17 November 2014

Our Humdinger of a Hummingbird

Butterfly is such a pretty word in any language — papillon (fr), borboleta (port), mariposa (sp), schmetterling (ger), sommerfugl (dan), kamehameha (hawaiian). Equally pleasing to the ear and to the eye is hummingbird — oiseau-mouche (fr), beija-flor (port), chupaflor (sp), manu hu (hawaiian). Hummingbirds are very much on my mind these days. Once a year for three years running Mark and I have enjoyed the brief company of a hummingbird family. Now — forgive me if I sound like Wild Kingdom's Jim Fowler — the mother, the sole nest builder and caregiver of the species, has repeatedly built her nest in one arm of a hanging lamp under the roof of our terrace pergola. I guess "location, location, location" is as important to hummingbirds as it is to humans, because our terrace lamp has apparently been found to be eminently suitable. Although the lamp swings fiercely in the wind, it is well protected from predators and rain.

Here's the lamp, sans nest.

Here's the mother, scoping out the area. Quite amazing for a hummingbird to remain so still, but house hunting is serious business!

The hummingbird nest is an amazing architectural creation, a dense cup that seems to spring up literally overnight. It’s made from moss and lichen, from feathers and small bits of bark and leaves, from plant down or fuzz, and most crucially, from spider silk, which is used both to bind the nest together and provide the necessary elasticity for the nest to expand as the babies grow (think of a pregnant woman’s stretch pants).

Only one to two eggs are laid. There isn't space for any more, no matter how elastic the nest!

Here's the mother hummingbird, patiently  at work.

And then Mark and I sit back and watch the birds grow. I admit to feeling enormous guilt for having snapped some of these pictures, because every time I approached and held the camera above the babies they sensed the shadow and thought Mom had come with food. It was hard for me to walk away from those open, yearning, hungry mouths!

The entire development process is quick, a mere five weeks or so from start to finish. One day I went looking for the babies again, and found only this one bird sitting on the rim of the nest. Just seconds after I snapped the picture, the second fledgling fledged!

So, Mother Hummingbird, same time next year?

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