Mar 25

Death in springtime

Many dreadful contingencies have obtained as a result of my having built a tall-ass horse barn, not the least of which is the decimation of the black-chinned hummingbirds.

I don’t know if you know about hummingbirds. Well, let me enlighten you. They are complete freaks of nature. Their metabolism is extreme and ridiculous, necessitated by their predilection for hovering over flowers and their concomitant aversion to taking a load off. If they don’t eat nectar more or less constantly they’ll starve to death within a couple of hours. This is all well and good and as nature intended and whatnot, until they get trapped in your barn.

Though pleasing to the human eye, the architecture of the barn — involving a 25-foot raised center aisle with skylights and fixed clerestory windows all around — is incompatible with hummingbird survival. They fly into the barn for reasons known only to them.

They don’t fly out.

The hummingbird’s instinct, which clearly evolved previous to the invention of RCA barns, compels them to fly up, up, never down toward the open door, always up, toward the skylights. Among the grimmest spectacles a crone can witness is one of these teensy birds, unaware that freedom awaits only a few feet below, bumping relentlessly at each window in succession until it expires from exhaustion. As distressing as it is for me, I suspect that it is somewhat worse for the bird.

Now it’s spring again, which means all kinds of horrible things. Oak pollen, and venomous snakes coming out of hibernation, and Eastern phoebes nesting in my carport in order to crap all over my car, and yes, the hummingbirds are back from points south, making their inevitable beeline for my dang barn. Yesterday I found the season’s first casualty dead on the floor.

Well, no more! I say. Based on last year’s detailed observations of trapped hummingbird window-bumping behavior, I have hatched a plan. This plan is predicated on the following hypothesis: if a hole is cut into the wooden gable vent at the same level as the clerestory windows against which the birds are wont to bump, they will eventually find this hole and liberate themselves. Today I am going to set in motion a series of events that will result such a hole being cut. Phase 2 of my cunning plan entails stringing up one of those red plastic feeders on a pulley positioned adjacent to the proposed gable-hole, and hoisting it up there to attract the bird to the exit.

If this doesn’t work I guess I am just doomed to suffer eternally the pangs of cosmic indifference to hummingbird life.

The logo for Dreadful Acres, if I ever get around to drawing it, will be a hummingbird with a teardrop in its eye.


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  1. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    The only hummingbirds we get around here are the ruby-throats, but they have no suicidal tendencies that I’ve noticed. I grow wisteria and trumpet vines for them, and there will be clouds of them surrounding the nectar feeders my backyard-neighbor puts out for them if the weather ever breaks.

  2. w

    We get birds in our skylit barn. After a couple of years of anguished hand wringing and bird burying I finally hit upon a solution that has worked every time. We have pretty good pressure in the barn and I turn that nozzle to a fairly concentrated stream (but not “jet” of course) and aim it and keep it on the little ones as best I can until their feathers are soaked enough and they flutter down and either flap out on their own or I pick them up and take them out. If it’s late in the day, I wrap them in a fluffy towel and box them up and keep them inside warm until morning. The hummers take a long while to wake up when the opened box is placed out in the sun, but they eventually flutter up into a tree, kick in the afterburners and zoom off. This has worked for all sorts of birds. I even used it to blast a crow out that was thinking swallow babies might make a good snack. The nozzle went to jet on that one. Until you get your high exit installed, you could give this a try. Of course, if any horses are in, they will go apeshit. Small price.

  3. quixote

    Oh no! My first thought was, “So open the clerestory windows!” But I guess they don’t open? (That can’t be right, considering the heat in Texas.) Anyway, what I wanted to say was that if you hang a feeder near the new opening, they’ll be coming in from outside to get at it.

    The other problem is that hummingbirds are the original pinheads. Really. Their brains are about the size of one of those old nice glass-headed pins, and most of that volume is taken up with balance and vector calculations. Not a lot left over for analytical thinking. So when they’re trapped and panicked, they’ll probably ignore the feeder. Under normal circumstances, it takes them a while to learn new feeders anyway, even great big bright red ones.

    I assume the door they fly in through has to stay open. If so, have you considered the Australian solution? You hang long strings of plastic rope, macrame, whatever you want, so that it hangs like a shower curtain but you can walk through it. In Australia, the idea is usually to keep the flies out but let the air move (it doesn’t work for that, by the way). But I bet it would work to discourage hummingbirds.

    Keep the rattlesnake logo. Don’t make the hummingbirds cry!

  4. 2DogsFarm

    You’re posting again : D

    Don’t feel too bad for the hummers.
    As precious as they may appear, they really are ill-tempered, nasty little birds.
    Don’t get me wrong.
    I have not one but TWO feeders hung on my back porch for them.
    And as fun as it is to watch them zoom in, hover & eat, it is equally appalling to notice how jealous they are of “Their” feeders – viciously chasing away any hummingbird who is not one of the In Crowd. Much high-pitched chittering & aerial acrobatics in defense.
    They also have a disconcerting habit of hovering near my face-level if I dare to let the feeders get empty.
    Kinda embarrassing to be called to account by something that weighs barely an ounce,,,

  5. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    My sister calls them “humming bees” on account of the buzz of their wings. And they sound like tiny helicopters colliding when two males get into a territorial pissing contest.

  6. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    Quixote, the clerestory windows don’t open. It sounds crazy, I know, but there were actually reasons for this (such as: windows that open were way more expensive, and how am I gonna get up there to open’em anyway? It’s 25 feet up there). For cross-ventilation there are functional 1st-storey transom windows accessible by ladder, and the stall doors are always open to the runs, and the gable vents are ginormous, probably 20 or 30 sq ft. But the stupid birds aren’t havin’ it.

    You really think a hummingbird who is about to die of starvation would decline to avail itself of a handy feeder?

    It’s funny, but as I was typing this a black-chin hummed up to the window I’m sitting next to and gave me the stink-eye.

    Harsh, 2Dogs!

  7. quixote

    Stink eye, indeed. Close up they can look dangerously demented.

  8. Comradde PhysioProffe

    The woodpeckers in Central Park are just starting to wake up from winter and start pecking!

  9. NotAName

    My experience,trapped birds like to go up. Trapped birds fly towards light.
    If you can, rig roll up blackout curtains for the windows, then pull them down when a bird is up there.
    Bird will then seek the light of the open door down below.
    But the curtains need to block all the light.
    You’d have to live with 25 foot ropes to pull the curtains up and down though.

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