Monday, March 7, 2011

Anna's Anger Is An Antagonistic Energy

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
For those of you "sick of hearing about hummingbirds", tune out on this posting.  Because honestly, on most days, I see far more humming birds than I see human beings, when I work from home and do not have to travel or run an errand.   For those of you who are computer scientists (working in teams), reporters, research & laboratory scientists, physicians, educators, chefs, and others who work with, and around many human beings everyday, let this be a short insight into the life of a reclusive misanthrope who values his privacy - yet blogs somewhat publicly...  go figure.

I read the other day on the always helpful Cornel Ornithology Lab website (link here) regarding Anna's hummingbirds: "On rare occasions, bees and wasps may become impaled on the bill of an Anna's Hummingbird, causing the bird to starve to death."  I was so sure this was "urban myth" that I reflexively checked out Snopes first (link here..  but WARNING..  enable AD BLOCKER and Ghostery before visiting Snopes, or you'll be cookied and tracked TO DEATH).  Snopes turned up bupkus on it....  but those pesky scientists, with their peer reviewed journals and thorough methods....  lol!  Google found exactly what I as looking for.

Michael C. Long wrote a nice piece on "Anna's Hummingbirds with Hymenoptera Impaled on Bills" (link here with photos) in "Western Birds".   At this link you can see not one, but 2 different male Anna's hummingbirds, the "dominant species" (bigger than other species, and somewhat the bullies at the feeders) who perished when they had impaled yellow jackets with their bills.  It's sort of fun to listen to scientists (who are not engineers)  theorize about how the insects may or may not have been killed.  "Examination of the lump on the bill revealed the intact head of yellow jacket wasp (Vespula persylvanica) pierced from front to back directly between the compound eyes."  ...and how that "could not" have happened in mid flight because the insect would graze off and be moved to the side.  I did well in both biology and physics in high school and engineering college.  When I read "pierced from front to back directly between the compound eyes" that tells me the thrust was centered, precise, and symmetrical - the same way I place a hammer above a nail, or a bearing into a press, or an arrow into a balloon on a archery target.  It won't "deflect" off if you hit it hard enough, fast enough, and symmetrically at the apex.  But what do I know? I'm "just an engineer".  It's sad that this hummingbird in North Carolina (link here) probably died as well.

I also learned that praying mantids have been known to prey upon hummingbirds and eat them! (link here, but caution opening around children who are sensitive to gore) (learn something new everyday!).  That's like the large tropical rain forest spiders who catch fish (link here)... pretty impressive. 

Another fine source on hummingbird information is Swartzentrover,com (link here).  There you can see multiple images and HEAR what I hear in my backyard, as the Anna's Hummingbirds go flitting around.  Now that my girl friend Anna has run off, all sorts of Costas, Annas, and Black Chinned hummingbirds visit my backyard, since my gf is no longer possessively shooing them away.  The other species are noticeably smaller than the Annas, and I chuckle when I see some hungry male come flitting in to drink from the Exact Same aloe flowers that a female had just been to, 3 or 4 minutes earlier.  Anna used to hoard all the nectar and pollen to herself - now it's a free for all. 

So let this be a lesson to those territorial males out there.  Anger IS an energy, but when misused or applied disproportionately, it can get you killed.  Sure you might be an impressive flier, and the biggest & brightest hummingbird on the block, but flying around aggressively trying to stab things with your beak can get you killed, be it impaled on a wasp, a bee, a rose pedal leaf.

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