Friday, January 22, 2010

Hummingbirds and the Desert

After leaving the Raptor Free Flight presentation at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson, we had to stop at the Hummingbird Aviary.

As we walked around the 3300 square foot exhibit area, we overheard pieces of information about the aviary from the tour guide as he led a small group.

The Museum built the hummingbird exhibit in 1988 and renovated it in 1992, doubling its size. Since its opening, the Museum proudly notes that 102 birds have been hatched and have grown to maturity--an accomplishment that no other zoological institution can match.

The current exhibit has seven species of hummingbirds. Because these birds are so territorial, a maximum of only 20 birds can live in this space.

We were fascinated by these tiny birds as they darted from spot to spot, moving so fast it was as if they were jet planes; that is, when you heard the sounds of their wings, they were already well past you.

There were 34 bird feeders in the space. By staking out a place near a feeder, we were able to increase our chances of catching these guys at rest.

In addition to the feeders, there were additional food sources in the red flowers interspersed among the green trees and shrubs.

The Museum's web page related the following anecdote about the challenges of preparing an enclosed environment that has all the items essential for the hummingbird to survive away from its natural environment.

"In 1992, the Museum renovated the exhibit, clearing out all the plants and expanding and replanting the new space. Within a month of the renovation, several hummingbirds began to build nests.

The nests were loose and quite fragile, and even experienced nesters were having difficulty. Most of the nests fell apart, and several eggs fell out and broke. After spending days trying to figure out the problem, the staff finally concluded that a primary component of hummingbird nests was missing--spider webs!

Hummingbirds use spider webbing as a way to bind and tie their nests together. The spiders had yet to reestablish themselves in the spanking new exhibit. The team immediately collected webs from around the grounds, rolled them up on twigs, and left them in the aviary. In addition, 25 labyrinth spiders were introduced into the environment. Within days the spiders were weaving their webs in the aviary and the birds' nests immediately improved."

We left the aviary feeling very fortunate to have "captured" some of these high energy birds.

We took a short walk through the desert as we headed to the restaurant on grounds for lunch.

I don't know if it was the memory of the Ansel Adams exhibit at the Tucson Museum of Art or my wish to take some different photos of the desert, but I took these black and white photos of the desert. Sometimes color is less important than light and the form of a subject. As I experiment with this way of seeing things around me, I appreciate the challenge in working without color, but I also realize that removing color shows more clearly the basic core of a scene.

The desert seems to be always changing.

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