Dancing with hummingbirds

One day I was walking along the Clear Creek road in Hocking County recording the numbers of birds singing on territory and taking notes. It was mid-May and the entire valley was freshly decked out in various shades of green,while dogwoods and black locust trees gave the appearance of snow drifts along the hillsides. Suddenly I became aware of a very loud humming sound directly behind me.

Turning slowly around, I beheld a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird performing his unique nuptial flight display. not more than thirty feet from where I stood.

To my mind, he was like some fairy sprite conjured up by an Arabian prince with magical powers, or the inspired creation of a master jeweler who had meticulously set a thousand glittering sapphires and rubies into the shape of a tiny bird.

Against a background of scouring rushes and leafy ferns, illuminated by shafts of sunlight, he swung through the air in a tight arc of about 180 degrees, the lowest point not more than a foot or two above the ground, the highest about seven.

The wings of ruby-throats have been calculated to beat from fifty to seventy-five times a second. I am sure this little animated rainbow was near the upper limits of that estimation. As he reached each of the apogees of the arc, there was an imperceptible pause before he shot downward again with all the intensity he could muster. I'm not positive about this, but I believe that he twisted himself around so that his body always faced inward toward the axis of the pendulum.

Because I was so close to this little fellow, the sound of the humming was very loud. There was a buzzing, raspy quality to it, a stridency that literally vibrated in my ears. Back and forth, back and forth he continued and, finally, after he flew off, I estimated that his aerial dance had lasted at least a minute, maybe longer.

Later, as I walked down the road, I reflected on the tremendous energy put forth by the little Don Juan whose courtship antics I had just witnessed. I thought of all the other birds and animals constituting the animal kingdom - including man - and the terrible singleness of purpose we all show in this urge to procreate, in this blind rush to insure the perpetuity of species.