Ah, the hummingbird, that helicoptering creature that never fails to enchant whenever one buzzes by. With that long wand of a beak, that salt-shaker-sized body, and those unintelligibly quick wings, how could such creatures be anything but a marvel of nature?
Well, contrary to their petite and pretty appearance, it turns out that male hummingbirds are actually quite vicious towards the females they hope to mate with.
“You would see them battling it out, trying to peck each other in mid-air,” Dr. Jay Falk, the head researcher of a Cornell Lab of Ornithology study on white-necked jacobin hummingbirds, told The Times of London. Males often pecked at and rammed into females, preventing the ladies from feeding, and, Falk said, “on a few occasions they would wrestle each other to the ground while fighting.”
To ward off this aggression, Falk and his researchers found that, over time, females have adopted a unique method of warding off this aggression: they have evolved their very appearance to look more like males.
The plumage (feather) of male hummingbirds is typically much flashier than that of females. Males have shimmering blue heads, electric green bodies, and bold white tails, while females tend to have a duller, flatter look to theirs.
But researchers found that about one-fifth of female white-necked jacobins presented the striking plumage characteristic of males. The researchers believe that this is quite simply a tactic evolved by the female hummingbirds to disguise themselves as males, and protect themselves from harassment from the opposite gender.
To determine this, Falk and his team captured around 400 white-necked jacobins. They recorded their genders, and marked them with leg bands to keep track of them. Next, they placed stuffed female hummingbirds—some with duller feathers, others with flashier ones more resemblant of males—on feeders filled with nectar. At the feeders, those unlucky fake hummingbirds with duller plumage received considerably more unwanted attention from males than the brighter ones.
The researchers also monitored the birds’ feeding patterns and found that the females with the brighter feathers were able to feed about 35 percent longer than the females with the dull feathers.
“Our tests found that the typical, less-colorful females were harassed much more than females with male-like plumage,” Falk told The Times. “Because the male-plumaged females experienced less aggression, they were able to feed more often—a clear advantage.” Here’s to hoping that, eventually, the female hummingbirds are able to root out male aggression for good. —Alex Oliveira
The story could be ripped from the pages of a Nicholas Sparks novel. Last month, 11 year-old Imogen Tite was swimming at Woolacombe Beach in North Devon U.K., when she felt something hard against her fingers. She resurfaced from the ocean floor with a wedding ring in her hand.
Imogen quickly swam to shore to give the ring to her dad, Andy, a paramedic from Birmingham, assuming it was his. “I instinctively looked down to check my wedding finger,” Andy told The Times of London. But he had taken his ring off and safely packed it away before swimming.
Luckily, the nine carat, white-gold band was engraved with a hint as to its owner: “James and Rebecca 25.10.03.”
With this crucial clue, Andy tried to track down the owners online. “We thought social media would be our best shot as the beach was so crowded,” he told The Times. ” We had no clue how long it had been lost for.”
The family camping holiday suddenly turned into a Nancy Drew mystery with a digital twist. With help from her two brothers, Imogen searched for James and Rebecca online while her father wrote a public appeal on Facebook that was eventually shared by thousands of people.
As luck would have it James and Rebecca Mizrahi, had written a Facebook plea of their own. It turns out that two days before Imogen dove under that wave, James had lost his wedding ring while bodyboarding on the same white-sand beach.
“A lady on Facebook happened to see both my found status and Rebecca’s lost post,” Andy explained. She “matched us together.” Andy found James’s LinkedIn page and contacted his employer. . Within three hours, the Tite family safely sent the ring back to the couple.
As a thank you, the Mizrahis “sent Imogen a lovely email; they were very grateful,” Andy said. But discovering the ring was enough for her. “Imogen is our water-baby … she was so excited to have found something that meant a lot to someone.” —Bridget Arsenault
AIR MAIL Pilot was curious. Can dogs get the coronavirus? This question was raised by a recent story in the British press about a possibly “Covid-stricken” Jack Russell terrier named Daisy who last year was given just a few weeks to live. Happily, and to her owners’ and veterinarian’s surprise, Daisy recovered during a trip to the Swiss Alps that was planned as her farewell tour. An impressive trick, no?
Daisy’s owners are Pete and Mo Murden, who live in Exeter, England. Eight-year-old Daisy is more than just an adorable, very good girl: she can tell by sniffing when Pete, who is diabetic, has dangerously low blood sugar levels.
That’s something dogs can be trained to do, but Daisy is a natural. She showed off the skill when she was just a puppy, scratching at Pete’s legs to warn him when he didn’t yet know he was in trouble. Another impressive trick.
Her illness came on seemingly overnight. “Daisy had constant coughing, loss of smell and taste, and a raging temperature, all symptoms of Covid-19,” Pete told the Daily Mail. “She used to run and play for hours every day and follow us everywhere, then within 24 hours she hardly had the strength to walk into the garden.”
Daisy’s vets found that her right lung was filled with fluid, making it hard for her to breathe. But they didn’t know why. They suspected she had pneumonia or some sort of tumor, but they couldn’t rule out the coronavirus. Daisy’s recovery—after just a few days in Switzerland she was back to her old self—made a coronavirus diagnosis even more plausible.
The Alps are famous for their fresh air and its supposedly curative powers. (There is a long German novel on this subject, The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, which you might have to read in college if you’re not careful.) The mountain air surely helped Daisy, but so did the medications she was taking and a lung wash she received—which sounds like something former President Trump might have made up at a coronavirus press conference last year but is an actual treatment that can help people and dogs in certain dire cases.
Anyway, Daisy is back to cavorting around Exeter—“a healthy, active bundle of fun,” Pete says—and keeping tabs on her owner’s blood sugar levels. But the question remains: Can dogs really get the coronavirus?
According to America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s not common but it can happen. Cats can get it, too. So if someone in your house contracts the virus, they should stay away from Spot and Fluffy just as they would other people. Let your family goldfish keep the patient company.
But don’t worry, there’s almost no risk of anyone catching the coronavirus from a pet. In fact, the C.D.C. specifically says, don’t put masks on dogs and cats—advice that AIR MAIL Pilot seconds. Even if it was a good idea, which it’s not, good luck trying. —Bruce Handy
For more on pets and the coronavirus, visit the C.D.C.’s Web site