When the coldest of the cold air drops down from the frozen north, spreads over Canada, and then plunges down upon the U.S.A., then sights rarely seen may be glimpsed at the Falls of the Ohio. Riding the cold wave, small groups of Arctic Hummingbirds move south to feed upon the Ice Blossoms.
Styro-Trochilae polystyrenus or the Arctic hummingbird is among nature’s most extraordinary and poorly studied birds. Much of that has to do with the forbidding place that this creature calls home. There is speculation that this hummingbird must be able to regulate its body temperature in the manner of other Trochilidae in order to live in such a cold environment. Perhaps, its rarity is due to remaining hidden during its torpid state which might define most of its existence? Hummingbird metabolism has always been amazing, but for this species to go from nearly zero heartbeats to a thousand a minute when active defies credulity!
I came across this beauty and through high-speed photography was able to steal these images of this bird with its bright orange bill feeding. It is thought that the Ice Blossoms refract the energy of the sun and transmits that into a form of “solar nectar”. The bird would need an energy source as unique as it is to exist! The conditions at the Falls were just right this past weekend to bring out both the bird and its blossom.
There is very little more I can add to the known literature on this ornithological wonder. This species is larger than the more familiar Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, but didn’t seem to beat its wings as rapidly. I did observe it flying backwards. It seemed like I watched this bird for a long time, but in reality, it was probably a couple minutes or so. I can say that being in the moment made time stand still. I wonder as the climate changes particularly in the Arctic, whether this hummingbird will share the same fate as other animals that have evolved in such a specialized place? With hope, the Arctic Hummingbird will prove to have some resilience. One last image of this bird feeding from a blossom near a piece of fiberglass that was caught in the branches of a tree.
Epilogue: The Arctic Hummingbird was made from materials found on site at the Falls of the Ohio State Park. The materials include: Styrofoam, plastic, wood bark, coal, its beak is a combo of hypodermic needle cover and the tine from an old comb. The Ice Blossom is Styrofoam, river-polished glass, and wire. All images by the author and shot at the Falls of the Ohio.