Costa’s on the Coast

The following article was originally posted in the East Cape section of the Baja.com website. I hope you’ll visit me there and give the website moderators some feedback.

The male Costa's in all his glory. Note that his perch is 1/4" doweling.

There are at least ten Costa’s Hummingbirds feeding at the two feeders hanging from the ramada on the patio.  I’m not sure exactly how many there are because they move so fast they’re hard to count. They flit back and forth across my plane of vision, tiny forces enveloped in feathers, wings beating at upwards of 90 beats per second, too fast for the human eye to perceive their individual movement. Instead I see a blur of wings that suggests where they were and will be, but like an atom, it’s just an approximation, impossible to see the wing in real time.

They chatter and scold one another, fight and dive bomb like World War II flying aces, going up, up, up and then banking and falling back towards Earth in a tiny mass of blurred feathers. Their size belies their identity and sometimes I imagine I’m seeing a large beetle or tarantula wasp and then am shocked by the fact that I could mistake a bird for an insect.

The female Costa's

Their metallic chit-chit call warms off interlopers looking for the same sweet sustenance, but their softer gentler whirring call suggests something more soothing. The bird books don’t distinguish between the two calls, but when they make the whirring song from atop a perch I cannot imagine it’s anything but an attempt to attract a lover.

The sun catches briefly the iridescent green of their feathers, the brilliant tyrian purple and indigo of the male’s gorget, but it is the briefest of glimpses because he’s off again, charging after a competitor, or a female in an attempt to impress her with his speed. The gorget resembles long sideburns giving the males the appearance of tiny winged Elvis impersonators.

The nest measured less than two inches across.

The nest was lined with downy feathers

A pair will build a tiny nest together, less than a couple of inches in diameter and wrapped around the netting of the palapa. A few short days later two tiny white eggs appear.  The wait to see if they will hatch is short, only 15 to 18 days. The hatchlings appear one day suddenly, hideous black leathery things with just a dusting of straggly downy feathers. They are smaller than a quarter with surprisingly short, yellow-edged beaks. Their eyes are closed bulges on bobbing heads supported by weak necks. They look frail and unbelievably helpless.

Mother and father share the responsibility of delivering sweet nectar to the nest and day by day the chicks expand and grow, their beaks begin to elongate. Sooner than I would have thought possible based on their appearance only a couple of weeks earlier, pin feathers appear, fill in and fledging is imminent.

It was hard to imagine those beaks belonged to a hummer!

One day the nest sits empty. I feel an empty space open in my gut and I realize I’d felt some kinship to these little creatures. I miss them and wonder if they fledged or met some other less glorious fate – as a late night snack for a Coachwhip Snake perhaps?

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More information on Costa’s Hummingbird

Animal Insight

The day before I leave Mexico to go somewhere there are several preparations to be made. The packing must be done, the dog food moved to the bed of the pickup truck outside so that it is accessible, but not too accessible.

While I am gone, our caretaker, Felipe, will keep a large food bowl full, so the dogs can eat whenever they want to. Of course, what actually occurs is that the most dominant dogs eat to their hearts’ content and the lesser dogs must be content to steal a bite here and there when the others are not looking or are off hunting desert hare in the hills nearby.

Interestingly, even though I only just started preparations, yesterday the dogs already knew something is afoot. Normally, they are content, even happy throughout the day, lazing about near or in the house. Yesterday, this behavior changed and more time was spent hanging out at Felipe’s house. And today Zee, arguably the most intelligent of the group, lays in the garage looking quite depressed. Of course, as soon as they see the suitcase, they will all turn despondent and anxious.

Anyone who has spent enough time with animals will agree they are quite capable of feeling and expressing deep emotions. Thanks to people like Jane Goodall awareness is increasing that the intelligence and emotional capabilities of animals are far greater than the bulk of humans gives them credit for. It is actually pretty damned arrogant to think that we are the only ones capable of feeling emotion and possessing intelligence considering we all share a common ancestor.

Stacey O’Brien, in her best-selling book Wesley the Owl, explains that there is increasing evidence that animals use telepathy to communicate with and understand humans. She tested this theory when she realized she would have to trim the talons and beak of the owl she had raised from the time he was four days old. Due to years of prior experience with Wesley, Stacy knew that an owl, being incredibly sensitive to change and strange objects, wouldn’t submit to having ANY of its parts trimmed without a great struggle. The struggle, in turn, could lead to the death of the owl – anxiety can be deadly to these birds.

So, instead of using force, over the course of three weeks Stacey visualized what she wanted to do with the trimmers and beak file. She also demonstrated to him what they were for by using them on inanimate objects and herself (filing her nails for example). She reasoned that he had learned other behaviors from watching her, why not this one? At the end of the three weeks, when she approached him with the beak file, Wesley literally closed his eyes and let her go to work without a struggle. He remained calm throughout both procedures. Now anyone who has tried to trim their cat’s or dog’s nails knows what a feat this is, especially on an older animal who has never experienced it.

Afterwards, Stacey says that their bond had obviously deepened and he exhibited new behaviors indicating his increased trust in her. He even slept with his head tucked under her chin and his wings open and laid over her shoulders in a kind of “owl hug.”

In my personal experience, I have discovered that by talking to animals they gradually learn what the phrases mean. If I say “who wants chicken?!” they all come running, tails wagging, saliva running out the sides of their mouths. If I say “wanna go to the beach?” they similarly get excited and start heading out the door and down the path to the beach. On the other hand, if I say “watch the house puppies,” they know that I am leaving and they are supposed to stay home. The more I talk to them, the more they understand and the more mutually satisfying is our relationship. Treating animals with kindness and compassion, like the sentient beings they are, allows the depth of our relationship to grow.

Now I better get outside and explain to the dogs that I’m only leaving for a week.

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To buy a copy of Stacy O’Brien’s book Wesley the Owl CLICK HERE.

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