Many people thrill over the sight of hummingbirds. The tiny, colorful and very quick moving birds may seem fragile but the opposite is actually true beginning with the nest. Some nests are built so well that they can be used year after year as was the case with one nest built on the back porch of Noriko and Don Carroll who happily reside with their cats and chickens in Las Vegas, NV.
The Carrolls were guest speakers at the recent Brown Bag Luncheon held on June 7 and sponsored by the Virgin Valley Artists Association. The topic of their lecture was ‘First Flight – Hummingbirds”, the story of Honey, a mother hummingbird and her babies.
Don Carroll has traveled extensively and is internationally known for photographing the fourteenth Dalai Lama, volcanos in Hawaii and shark feeding frenzies in the Bahamas. He is an established author on books about special effect photography and has lectured across the U.S. His wife, Noriko, added her creative photo-illustration talents to the mix in the 1990s and together they have become a well-known international creative team.
The nest was already a part of the home when the Carrolls moved in 10 years ago. The nest of a hummingbird is roughly the size of a walnut and made of soft down from seeds, feathers, fuzzy leaves, other soft organic materials and spider silk. Hummingbirds use the silk to create the nest itself which is elastic in nature and expands as hummingbird babies grow. The silk is also stronger than steel in relation to its thickness and makes it the best material to anchor the nest and ensure that it endures any type of rigorous movement caused by winds or less organic means.
The tiny nest on the Carroll’s porch lasted for a decade and produced many hatchlings over that period of time. The decade of hatchlings also allowed the couple to take advantage of their skills and capture some never-before-seen still shots and video of these amazing little creatures and their nesting, hatching and maternal habits as well as how they feed or rather how a hummingbird’s tongue actually works. The footage captured is of many nests, hatchlings and chicks over the course of the years. Hummingbirds will nest once, sometimes twice, in a season.
It took the couple three years of capturing still shots to complete their book ‘First Flight – Hummingbirds.’ The documentary took an additional three years to film and three more years to edit the hundreds of hours of film which was the first video editing that Noriko had ever done.
The film follows the mother hummingbird, Honey, from the very beginnings when she repaired the nest and readied it for laying her eggs all the way to the first flight of the two young hummingbirds she raises.
Hummingbird eggs are the size of a coffee bean and the female almost always lays two eggs. Laying any more than two eggs would not only crowd the nest beyond comfort but the hummingbirds metabolism and feeding schedule is so intense that she would exhaust herself.
As the chicks grow it appears that they will outgrow and fall out of the nest before the time comes to leave it but the spider silk takes care of that issue and the babies are perfectly fine in their slightly cramped but comfortable little home.
During the ten years of shooting and filming the nesting birds (they can’t confirm that it was the very same hummingbird each year) they did a great deal of research on these tiny little creatures and the one constant they found was an interest about how hummingbirds feed. Most people believe that the hummingbird’s tongue is like a straw that sucks the nectar out of the plant.
The Carrolls were in contact with a scientist who was studying hummingbird tongues at the University of Connecticut but he was only able to work with post mortem birds. He was able to understand and study the anatomy of the tongue on dead birds but not the physiology.
Don, drawing on his years of special effect photography experience took to the task of building special feeders which would allow him to capture the movement of the hummingbird’s tongue and see exactly how it works. The tongue moves in and out to collect the nectar and swallow approximately 15 times a second using a pumping method. Until recent years it was believed by scientists that these birds used a wicking method.
Using a very high-speed camera along with special feeders the Carrolls were able to capture exactly what they were going for. For the first time ever, science was finally able to understand the hummingbirds tongue and how it works.
The tongue is actually split horizontally down the middle; like a serpent’s but much deeper. The middle of the tongue contains tiny fibers that uncurl to scoop up the nectar and curl back against the tongue to trap it so the hummingbird can retract the tongue and siphon the nectar.
The Carroll’s film was shared with the U. of C. professor and this scientific breakthrough and now they have the means and a way to study these creatures much more thoroughly.
‘First Flight – Hummingbirds’ is available on Amazon in both the first and international editions. For more information on future Brown Bag Luncheons contact the Mesquite Fine Arts Gallery at 702-346-1338 or visit their web site at: www.mesquitefineartscenter.com.