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Tag Archive | "hummingbirds"

Symphony of Sight and Sound


Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The Cardinal flower. Photo by Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Fish and Wildlife Service.

Symphony players have honed their music through eons of natural selection. Refinement continues with each generation of plants and animals. Individuals have physical advantages for species survival or have adaptations that are eliminated by predators, parasites, or failure to meet environmental conditions.

Enjoy the sight and sound of the life’s orchestra performing its changing symphony. You can walk among players or sit on a lounge chair with a cool beverage to experience more players than are imaginable.

The regional stage is set with an assemblage of plants on wet to dry soils where nutrients and water meet their needs along with varying amounts of light. The Cardinal Flower is one of the most beautiful flowers for my eye and has recently begun blooming. Each animal has favorites. The swamp milkweed is gorgeous and is more beautiful to many insects. It brings insects to the wetland stage better than cardinal flowers. Hummingbirds prefer the cardinal flower where we can enjoy their sound portion of the symphony.

Hummingbirds hover at the flowers with wings moving in a figure eight that allows them to hang stationary like a helicopter. Bees and Hummingbird Sphinx moths hover at milkweed flowers with their own unique buzz. Bees land and probe the unique flower structure with mouthparts that sometimes get trapped and held. One can find dead butterflies or other insects that were unable to break free.

Death is common for symphony players. Bird love songs often come from hidden locations that do not betray their presence and would expose them to predators. Their song announces breeding territory limits to prospective females that inspect male’s habitat suitability for rearing young. The singing male moves around the territory perimeter in earlier morning announcing to other males they are not welcome.

Each bird produces music in varying sized territory space that is adjusted to resource requirements. In the big woods at Ody Brook, Ovenbirds (a warbler) sing from low branches in the mature forest and build a Dutch oven shaped nest on the ground. Once in my lifetime, I found a well-hidden nest with the help of another naturalist.

Ovenbirds are abundant and heard throughout Michigan. Their music keeps rhythm with its repeated “teacher, teacher, teacher” song like our symphony’s drums. High above in tree tops, the Red-eyed Vireo sings its melody, “Here I am, where are you?” Like all orchestras players, species begin and end at specific times during the performance. Most birds make music during peak breeding season of May and June.

Sight, sound, and players change as one moves from forest to drier field and shrubland. Field Sparrows cannot be found in the mature forest but are loud musicians in open shrub habitat. They make introductory music notes followed by a trill that resembles a ping-pong ball bouncing on a table with accelerating speed as the ball loses energy with each bounce of less height. The Chipping Sparrow has a more evenly spaced trill without introductory notes. Close your eyes and recognize wild orchestra instruments in nature niches. You might not see the players but you can enjoy and recognize different sounds.

As summer progresses in forest, field, and wetlands, bird sounds become less frequent. Insect orchestra members increase the sight and sound beauty. Crickets of various species pick up the tempo. The Snowy Tree Crickets play a uniquely beautiful instrument. Cicadas have a tympanum at the base of their abdomen that resonates deafening volume. Katydid grasshoppers repeat their name during dark hours to attract mates.

Flowers and leaves feed insects, attract birds, predatory insects, and spiders that eat insects. The arrangement of color and species distribute players in nature like the stage for human orchestras. The multitude of players is greater than can be learned in a lifetime and they are dressed in interesting attire. Discover the magnificent sight and sound orchestra. To enjoy it, wild habitat is necessary. Less grass will allow more “nature,” save gas, and extend mower life. Spend more time hearing nature’s orchestra instead of a mower engine’s roar.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Hummingbird Brawl


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

OUT-Nature-niche-hummingbirdRuby-throated Hummingbirds are a joy to watch as their iridescent throat patches catch sunlight and radiate brilliant ruby. It is not viewed with equal joy, when a male sees another’s ruby throat.

I watched a male performing its mating display by swooping down and up in a U pattern to impress a female. The Rudy-throated Hummingbird display was not as impressive as some western species I have observed. I watched western species loop 75 feet down and up. Here the bird was looping 20 feet.

When the male favorably captures the attention of a female, she will land nearby. His flight changes to sideways movement back and forth, as he tries to woo her.

At the feeder, birds are less tolerant and unwilling to share food resources with females or males. This evening turned into a Saturday night brawl for two males.

At 8:30 EDT, two tumbled to the ground and rolled around. I did not know if they were opposite sexes engaged in mating or males fighting. When they flew up, I could see both had ruby-throat patches. One tried visiting the feeder and the other charged from above, in a blur of speed. I thought both would be severely injured if they made physical contact.

The feeding bird quickly took evasive moves and the two continued aerial combat maneuvers for twenty minutes. In mid air they would come into physical contact and separate. Sometimes their contact would bring them to the ground, where I could only see them thrashing in the grass.

At 8:50 p.m., the two engaged in a ground brawl that I observed with binoculars. I could see one appeared to be pinning the other beneath. At times, both would be in view until one was subdued underneath again. This continued 20 minutes. It was getting dark. I left the window for a moment, and, on my return, I saw one at the feeder and could not see other.

I went outside to look for an injured, maimed, or dead male hummingbird, where they had a 20-minute exhausting fight. Fortunately, I did not have an unpleasant discovery. I did not see the second male again.

Why can’t animals get along? Hummers seem to be particularly anti-social with others of their species. In general, the behavior is common for many species and driven somewhat by hormone levels. Books and research papers elaborate and are beyond review here. In brief, reasons include:

*Individuals desire adequate breeding and nesting space with appropriate food, water, and shelter. This applies for species from hummers to people.

*Food is critical and many are unwilling to share a limited resource. Hummingbirds gather food in a small home range. Other species, like us, access food from around the world as well as from local farm markets.

*Water is generally accessible in our region for birds and people. Historically and currently, water rights conflicts abound. Proposals to pipe Great Lakes water to arid regions are frequent. Some question why people want to retain the Great Lakes instead of draining or lowering them to supply the southwest deserts and California. Lowering the Great Lakes would dry many wells, inland lakes and alter Great Lakes agriculture and ecosystem.

*Successful nesting requires good nest sites. It is difficult to raise young to adulthood. In the case of humans, we have become quite proficient with modern medicines, vaccines, food distribution, and community health programs. We expect most children to survive. A century ago, youth deaths were common. Youth deaths are still common for animals in nature niches. Help by allowing natural living space in a portion of your yard. We can each support Earth’s biodiversity.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433 or call 616-696-1753.

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Flower garden in bloom


We first featured flowers from Joan Covell’s garden two years ago when she was just starting it. Recently she sent us more photos of her beautiful garden in Solon Township. “Flowers came early this year and went away fast,” remarked Joan, “except for my mums. They were and still are beautiful.” She added that the birds love her garden, especially the hummingbirds. Thanks, Joan!

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