Thursday, October 9, 2008

When Hummingbirds Attack!

What's a five letter slang term for chutzpah*? Something that won't violate FCC community standards for television news. Something to describe a hummingbird.

They dart above your head and buzz behind your back,
so you never really notice
when Hummingbirds Attack!

A few years ago, my wife and I strung up our first hummingbird feeder. I was expecting it to attract a lighthearted ballet of winged iridescent gems. Instead, we got dogfights.

It flew into town from Canada, in an airborne herd.
It's a jewel in the sky and one ruthless little bird.

Every evening birds from the neighborhood would fly in for dinner. And one little flying tiger would chase them off.

Our local ornithologist Mark Stackhouse explained that this was no docile Utah hummingbird. This was a rufous. A Selasphorus rufus. A real scrapper. Three grams of pure guts and grit that I began videotaping for television.**

So don't dismiss the miniscule.
Don't judge nature by its size.
It's not a shrinking violet.
It's a pit bull in disguise.

Bird guides use the word "feisty." I was looking for another word. To describe how vigorously it defended its stash of sugar water.

And how it out flew other hummingbirds. Like an F-16 outmaneuvering a Piper Cub.

The solution to the word puzzle...was to not use the word.

It dives and chases hawks.
It buzzes, kicks and brawls.
Do not be mistaken.
This little bird has...

My wife and I discovered we might have been responsible for some of the hummingbird violence.

I'd asked Stackhouse how much sugar we should be using in our hummingbird feeder. One part sugar to four parts water, he said, although we could use a little more, one to three parts, if we wanted to steal birds away from our neighbors' feeders.

The hummingbird novices we were, we had been mixing one part sugar to only two parts water.

We weren't feeding the birds artificial flower nectar. We were giving them hummingbird crack. (And, indeed, our neighbors across the street had remarked that we had so many birds on our porch and they had so few. We just shrugged our shoulders.)

We've since diluted our homemade nectar. This summer the hummingbirds are back. But not with quite a vengeance.

*Yiddish for audacity.

**Home video by me. Professional photography by Mike Sadowski.

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