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BROAD-TAILED HUMMING BIRDS
STRAWBERRY VALLEY, at an elevation of eight thousand feet, is situated about one hundred miles east of Salt Lake City. An artificial lake five or six miles long, covering the greater part of the valley, serves as a reservoir for irrigation below in Utah Valley. The region has recently been made a bird reservation, and the lake is now the home of many ducks and shore birds, while back in the timber on the hills bordering the valley, song birds of all kinds thrive in abundance.
In this region so interesting to the bird student, humming birds are conspicuous, both by their numbers and their loud metallic buzzing, which pervades all the small canons and immediately arrests attention. Along the willow bordered creeks that extend up every caņon the broad-tailed humming birds gather in full force. The sound of their buzzing often swells to a volume, that one would not believe any number of such wee birds capable of producing, unless one had heard it. As a bird shoots up or down the creek bed, the buzzing of its wings swells and sinks in a rhythmic beat, a beat, perhaps, to the second, which may be heard for some distance, getting louder as the bird approaches, and then gradually dying down as it continues up or down the caņon. This loud buzzing is an interesting habit of the hummers, being very expressive of their exuberance of spirits; for they seem to be ever revelling in the joy of living. Lacking a song, their special appeal lies, in their dainty smallness, vivaciousness, and an overflowing exuberance of nature.
About the twentieth. of June, the nesting season of the hummers starts in full earnest. Of the six nests I found in the valley, four were less than three feet from the ground on pine boughs, one about six feet up, and one twenty feet up on the dead limb of an ash tree. Two of these nests were found about half completed on June 19th, which appears to be about the beginning of the nesting season. Two other nests were found soon after this, partly completed, so that it seems that all the birds start nesting at nearly the same time. The willow down of which the nests are constructed is available about the middle of June. It is a cotton-like substance shed after the willows have flowered, which readily sticks to a rough bark surface. The beginning of the nest is as ethereal as a spider web, and it is built up very gradually, the bird sitting on the bough and twisting and turning as she models the delicate architecture of her home. Completed, it is the supreme example of bird skill in nest making. One of the birds observed at work would vanish and reappear with more down, often within three or four seconds. On the outside, the nest is strengthened by the interweaving of small particles of bark. It may be mentioned that one nest was found by following a hummer that was observed collecting bark from a dead ash tree.
THE BROAD-TAILED HUMMING-BIRD ON NEST
THE NEST OF THE BROAD-TAILED HUMMING-BIRD IN A BALSAM. IT SECURED ON A BRANCH,
AND ALSO STRENGTHENED WITH SPIDER-WEB
Within three days, the female with no help from the male has completed her nest. Either on the third or fourth day after starting to build, she lays the first of her two translucent white eggs which are about the size of a common bean; and begins sitting at once. The following day the second egg is laid, and then for fifteen long days, one would suppose exceedingly long to such a restless little mite, she incubates her treasures. It is to be remarked, however, that she does not remain on the nest as continuously as do many other birds, but leaves frequently during the day to seek food, though she is absent but a few seconds at a time. This habit may be due to the bird's restlessly active nature. Because of the small size of the eggs, also, she can leave them exposed for only short intervals or they would become chilled. Toward the end of the incubation period, the eggs turn from their original translucent whiteness to a dark shade, the air sac now filling one third of the space.
After trying for fifteen days to imagine the appearance of the bird that would come out of so small an egg, I was considerably surprised, to say the least, when a newly hatched hummer was finally disclosed to view. The young humming bird is black with a few yellow hairs sticking up from the center of its back. Its eyes, of course, are closed, and its bill instead of being long and slender like the adults', is of the short and stubby shape of a sparrow's. The respiration is very rapid, perhaps three hundred to the minute. The development of the young birds is very interesting. It is several days before pin-feathers appear, and the bill lengthens very slowly. At the age of twelve days, the eyes are opened now and then for a few seconds only, being as yet very weak. About this time, when young yellow warblers would already have left the nest, the hummers are still in the pin-feather stage, and the bill has become about half adult length. Not until they are nearly three weeks old, do the young begin to look like real humming birds. Although my observations did not continue until the young left the nest, I judge from their rate of growth, that their bills do not become adult length at much less than four weeks from the time of hatching.
The entire work of building the nest, incubating, and raising the young falls on the industrious little female. Never once did I see a male around any of the nests visited. The mother hummer frequently feeds her offspring while hovering at the edge of the nest, or again she may alight, and with quick dabs of her beak thrust food into the throats of her progeny. The diet of humming birds regularly consists of honey and insects gathered from flowers, but they are also very fond of sap. At a place on one of the roads where vehicles had scraped bark from some bush-willows causing sap to flow, I found numerous hummers gathered to drink as it collected.
Among the many interesting characteristics of the broad-tailed humming birds, a habit that I witnessed frequently was that of darting perpendicularly upward to a height of fifty or one hundred feet, and then shooting down at great speed, producing a loud buzzing which reached a climax as the bird swerved when five or six feet from the ground. As far as could be observed, this performance was indulged in for the benefit of another hummer. Its purpose I was unable to discover, if it had one other than that of venting a burst of exuberant spirits. Exuberance is one of the most applicable adjectives in describing these winged bullets, as in their every action appears an overflowing of energy and vitality. Each movement is so lightning-like in quickness, and the bird has such remarkable control of itself, that the longer one watches, the more one marvels. What other bird can fly forward or backward with equal ease, or rise in a vertical line as if shot upward from a gun? It starts and stops so quickly that it swings forward or backward as if it were a pendulum. One wonders whether any bird can, fly so fast, and certainly none can attain momentum so quickly.
HUMMING-BIRD SHIELDING THE EGGS FROM THE SUN
THE NEWLY HATCHED HUMMERS ARE BLACKISH, WITH A FEW YELLOW HAIRS
ON THE BACK, AND HAVE SHORT STUBBY BEAKS
Hummers are very sensitive, and when watched they grow agitated and fretful, leaving the nest repeatedly. Their low peeping expresses much annoyance as they dart nervously here and there. They will spend considerable time inspecting a camera that is placed near the nest, hovering around to observe it from every angle. Apparently the hummer has a bump of curiosity, for when you meet one, it usually spends some time ostensibly seeking honey from the flowers nearest you, while actually it is regarding you very attentively. They have no song, but their peeping notes are very expressive, being now low and contented as when searching the flowers, or again louder and complaining, when they are intruded on. Occasionally a hummer takes a perch on the tiptop of a tree, sitting there with the majesty of a king. Apparently they are not molested by other birds, doubtless for the good reason that they are courageous little fighters. I have seen a hummer chase a bird as large as a woodthrush in a way to leave no doubt of the former's supremacy.
YOUNG HUMMERS ELEVEN DAYS OLD; PIN-FEATHER STAGE