One of my great pleasures is sitting on my back deck with a cup of tea early in the morning. The best way to wake-up is by watching and listening for my wild neighbors as the day breaks. It was on one of these mornings when I was visited by a flying bit of watermelon tourmaline. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird zipped by. This wasn’t unusual. A hummingbird feeder hung from the deck a few feet away, and they are routine visitors.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (photo by Joe Schneid) are the only hummingbird known to breed in Maine. They come here in the early spring and make a living off of sap from our trees, until the first flowers bloom. These are amazing birds at so many levels. Weighing in at only 1/10th of an ounce, they fly here from as far away as the tropics. Many make non-stop flights across the Gulf of Mexico on their way north. Their wings beat at roughly 53 times per second, and their ability to hover and fly backwards seems to defy physics. The iridescent green feathers of their head, back and tail makes them the gemstones of the bird world. Males have a throat patch, known as a gorget, that can flash ruby red if the light is right. Maine’s state gemstone is tourmaline. To me, male hummingbirds are Western Maine’s watermelon tourmaline come to life.
On this morning, I was wearing a red shirt and sat watching and listening with my fingers laced across my belly. The hummingbird came back. It stopped and hovered 12 inches from the tip of my nose. His red gorget flashed as he scolded me with an electric buzz. Then, to my surprise, the tiny bird swooped in and probed between my laced fingers. It happened so fast, I didn’t have time to react. He then swooped back six inches from my face and chattered more sharply. This time he seemed mad. I don’t think he liked being tricked. I must have looked like a very large, red flower to him. His reprimand complete, he zipped off into the morning.
Since that time, I don’t wear red shirts on my deck anymore. I’m not sure why. It’s not because I think it does harm. Maybe I feel bad about tricking hummingbirds. Then again, maybe, just maybe, I’m a little afraid of being scolded by these little tourmaline gems.
James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails firstname.lastname@example.org.