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The ruby-throated hummingbird, with its tiny, delicate, fast-beating wings, migrates all the way from Central America to Eastern North America, arriving sometime in May to breed its young throughout the summer. How does this tiny little miracle bird — that can also fly backwards — propel its way all the way across the Gulf of Mexico, traveling nonstop, averaging 25 miles per hour? It is just one of the mysteries of life, but it is also a lesson in determination and a source of inspiration.

The ruby-throated hummingbird cannot stop during its 20-hour flight over the Gulf, so it continues on, through the light of day and the dark of night, without food or water. Once it reaches the shoreline it banks its way along the Gulf Coast through Louisiana and Texas to avoid the Yucatan Peninsula, before turning north and heading as far north as Canada.

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Years ago, folks believed that hummingbirds rode on the backs of geese. I am guessing — with no way to know — that birdwatchers had to come up with some sort of plausible explanation for how the hummingbird accomplishes that feat of migration. But years later, researchers found that a hummingbird is built to store fat. Just before they migrate they start to bulk up, doubling food intake. And because of how they are built, a hummingbird can hold half its body weight in fat, building up stores to use on the long journey.

As winter soldiered on and January surrendered to February in years past, fires, traffic accidents and mayhem were in the news in Carroll County. Only ... ov

When I think about birds I think about how intricate life is, and how everything is in place for a reason. Did you know that most birds have hollow bones, making it easier for them to fly?

There are over 10,000 species of birds, each different from the next, everything from ostriches that can run 43 mph on the ground, to the Kiwi in Australia, who cannot fly. Bird eggs come in every imaginable size and color and their nests are made from so many types of construction material. Just looking at how a Robin puts together its nest, turning mud into cement and grass and twigs into a soft bed. That shows that many birds are truly carpenters, builders who use what is at their disposal to construct their own homes.

When I was growing up, my neighbor, Dean, had some homing pigeons and I learned a little about the bird species that seems to have a homing device built right into his chassis. Long before man invented GPS devices, this bird knew his every route, without question. During World War I, troops on both sides of the battle used carrier pigeons to carry messages home or from scouts to the front lines or even to specific generals. Then, in 2013, the Journal of Experimental Biology published its research about the homing pigeon, revealing that this amazing bird uses low-frequency sound waves to make a mental map, helping it navigate home.

Birds are built to survive. Most birds have hearts that beat around 400 times per minute when at rest and up to 1000 times per minute while in flight. Air sacs can make up as much as on-fifth of a bird's body, and I guess that is good, since up to three-fourths of the air a bird breaths has to be used for cooling down because they are unable to sweat.

How many times have we watched Canada geese flying over in a "V" formation? It turns out there is a reason for that too. Each bird flies in the wake of it its neighbors beating wings, because there is more lift and that saves energy in flight.

When I think of Canada geese I have to laugh. I called my daughter a few years ago while she was at her job. I expected to find her at her desk because she worked as a sales director for Hilton. Instead, she answered, out of breath and with the sound of cars passing by, and said, "Mom, I'll call you back.'

When she returned the call, I asked my daughter what she'd been doing. "I was chasing off illegal immigrants," she said.

I was speechless. "What?"

"We've been flooded with Canada geese and I was chasing them off the lot," she said with a laugh. "Why can't they stay on their side of the border?"

In today's crazy political climate, I almost didn't share that joke, but it truly was a funny moment.

Speaking of climates, I have often wondered how a bird survives in the frigid temperatures we sometimes get, even making it through horrendous blizzards, I knew they were cold-blooded and that helped, but there had to be more, so I looked it up. I learned that birds that winter over-store fat during the shorter days of this season and that fat helps them keep warm during the longer nights. They also fluff their feathers in a way that traps heat and their metabolism slows to conserve energy. I am sure they also look for warm places to roost like birdhouses, tree cavities, and evergreen forests.

I recently went to a program on birds of prey at the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library and was mesmerized by the presentation by Bear Branch naturalist Maddie Koenig. I learned that some owls are so highly developed that they can hunt in total darkness. I learned that kestrels — the smallest falcons in North America — can fly as fast as a car can drive, reaching speeds of up to 60 mph when hunting for mice, grasshoppers, crickets and small critters. And unlike most birds of prey, that catch their food with talons, kestrels use their sharp beaks, which have a second hook called a tooth that they use to jab their food.

Every time I think about nature and about the way different creatures were put together it renews me. It refreshes my faith. It makes me believe that there is a greater plan, and that miraculous things are happening behind the scenes in this world.

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But thinking about birds just has me wishing for spring. I'm wanting to watch them build nests and settle in for summer. We've been lucky with the good weather this winter, but I am still longing for spring and long warm days.

Before I close, I want to share one more interesting bird fact that I found while researching. Because fuel can smell like rotting carrion, which is a favorite vulture food, engineers have used American turkeys to help them detect cracked or broken underground fuel pipes. If the birds cluster over a specific area it is the likely culprit.

Now that is a pretty cool fact. But I am not looking for anything cool these days. I'm waiting for the warm to come. And I bet you are, too.

Lois Szymanski is a Carroll County resident and can be reached at loisszymanski@hotmail.com.



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