Saturday, 12 January 2008

On Hummingbirds, Vultures and True Beauty


Everyone loves hummingbirds. They evoke the universal “Ooh / Aah” gene, and I am certainly not defective in that regard. In Mexico, it is considered great luck to have a hummingbird nest in your garden.

In Todos Santos, we seem to have two main species: the Xantus, endemic only to the southern Pacific side of Baja, which has very recognizable green and black markings, and the Costa, which has an iridescent purple front. In Comox, I have only seen the Rufous hummingbird, a species seemingly aligned with the wilder scenery and blue collar roots of British Columbia, a larger, coarser, more lumberjackish bird.

Why do we like these birds so much, to the extent of buying and provisioning special feeders so they will come and visit us? I suppose it is because they are small, cute and pretty. But just how beautiful are these birds? A male Xantus will defend its feeding perch here, and the nine others within sight, even to the extent of using up its energy and not being able to feed. It will chase away all other males, but also its children, its mate, and other larger birds just waiting to get a beak full. The Costa, exceptionally pretty though it is, is even more aggressive, and woe betide me if I let the feeders run out and go outside without doing anything about it! Despite their outer showiness, these birds are bullies, operating out of a culture of possessiveness and valuing the individual above everything else.

Vultures, on the other hand, are externally ugly. But they patiently wait the arrival of their food (sometimes crassly expressed as “waiting for their prey to die”), and appear to feed together nicely as a family and flock. True, they don’t have the greatest table manners, but they seem grateful for whatever they get. They are also exceptionally graceful as they soar in the bubbles of hot air spilling from the ground. I have, however, never seen anyone put out carrion to attract vultures to their garden.

It makes me wonder just how ingrained it is that we judge the beauty of things by their external appearance. Maybe we should give the vultures a chance?

1 comment:

Chicken Knees said...

I've just been thinking the same thing, and stumbled across your blog by Googling "beauty of vultures". Our Mississippi black vultures are truly beautiful animals that are seriously underappreciated. I keep trying to enlighten the uneducated natives; wish me luck!
BTW, love the blog!