Late coming hummers
My wife, Linn, asks me questions that a genius couldn’t answer. Sometimes I lie awake in bed unable to sleep trying to figure out the answer to her latest query.”Why haven’t the hummingbirds arrived? They’re late this year.”To begin with, let’s get one thing straight: I’m not a bird man. My career relies on knowing facts about human beings. I’m an anthropologist by training and practice.Hummingbirds are out of my league.But these kinds of questions bug me until I find some answers. So I did what my kids do when they are looking for information. I looked it up on the Internet.Since it’s my turn to ask questions, what are we talking about when saying “the hummingbirds”?”Each hummingbird species has its own migration strategy, and it’s incorrect to think of ‘hummingbirds’ as a single type of animal, all alike.”That really helped. Leave it to the experts to make you feel like an idiot.This much I know from my wife, the hummingbird lady. Ruby-throated and rufous hummingbirds visit our house. And this year they’re late.I’m not about to tell her, being the scientist I am, that my research concludes that what she is calling the ruby-throated hummingbird is more likely the broad-tailed hummingbird. Black-chinned, rufous and broad-tailed hummers are supposedly common in Colorado.Less common or rare in Colorado are the green violet-ear, magnificent, calliope, blue-throated, Anna’s, Costa’s, ruby-throated and broad-billed hummingbirds.My next question is, how does my wife know hummingbirds are late this year?Not being a scientist, Linn doesn’t keep any notes, much less meticulous “scientific” notes. She doesn’t collect data or interview any hummers.Actually, I’ve heard her talk to hummers, but to my knowledge they have yet to talk back. But what do I know?Observation, data and then facts, right? The good old scientific method.Truth is, not many people seem inclined to share their observations on the Internet. Imagine that.Someone from Glenwood Springs on April 14, 2004, noted, “We saw our first ruby-throated hummingbird today…”Another Web site recorded their first rufous on April 30, 2000 – at latitude 39.62 (north), longitude 107.29 (west), to be precise.That’s it. Not enough data for a scientist. I’m off the hook. Not really.As a scientist, it is my duty to draw “logical inferences” from my data. Here goes.The hummingbirds are not really late.The experts I have consulted have this to say: “Each individual has its own internal map and schedule, and ‘your’ birds may arrive early, late, or anywhere within a two-month span.”There you have it. My wife’s hummers aren’t late according to their own internal map and schedule.Since the experts say that hummers are carnivores and their main diet consists of insects, I’m prepared to take a scientific leap of faith and make an inference.Having observed that there aren’t enough insects – yet – in our area to feed them, they’re waiting until the food supply increases.Now you see why I’m not a bird man.With over 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories and occasional “scientific” observations with readers every other week.
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