The Big Move.

Even though I know that life is random, sometimes I get a kick out of trying to make patterns out of the chaos. So when I found this hummingbird tail feather on the same day I did my post on hummingbirds, I decided that it was a sign that I should do a follow-up. Whether it was, in point of fact, an actual sign is irrelevant. Because I decided that it was a sign, and because the sign has impacted my behavior through my writing of this post, both my decision and my actions makes the sign a sign even if it wasn’t really a sign at all. See how that works?

Why is this sign relevant? It all starts with information I left out of Friday’s post. See, I had no idea that so many people out there were colossal hummingbird geeks like me, so I only talked about the hummingbird’s astonishing speed during its courtship dive. You know, because speed is sexy. I left out the part about the sounds the hummingbird makes during the courtship dive. The sounds he makes with... (insert dramatic music here) ...his tail feathers.

It’s a real treat to see a hummingbird perform one of these courtship dives, or what I call “The Big Move.” Usually, a female sits nearby on a twig while the male hummingbird swoops back and forth in front of her in a pendulum motion. After ten or so passes in front of the female, the male hummingbird will rocket straight up in the sky until he’s well over a hundred feet up, then he’ll turn around and dive back down towards the female at over 50mph and pulling 10 g’s. The noise the male emits while he executes this dive sounds surprisingly like the Jetsons’ spaceship. For reals.

At the end of the dive, when he’s in the best view of the female, the male will pull up out of the dive and emit a loud “chirp,” which is explained in the informative video posted below. Glaven.

What Dr. Clark was able to prove through these amazing high-speed videos is that the noises the male hummingbird makes during The Big Move aren’t vocalizations. Rather, the hummingbird is able use his tail as a reeded instrument, and he can manipulate the air speeding over his tail feathers to create a song as he dives. His precious, precious tail feathers.

I've loved hearing from people who are as fond of hummingbirds as me. Lots of you liked the necklace, and I really love the idea that the designer, Michael Doyle, is sitting somewhere out there in the internet ether, wondering why he’s suddenly received so many orders for hummingbird skull jewelry. Some of you shared your own hummingbird stories. One of my friends had a very cool late-night hummingbird encounter on the day she read my blog post, and another of my friends told me about how he routinely kicks back on the lawn with his family in the evening just so they can all watch the hummingbirds together.

Sweet as these stories are, though, one of the things I find most interesting about hummingbirds is their aggression. One of my friends wondered about what would happen to humans if these little warriors were the size of eagles. He even went so far as to contemplate putting growth hormone in his hummingbird feeder in order to find out.

I think this would be a bad idea.

I have two hummingbird feeders which I keep full of clean, sweet, sugar water at all times. It's fair to say that the hummingbirds in my yard have a constant and unending food supply and are never left wanting for anything. Yet despite this artificial Nirvana I've created for them, they fight over those feeders like zombies over brains. I’m certain the loss of the tail feather is the result of just such a clash, and I’ll even lay down money saying that hummingbirds purposefully try to damage each other's tail feathers when they fight so that the loser is unable to chirp his way through a Big Move. Because I bet those hummingbirds already know what it has taken me two posts to learn: Chicks dig scars and think daredevils are sexy, but a romantic song will seal the deal every time.


  1. Dear Jen,

    This is just the most amazing story. Makes me think of the stunned hummer I spotted outside of a drugstore a couple of years ago. I was able to take very close pictures of little fellow before he recovered from the bad whip of the wind that sent him into a wall. Here's the post from 2008:


    They truly are tough little birds.

  2. I really enjoy your narrative on these little speedsters.

    I can relate to the people who say they sit outside in the evening and watch the "Hummers."
    We have a giant bush surrounded with flowers and I think it's Hummingbird Central for McKinleyville.

    I've seen more than one type here. I should get a field guide and figure out the different species. Needless to say, I think Hummingbirds are cool.

  3. The hummingbird follow up was very exciting. I had to have a cigarette after reading. Very sexy!

  4. Just as your "chicken and the egg" sign quandary resolves itself into a self-fulfilling time-warp bending creative act; in that your interpretation of it as a sign makes it one, changing the original incident into a directive from a higher consciousness --- can it be that our interpretation of the appearance and activities of other creatures as cute, loving, adorable etc. when they are actually fulfilling rituals of self preservation and perpetuation without any regard for anything but other than their own objectives perhaps transform those into what we interpret them to be??????

  5. Yes, there is nothing quite like a Hummingbird. They are facinating in every aspect, and the video is good (though way too brief for me!).

    I have never considered them aggressive, though my daughter will not hang a feeder because she doesn't trust their fighting around her kids (imagine being speared by an inaccurate Hummer).

    I giggle at the thought of us pulling up our lawn chairs to watch 30lb Hummers in the evening. Hmmmmmm. Part of my facination is with how tiny they are.

    Really. Aren't we all "actually fulfilling rituals of self preservation and perpetuation...?" Humans just tend to think alot, and personalize, etc. Maybe this is what makes us facinating


  6. Anne, thank you so much for sharing the link. Wonderful! I'm tickled to see so many of us are hummingbird fans - Kris, I hope you enjoyed that cigarette! You're lucky, Dave, if you're getting lots of different kinds of hummingbirds at your place. I'd love to know the varieties you're seeing. You're right; time for a field guide! And Swallowtail, I love that you picked up on Ken's comment on "rituals of self preservation and perpetuation." I think you're right about humans behaving in this manner. but I was also thinking about how this applies to other animals in both the large and small scheme of things. Like maybe Ken was also saying that we think that a kitten is adorable when it's batting around it's fluffy toy mouse, but we don't think it's quite as cute when a cougar slinks into out back yard and pounces on our beloved bijon frise, Puff-Puff. I guess it would all depend on how Ken feels about bijon frises, though...

  7. I think that one of the most amazing aspects of being human is that we can transform things by the way we think about them. Whether that is just in our own minds, or whether we are really changing things; who knows... We look out and see various forms of water---liquid and vapor, combined with various wavelengths of light and find infinite sources of poetry; written, painted, photographed or just admired. We see reflections of ourselves, or what we would like ourselves to be, or what we hate most about ourselves in animals and that anthropomorphism helps us understand ourselves, the stories we create around animals are part of the mythology that we can use to explore who we are and want to be. And who's to say that the objects of our thoughts and feelings don't respond in some way to our imagining. Maybe the kitten is not only in training for the kill in order to eat in some future scenario, but acting out its own art, creating a cat dance that has a joy in and of its own, separate from the ultimate goal. We as audience certainly respond as though the cat is performing for us.

  8. "Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner."

    I think you may have interpreted it as a sign cuz it was meaningful to you. For me synchronous events can show us a way to jump over the tedious method of logic in locating areas of high energy. And besides, a feather and it's quill is a writer's tool, right? :)


  9. So isn't that the creative act? To take ordinary space and time and make them into special space and time? To take mundane objects and events and find or create the specialness in them? To take advantage of synchronicity, to find the patterns around us and try to make meaning out the chaos?

  10. Suzy, I am ashamed to admit that the whole feather/quill thing didn't even occur to me. Your pointing it out opened up a completely different and fun perspective. Thank you so much! And I loved your discussion on synchronicity, too. Fantastic! Ken, you hit the nail on the head with your musings. Sometimes I think we come up with more questions than answers. But hey, nothing wrong with that!

  11. Jen, thanks for being a catalyst.

    Questions encourage thinking, creating, introspection, discussion whereas answers just end the conversation, nowhere much to go at that point.