time we shared the counting methods of a true hummingbird expert, Sheri Williamson. Ms. Williamson is the author of the Peterson A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America which, at the risk of her accusing us of “absolutely gushing” — something we leave to artesian wells — is a fine book; full of useful information. Ms. Williamson has forgotten more about hummingbirds than we will ever know. She has blogs and a website which you can find here, here and here.

Still, we thought her post a bit haughty; written with a certainty and hubris scientists are well advised to avoid. In addition to calling Dan True’s book on hummingbirds “full of half-baked ideas, misinterpretations of other people’s work, and out-of-date information. . . .” she accuses us of misleading you into thinking that Ruby-throated Hummingbirds migrate over the Gulf of Mexico rather than taking the longer shoreline route. More about that in a minute.

First though, a word about science. Science is the best, most successful method of describing and explaining reality yet invented. But it is slow. It has to be. Hypotheses must be developed, data painstakingly accumulated, tested and peer reviewed. Even after a theory explaining all the known data is erected, wise scientists know the entire edifice can come crumbling down on their heads if a new pertinent, reliable piece of data is discovered which contradicts all that earlier work. We have a scientist friend who is delighted if he is right half the time.

More important, ignorance engulfs us. We must stand stupefied before all we do not know. Why was there a “Big Bang?” What does it mean to say that a black hole is a singularity? How do electrons act at a distance? How many dimensions exist? Are Boltzman Brains really possible? What is consciousness? Why is so much of the world explainable by mathematics? What cures the common cold? How can we stop cancer cells before they kill their hosts? How did Aspen trees learn to clone themselves? Why do some thunderstorms become super cells? How do birds navigate? What routes do Ruby-throated Hummingbirds follow on their migrations? How many are eating at your feeder?

Here is a scientist on the point:

As a human being, one has been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see how clearly, how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists.
Albert Einstein.


But to get back to Ms. Williamson’s complaint about our post. Here is what she said:

One additional nitpick about the TFFBBB entry: It assumes that Ruby-throated Hummingbirds migrate south across the Gulf of Mexico when the evidence strongly suggests that the majority take an overland route around the Gulf in fall migration.

First, we did assume that large numbers of Ruby-throats migrate south across the Gulf of Mexico. And, while we are not — and never claimed to be — scientists, we don’t just make stuff up. Our statement that Ruby-throats fly directly over the Gulf of Mexico in autumn had two scientific sources.

The first, which we utilize frequently, is Cornell University’s Birds of North America. (BNA) (Available online, subscription required) According to one ornithologist: (Sheri Williamson, actually)

The most valuable published resource on the biology and natural history of North America’s hummingbirds is the Birds of North America series. . . .

Here is what BNA has to say about Ruby-throat migration:

Despite their tiny size, many of these birds fly nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico during fall and spring migration, a round-trip of more than 1,600 km. To accomplish this, individuals often double their body mass by fattening on nectar and insects prior to departure. (Emphasis added)

There is one problem with BNA. It is not updated frequently. For instance, the article on Ruby-throated Hummingbirds was written in 1996. So we checked one other, newer source: The 2001 Peterson A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America by Sheri Williamson. (That name sounds familiar, where have we heard it before?) In that book, at page 188, we read:

To reach their eastern nesting grounds each spring, many individuals take a direct but hazardous route across the Gulf of Mexico, flying non-stop over [sic] more than 500 miles of open water.

But, you say, that is the northbound trip. Could the southbound trip be different? Possibly. And, Ms. Williamson may have newer data and we hope she will share it with our readers and hers.

But the range map on page 192 of Ms. Williamson’s book flatly states:

Both trans-Gulf and overland migration routes used in spring and fall. (Emphasis added)

To be fair, both BNA and Ms. Williamson hedge their bets. BNA says:

Many fly across Gulf of Mexico, but many also follow coastal route. Routes may differ for north- and southbound birds. . .In general, however, migratory routes of this species remain poorly documented, and some proportion of the population may follow a coastal route south during the fall.

Ms. Williamson, on page 29 of her book, states:

Ruby-throated hummingbirds wintering in Central America take the most direct route available in spring migration, up the Yucatan Peninsula and across the Gulf of Mexico. This route would be dangerous in reverse, with a significant chance of missing the peninsula which may be one reason many thousands of southbound Ruby-throats follow the Gulf Coast through Louisiana and Texas.

To us, that smacks of anthropomorphism. The Yucatan Peninsula is a pretty big place and just because a flying human might miss it, doesn’t mean that Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, whose ancestors have been finding it for hundreds of thousands of years, will. Besides, even if they somehow missed it, the odds are good that they would make land-fall in Central America or in South America; another, even bigger place. Only an east-bound bird, leaving from Florida, could miss land. That would only be possible if the prevailing winds were blowing east, but we know the Trade Winds over the Atlantic blow toward the Gulf so would not be likely to blow birds out to sea.


But that isn’t science. To know for sure we need a professional meteorologist to tell us about the prevailing wind and weather patterns of the Gulf of Mexico. Then we might know if there was any autumnal danger for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds “missing” the Yucatan Peninsula.

We could ask Dan True.

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