Last winter I spent a fun day in the Tierpark with my colleague Dave Hone, a day that included some fun in the Krokodilhaus. Dave’s camera got all fogged up inside, whereas mine worked perfectly. In the end, I got some nice photos of some of the birds, including a Ruby-topaz Hummingbird (Chrysolampis mosquitus). Well, “nice” is maybe saying too much, especially considering what I got today.
(best Jeff Foxworthy voice) “There she wa-as, Ed! Coulda touched ‘er with my hand if ah’d wanned!“The tiny ball of feathers just sat there on a leaf-less branch under the dense canopy of one of the big-leaves fig trees in the hall, barely a meter away, exactly at eye level. OK, the lighting conditions were suboptimal, to say the least, but there’s always flash to fix that. Especially when the subject has iridescent feathers. Pink-orange-yellow-purple is so much nicer than brown-brown-brown.
He kept turning this way and that, which meant I got a lot of nice photos of the various colours on the head. I kept snapping away and…
happened to catch lift-off! Sheer luck; I just happened to press the trigger just when the bird decided to launch off. You can see that the beak and the head is already out of focus, having moved a tiny bit forward, whereas the foot on the branch is perfectly in focus.
To finish this show-off, here’s a closer view of the head:
But there is more to tell. The Krokodilhalle houses, among all the other birds, Brazilian Tanagers (Ramphocelus bresilius). Beautiful birds, in German idiotically named Purpurtangare (=Purple Tanager). Idiotically, because – well, see for yourself: is this “purple”?
This bird was busy, very busy. Flitting around like crazy, always trying to get closer and closer to a female. And succeeding, too.
Bird porn – I got a neat series, but that’s not the topic of this post. Rather, all that flitting around got the tanager into the path of the hummingbird once or twice. The hummingbird weighs a meagre 3.5 g, the Tanager a good 30 g. But – I am sorry I could not document this – the little hummingbird chased the tanager all over the place. The tanager twisted and turned this way and that but the small angry buzzing airborne emerald was sticking to his six like it had been glued there! They passed me several times, and it had all the feel of watching a miniature Top Gun fight at double speed. I’ve seen a bunch of birds do ACM, and what struck me with this one was that there was absolutely no delay in the hummingbirds reactions. Normally, even with a smaller bird in pursuit of a bigger one, you will see a slight lag in turns, a bit of overshooting when the target manoeuvres violently. Not this time, though: the flight paths looked identical (as far as I as a glacially slow huge mammal can tell). Additionally, the tanager did not manage to gain distance; as long as he was within the hummingbird’s territory he was under constant attack and could not even gain a foot of distance.
I’d heard before that hummingbirds can be very territorial. I’d also heard that they drive away bigger birds, but seeing the combination of speed, stamina and viciousness was quite a surprise. Theropods never cease to amaze me!