The strange case of the torpid hummingbird


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 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