The strange case of the torpid hummingbird

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by Maureen Keefe At 5AM you will find me putting my hummingbird feeders outside. After repeatedly having to clean up the carnage of raccoon ravaged feeders, I now bring them in every night when it gets dark. Exacerbated but entertained, I even came home one night to catch the bugger in action: standing on my windowsill, hanging onto the feeder perch, he was leaning in, capturing the stream of sugar water in his mouth. Talk about raccoon nirvana!

The other night I was retrieving the feeder nestled in my ivy in the late twilight. I was being rougher than usual, dragging the feeder out of the vine, instead of gently disentangling it. For some reason I noticed from the backlight, a silhouette of a perched hummingbird. Shocked, I held it skyward and closer to verify my surprise discovery. There was in fact, a bird on the perch and it was not responding in any way to my feeder manhandling. Risking another raccoon ravaging, I gently put the feeder back with the little comatose hummer clinging securely to it, none the worse for wear.

I found somewhere online when nursing a stunned hummer, that because of their super high metabolism they need to eat every 15-20 minutes. I always wondered how they made it through the night. Well here was my answer, Torpor (pronounced tor-PER), a coma-like stasis in which all vitals drop to near stillpoint. It is similar to hibernation.

A hummer in torpor is referred to as a torpid hummingbird. Evidently it takes nearly an hour for a hummer to return to its alert active state. The first thing it does is eat. A quick Youtube.com search revealed numerous recordings of these knocked out birds, some even hanging upsidedown in their torpor. If you do discover a torpid hummer, please do not behave as lamely as the Youtube-Yahoos. Just let the poor bird sleep it off!

“Torpid Hummer” photo & other images by Maureen Keefe may be purchased at Ghostwood Interiors, 300 Park Ave, Kremmling, CO