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This Week’s Creature Feature ... Life Among the Hummingbirds

Who’s who in the pecking order

The side porch of our home in northern Calvert County faces east. It’s a great place to have our morning coffee and feel the first warm rays of the sun. It’s also where my wife sets out the hummingbird feeders, so we get to watch the high-speed high jinks of these delicate little birds.
    As our birds return from Mexico, each year one or two hovers around the very spot where the feeders hang, peeking through the screen as if to say, Okay, I’m back. I know you’re in there. Now come and bring the magic flowers.

Editor’s note: Hummingbirds return with the azalea bloom.

    My wife swears that once, as she stood under the place where a feeder hung, a bird tapped her shoulder to let her know it was here.
    Almost every year, an alpha male claims the magic flowers for his own. The BF Bird is what we call him. He puffs out his feathers, flashes his ruby throat and buzzes off all attempting to feed but his females. If a bird tries to hide in a nearby bush, he will bombard the bejesus out of him while squealing every bird profanity to punctuate his point.
    I say almost every year because one year the BF Bird was a female.
    One of the females that came to the feeders had what looked like a piece of flower or maybe a large piece of cobweb attached to her foot. Upon closer inspection, the attachment looked like the mummified remains of another bird — perhaps the conjoined twin of a double yoke. Whatever it was, the added weight bulked up the little bird. She became larger and stronger than all the rest. By the middle of summer, she had displaced the BF male. She took up his perch guarding the magic flowers, and she ran off male and female alike. I can only imagine what the other birds were saying as she swooped after them: Oh my gosh! She’s clutching one she’s killed. Fly for your life!
    At summer’s end, all the birds were taking on nectar for their journey south. I worried that our BF Bird would not make it across the Gulf of Mexico with her extra baggage. I thought, then thought better, of shooting the mummy off with the pellet gun.
    The birds left and the feeders came down for the winter.
    The next year, we looked for our BF female. In late June, we saw her. She had three distinctive dots on her breast, so there was no mistaking our bird. The mummy had all but disappeared, and she had slimmed down to become the best looking of all the birds.
    We never saw her again after that second summer, but she left us with a privileged feeling for knowing her — and that truth is stranger than fiction.