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We came home just a few hours too late to save her. When we walked onto the screened porch we saw her poised against the screen, wings out¬stretched, and we told her, "Hey, little lady, the hummingbird feeder's on the other side of the porch."
When she didn't move, we looked more closely, and saw that she was dead, her beak impaled in the screen, her claws still clenched against the wires, trying to push herself free with her pitiful, weak little legs.
This is the time of year when our multitudes of Selasphorus Platycercus, or broadtails, find themselves in a running (or flying) battle with the dreaded Selasphorus Rufus.
For about two weeks, our broadtails, with their characteristic whistling wing tips, have been trying to get a drink when the feeder has been claimed by the Rufus, who spends a few weeks with us in his leisurely migration to the south. The Rufus is an unusual bird, a loner, and one of the few hummers whose plumage is predomi¬nantly brownish orange. Fiercely territorial, it will claim a feeding ground or feeder and defend it against all comers, perching in a nearby tree or bush and launching a furious as¬sault on any other hummingbirds who dare ap¬proach. For days the level of food remains al¬most the same, as the Rufus is the only con¬sumer.
When he attacks, the broadtails flee, often run¬ning into windows, screens, and each other.
I wondered, as I pushed her beak back through the screen and her limp body fell to the ground, had this poor broadtail been flying from the Ru¬fus when she impaled herself? And what of her little ones, so recently out of the nest, and her mate? Would they wonder what had become of her?
One can look at it from an evolutionary point of view, I suppose; her eyesight was weak, so her death is a way of shutting off that gene supply. Still, I can't help thinking that if we'd been there, she'd still be flying.
Two days later, the Rufus left.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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