"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Hummingbird Tales
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

There is more interesting lore on the ruby-throated hummingbird, especially about its enemies.

Those who read this column and the corresponding web page (www.bayoubill.com) may recall the column two weeks back in which we revealed some interesting (and apparently little-known) habits of this diminutive avian.

In that column we drew from the writing of A.C. Bent, who penned a 21-volume book on Life Histories of North American Birds. Bent's work is the subject of a web page conducted by Ms. Pat Newforth, designer and manager of my web page. Her web page can be found here Bent's Familiar Birds.

In putting that earlier column together for the edification of those who have been unjustifiably bombarded with the notion that hummingbirds characteristically do nothing but sip sugar water and fly, we also encountered some very interesting information on enemies of the ruby-throat.

I had planned to follow the first column with Bent's interesting writing on hummingbird enemies, but our unexpected late-August monsoon and the opening of seasons on teal and doves (Sept. 1) took precedence.

But here are some of the interesting observations of Bent and his informants and collaborators in his works, published from 1919 to 1968 by the Smithsonian Institute, for which we have great respect: 

"Enemies--In addition to the dangers of migration, notably the occurrence of frost when the hummingbird overruns the advance of spring, there are other hazards, chiefly of an accidental nature, imperiling the life of the bird.

Ralph E. Danforth (1921) speaks of a bird caught in "a pendulous mass of cobweb" from which he freed it with some difficulty, and Bradford Torrey (1903) relates what he calls "a pretty story" told to him by an observer whom he describes as "a seeing man." The man, hearing "the familiar, squeaking notes of a hummer, and thinking that their persistency must be occasioned by some unusual trouble, went out to investigate. Sure enough, there hung the bird in a spider's web attached to a rosebush, while the owner of the web, a big yellow-and-brown, pot-bellied, bloodthirsty rascal, was turning its victim over and over, winding the web about it. Wings and legs were already fast, so that all the bird could do was to cry for help. And help had come. The man at once killed the spider, and then, little by little, for it was an operation of no small delicacy, unwound the mesh in which the bird was entangled."

Joseph Janiec sends the following story to Mr. Bent: "While I was wandering through a large hollow one June afternoon, my attention was attracted to the unusual waving of a pasture thistle. No air was stirring, and my curiosity prompted me to ascertain the cause of the movements. As I approached the thistle I noticed what I at first supposed to be a large dragonfly impaled on the prickly purple flower; closer examination, however, revealed a male ruby-throated hummingbird stuck to the flower, his wings not being involved in the contact but his stomach feathers adhering to the prickly, pointed stamens. Cutting off the flower, I carried it and the bird home and carefully removed the bird. Although it lost a few feathers in the operation, the little bird flew away unharmed."

There is a surprising record from California telling of the capture of an unidentified species of hummingbird by a fish. Mary E. Lockwood (1922) says, quoting from a letter: "We were seated by the lotus-pool when a hummingbird flew and hovered over the pool. Suddenly a bass jumped from the water and swallowed the hummingbird."

George H. Lowery, Jr. (1938) reports the following apparently unique record: 

I shot a female Eastern Pigeon Hawk (Falco columbarius columbarius) on April 16, 1937, at Grand Isle, off the coast of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Upon examination of its stomach contents, I was surprised to find the identifiable remains of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). Later, on a visit to Washington, D.C., I discussed the matter with Mr. Clarence Cottam, Director of the Food Habits Division of the Bureau of Biological Survey. With his permission and the assistance of Mr. Robert McClanahan of the Food Habits offices, I went through the extensive records of that division and found no species of hummingbird had ever heretofore been recorded from any bird stomach

Norris-Elye writes to Mr. Bent: "During the summer of 1934, James Ashdown, Jr., and his mother were walking in the woods at Kenora, Ontario, and heard a continuous rattling. Investigation showed it to be a male ruby-throated hummingbird on the ground, with a huge dragonfly on the bird's back; it had seized the bird by the neck. They drove the dragonfly away, picked up the bird, and held it in the palm of the hand for several minutes, after which it flew away.

"We have had instances of frogs capturing and swallowing ruby-throats, one at Gull Harbor and one at Gimli, Lake Winnipeg. The Gimli case was observed by my friend Hugh Moncrieff, who captured the frog (leopard) and had some boys cut it open to recover the bird, while he took some good motion pictures of the operation."

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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