A response to Laura Erickson’s Humming bird predation post.

Recently, a friend of mine forwarded me a post about hummingbirds:

Laura Ericson’s Blog posting regarding Hummingbirds and predators:http://lauraerickson.blogspot.com/2014/09/predation-and-hummingbirds.html

In her post, she presented an interesting postulate : That a 1985, scientific paper, written by Miller and Gass and titled “Survivorship in Hummingbirds: Is Predation Important?” is basically wrong.  Now, whenever a layperson begins bashing a scientific paper, my ears perk up.  I’ve spent a lot of time writing technical papers, books, and chapters for books, and I’m always interested to see how people perceive technical and scientific things.  Ultimately, Laura’s interpretation of the paper lacks foundation and is meritless, and is just another piece of Internet drivel (not unlike this one).  In the hopes that this blog post will crop up near Laura’s should anyone be unfortunate enough to locate and read either post, I have put the following editorial together.

I have no delusions that I can just say “she’s wrong” and then get on with life.  Rather, I am presenting evidence that she is wrong and I am also asking the reader to do some independent research and see where it leads.

Originally, I thought I would post this to her blog, but I do enjoy retaining copyright, as well as the ability to consolidate all of my Internet ranting to one place.  There is nothing worse that being unable to go back and remove an undesirable post (20/20 hindsight) or being unable to revise a malformed sentence.

This is the message to Laura as I originally intended to post it:

I have just a couple of question/comments after reading your blog post and the original paper you are discussing.

Question 1. The paper you mock refers to”‘natural predators’ in the usual sense” and you even quote this. Immediately, this excludes opportunistic predation and predation caused by things like cars, buildings, and cats, but your blog goes on to use these as refutation of the paper’s central argument.

That you mention cats as a hummingbird predator pretty much destroys your entire argument.  “Natural” predation also excludes opportunistic predation induced by human activity, such as introduced invasive predators, or luring hummingbirds in large numbers to poorly concealed, non-exhaustive hummingbird feeders where those invasive predators lie in wait. Where backyard feeders are concerned, we may as well be in league with the hawks and the cats. This wasn’t really a question, was it?

Question 2. How many squirrels are killed by Red-tailed hawks? Squirrels are definitelyHawk food.  A staple of their diet, as it were.

Question 3. How many hummingbirds per day are killed by, say, Cooper’s Hawks, which have been seen chasing hummingbirds (and vice versa)? I have never seen a hummingbird being chased by a hawk in nature myself, but even if did, a single incidence does not a pattern make. Even if 100 humming birds were killed by hawks, in the grand scheme of the food web, it is trivial. Thousands of squirrels are killed by hawks every day. Less than a thousand humming birds have been killed by hawks, possibly in the history of the species.

Question 3. It’s agreed by most people that, aside from other humans, we have no natural predators. Yet, thousands of humans are killed every year by lions, tigers, snake bites, sharks, etc. (I offer this as perspective). Are we to say, then, that humans are not apical?

Question 4. Finally, you argue the Hummingbirds’ alertness adaptation as foundation for their prey status. And it is an adaptation – it looks around a lot because it is hard-wired into its head to do that. It doesn’t mean the bird is flying around, terrified for its life all the time. So, why does it do this if it has no natural predators? Examine the adaptations of the kiwi bird for a clue. Why does the Kiwi possess such fabulous anti-arial attack adaptations when, in reality, no arial threat exists? (Hint : the Haast’s Eagle is extinct now).

In conclusion then, “chuckling” at the scientific and researched conclusions of actual scientist might best be left to disciplined minds…don’t get me wrong, I admire your work and understand and sympathize with your position that the hummingbird is a victim of opportunistic predation – I’m sure it is. I just think you went about expressing your point in a very unscientific manner, and that you victimized a very well written paper for seemingly opportunistic motives.

I know what you don’t know that you don’t know.

I wrote this in response to a post at this site,  which tries to defend Jimmy John Liautaud’s behavior and habit of hunting and killing big game.  That tagline for this bloggers blog is “You don’t what know what you don’t know.”  I guess he thinks he knows what I don’t know that I don’t know.  It’s always interesting how that sort of thing can backfire on you….

To the author of this post:

In an effort to show exactly what it is that you apparently don’t know that you don’t know, I would like you to answer a few questions:

1. What benefit to the world ecology does having billions of chickens in cages have?

2. If all gulls went extinct, but we had millions of them in captivity, what would happen to the world ecology?

3. Think about the world as an ecosystem that depends upon the ability of animals to migrate and allow each to tend to its own discipline. If this collapses, do you think humanity would survive? Or do you refute that the ecosystem of the world is a highly complex, diverse system with interdependencies that we are only just beginning to fathom?

4. Do we need or require biodiversity in order for the planet to survive and produce oxygen at acceptable levels for human survival?

I  am very curious to see your answers to each of these questions, as each of them, if answered correctly and scientifically, should serve to refute the foundation of your argument – which seems to be that hunting animals that are kept in cages (however large or small) is somehow ok, and somehow contributes to the efforts of conservation. Furthermore, the keeping of animals in cages so that they may be hunted for sport exploits these animals, and inflicts and encourages further damage to an already heavily disrupted, world ecology.

Primarily, I think that before anyone, on either side of the fence, begins to argue in this space, they should be thoroughly educated as to the impact animals play in the world ecology. You don’t know what you don’t know – and we don’t know or fully understand the impact of each extinction that occurs. All we know is that every extinction is a warning sign from nature, and we need to listen. We might not be anywhere close to being next, but we are standing in the same line.

How to Pet a Hedgehog

Yttrium, sleeping on my lap on her first night at home.

We had taken very good care of her.  One night, after staying with us for almost two weeks, our little pet hedgehog, Yttrium, became very listless and unresponsive. We feared a hibernation, so we warmed her up by holding her and we made sure the house was 72 degrees – I even started up the furnace.  And she perked up. She was running around and seemed fine, even up to a couple of hours before….well, before the next evening.

Friday night: Et. brings her downstairs; he is distraught. Yttrium lifts her head just a little bit, weakly. Then she becomes all slack again and can hardly lift her head. I tell Et. that she is fine, she just needs to be warmed up.  An hour later, she dies while I am holding her. I feel something terrible and unexpected – my heartwrenches. Perhaps the soul of a hedgehog is equally prickly–it tears through me.

I don’t think I had become so close to an animal in a very long time! and I am no beginner at this. I have rarely been without 10 – 12 pets in my house.  Nevertheless, this one caught me completely off-guard. Perhaps it was because she was so young – still a baby, really.  Maybe, I saw so much of myself in her.  The way she would roll up into a ball when scared, but would so easily unroll, and just, well, let you connect to her.  As I held her, I kept thinking, Maybe she is just hibernating….Maybe she is just hibernating.  I kept holding her, hoping the warmth would wake her.

Finally, I knew she was truly gone. I cried for an entire hour. My boy, Et,, he wept too.   In the middle of the night, he awakened, and woke his sister with his crying.  You are thinking, “This is ridiculous.  It’s just a little rodent thing. Does this guy know what a sap he is?”  Funny, that’s exactly what I am saying to myself, too, as I write this, with tears streaming down my face.

The next day, Saturday, I sent an email to the vendor at the reptile and animal expo that sold her to me. I explained what happened:  “I am not sure if there is even anything that can or should be done or said. We loved Yttrium. I’ve never been this upset about a pet. I just wanted you to know this happened.”  I hoped his other hedgehogs were OK.

He replied with, “Call me.” and his number.  He answered on the second ring and immediately apologized, and said that this hadn’t happened in a few years? As i spoke to him, I was trying so hard not to cry on the phone with this guy. And you know what?  He got it, and understood.  This man loves hedgehogs as much as I do and told me I should have another one.  Frankly, I didn’t want another hedgehog.  How could any creature compare to Yttrium?  I decided to follow my own advice.  “Giving up” is failure. Don’t fail.

He told me to come see him at the expo, and he would let us take home another hedgie, no problem.  So we drove there and of course we got lost three times on the way there due to too much emotion in the car, but we got there eventually and we brought home a new bundle of prickly joy; an albino hedgehog we named Sodium.

This is, of course, a very unplanned side-affect to naming our animals after elements on the periodic table.  Yes, Et. will know many of the elements, but if any professor should mention Yttrium, I guarantee a tear fest.  I can see it now…

“Ethan, why are you crying” asks the chemistry professor.

“It’s just, I loved Yttrium so much!” He’ll answer.

“Well, maybe we should talk about copper or nickel instead?”

“Waaaaaaaaah!!!!! My cats!”

Hopefully this won’t happen, hopefully he will be able to compartmentalize actual element names from pets names.  I digress….I was talking about my crazy love for a hedgehog.

How did this happen?  How did I fall so hopelessly in love with that beautiful creature?  I don’t know.  The new hedgehog, named Sodium, is just another animal to me. The spark that Yttrium had, it just isn’t there. I haven’t bonded with her like I did with Yttrium.  She is less friendly, and less interesting to hang out with.  More prickly. Regardless, I am making the effort.   Sunday night, we left Sodium alone.  We wanted her to get used to her new home.  Happily, she is eating and drinking healthily.  We are measuring her food and water intake, weighing her, and holding her for an hour a day.

It aggravates me that Sodium curls up into a very tight ball whenever we try to handle her.  Monday night, I sat with her on my lap for an hour, simply pondering how to deal with her.  I then began to gently prod at her prickles.  Ah-hah! a reaction! she uncurled just a little bit when I pet her in a certain way.  Sure enough, 15 minutes later, she uncurled completely and said hello to me.  It was very rewarding, and I felt a little closer to her.  Still, she wasn’t Yttrium.  Et. and I would both give the world to have Yttrium back (you have no idea the power this creature held in her little paws!!).

Do you know what the worst part of this whole thing is?  I roll a lot of video around here. I video everything. But the only video I have of Yttrium is of our cat, Copper, sniffing her while she slept on me and then Copper giving me a funny look.  I don’t understand my inaction.  It’s like, now I can’t even show you how wonderful she was to us.  Perhaps therein lay the answer….finally, I had something that was all mine and Et’s–something that just I and my boy would share.  She was OUR pet.  How unimaginably sad you know I must be when Et. told me on Sunday morning that he didn’t want another hedgie.  That the new hedgie would be mine.

Saturday afternoon, when the sun was low in the sky, we laid Yttrium to rest in the garden in a Hamilton watch box, under a nice stone. Sunday, we planted a flowering shrub by her marker. I hope she will find comfort here, and I hope that, if hedgies have souls, that she is hanging around, and watching over our garden, and my prickly little soul, too.