Birds: Just one of the marvels of Pearl River County

Published 10:18 pm Saturday, April 14, 2012

Having grown up in the high dry plains of Western Oklahoma I could only imagine what it would be like to live in a forested area where soft breezes gently moved the pine boughs and the pleasant sound of birdsongs fill the air.

When we moved onto Spring Meadow farm we were struck by the quietness we experienced in contrast to the sound of the city, the roar of the traffic, we had come to tolerate in New Orleans.

Among the marvels of Pearl River County we were charmed by the birds. Some of them, such as the cardinals, bob whites, doves, and blue jays were permanent residents on the farm.

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Other species such as the gold finches, hummingbirds, and songbirds spend their winters in the Caribbean or Latin America. Several flocks such as robins, goldfinches, buntings, and towhee simply drop by for a short spell on their way to distant places.

We were fascinated by the distances traveled by migratory birds. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has researched the annual migratory flights and shares these marvels:

“If a Blackpoll Warbler burned gasoline instead of body fat it would travel 720,000 miles on one gallon.

“An Arctic Tern, in its annual round trip between its Arctic breeding ground and the Antarctic seas flies 22,000 miles.

“The estimated number of migrating birds that pass over Cape Cod, Massachusetts on a single autumn night: 12 million.

“The Rufous Hummingbird travels between Alaska and its winter range in Mexico. Someone went to the trouble of calculating the number of its body lengths the trip calls for: a total of 49 million.”

Johnie and I had a special interest in hummingbirds. She described them as tiny winged jewels, the butterflies of the bird kingdom. We always looked forward to the spring days when the Ruby-throats arrive and buzz around the hanging feeders for a drink of sugar water. When they leave in the autumn many people take down the hummingbird feeders but this is a mistake because a few hardy souls such as the Rufous will stay for the winter if you keep the feeders up.

Despite their size, hummingbirds are hardy little critters that fight viciously over the hanging feeders. By going into a torpor in which they sit perfectly still in a sleeplike state they can survive sub-freezing temperatures, even blizzards. When they are not in a torpor and simply perched, they still use energy very quickly. For example, a Ruby-throated Hummer, when at rest, uses three times as much energy as a sparrow, and its heart is beating 10 times per second.

A few years ago I wrote some columns about a Rufous male that spent seven successive winters with us at Spring Meadow. We were told that he tied the national record for the number of years a Rufous returned to winter at the same place.

We named him Rufie and he was nicknamed Mop Bucket by the specialist who came to catch him, identify him by the ring on his leg and turn him loose each year. His nickname came about because we once rescued him from drowning in a mop bucket that had been left on the back patio.

We admired the fact that Rufie had migrated all the way from the breeding grounds in Washington state or Alaska until it dawned on us that most of his kind had continued the flight all the way to the Caribbean or Central America.

 By wintering in Mississippi the lazy rascal was doing only half a migration every year – which was just fine with us. We were sorry he didn’t return to Spring Meadow for the eighth year because that would have set a new national record.

In the spring of Rufie’s’ seventh winter at Spring Meadow he did an unusual thing. One day I noticed that he was not on the perch from which he guarded his hanging feeder and mentioned it to Johnie.

“Oh no, he left yesterday” she said, “and he told me goodbye before he left.”

“And how did he do that?” I laughed.

“Well, you know how he often communicates by buzzing us at the window when his feeder is empty or simply greeting us by buzzing around our heads when we get near his perch” Yesterday he buzzed me then he did something he has never done before, he bumped my shoulder before he left.”

You know, I believed her. Everyone, I suppose, talks to animals and to some people the animals talk back. Johnie was one of those people.

Jesus used the simple things of nature to illustrate spiritual truths. He pointed out that God the Father cares for birds – even marked the fall of a sparrow – and went on to state that God cared much more for human beings then for the other creatures on earth.

“Even the very hairs of your head are numbered.” he said. “Fear not, therefore, you are of much more value than many sparrows.”

It’s wonderful that our Heavenly Father cares for us even more than he cared for a remarkable little hummingbird named Rufie.