A hummingbird feeds its baby in a nest. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Nature: Some questions never get answered 



I’ve always wanted to find a hummingbird’s nest, but so far it has not happened. This week I did get to see and hold one in my hand that a friend on this island found. What an exquisite home these colorful and small birds made for their nestlings. It’s beautiful but very strong and perfect for their hardly pea-sized eggs. 

I’ve heard this bird called a jeweled helicopter. It is a very small, colorful and amazing bird. I often wondered why it was designed to live in the tropics but fly such a long distance to raise its young and then back to the tropics for the winter. Why not stay in the tropics for the whole process?  

Hummingbirds lay their very small eggs in an exquisite, delicate nest built out of spider webs, lichens and down. It is very soft to the touch. I felt honored to hold a real hummingbird’s nest in my hand. The bird usually saddles the nest on a tree branch more than 10 feet above the ground. 

Hummingbirds feed their young by regurgitation and it sometimes looks as if the babies are getting stabbed! You really wonder how this tiny bird will survive having the parent’s long bill jabbed down its throat. The parent does this in order to inject the mixture of minute insects they have already partially digested. It looks like a brutal procedure.  

At a popular feeding tree or feeder, hummingbirds can get quite rough with each other. They don’t seem to like sharing! Normally it’s the ruby throated hummingbird that is seen on Mount Desert Island regularly. 

Milk snake
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

My email is often very interesting. This week I received a photo of a large snake seen on the island. It was on its back, but I believe it to be a milk snake, one of the five harmless snakes seen regularly. The milk snake is a shy snake and although quite colorful and large, it is not so often seen. Just remember on this island that all snakes living here are harmless and let them live out their lives. Their food habits are very helpful in gardens, and they are very interesting. Always let them live! 

The milk snake can measure 24-36 inches long. If nervous, this shy snake may rattle its tail, which may seem intimidating. Just remember – no rattlesnakes here!   

A milk snake was brought in a bucket into a wildlife facility nearby for identification. It was rattling its tail, scared, and wanted to be back in the woods. It was readily released in its home territory. Most any snake might bite if you picked one up. (An exception I’m familiar with that just won’t bite no matter what is the hognose snake. They just pretend to be dead. It’s really quite funny to see but this snake is not found here.) 

Milk snakes are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs each year. They are great rodent catchers and very beautiful to see. They in turn are eaten by birds, other snakes and some mammals. 

Bladderwort
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Bladderwort’s attractive yellow blossoms rise up out of the shallow ponds this time of year. Hamilton Pond on Route 3 is a great place to see it easily. Normally the flowers are yellow, but some years when the water is very low in local ponds, a pink bladderwort blooms and turns local ponds a beautiful pink. I have lived here for 50 years and have only seen the pink bladderwort in bloom once. 

This bladderwort’s small, yellow, snapdragon-like flowers standing several inches up out of the water give no clue of the fascinating drama taking place below the surface by the plant’s leaves. The filament-like leaves are adorned with tiny bladders, or sacs, attached to rows to the leaf branches. There can be 600 of these small, deflated pouches on the plant. 

Any insect, zoo plankton, minute crustaceans, larvae, worms and just about any creature small enough to get trapped by the ingenious plant triggers the sensitive hairs at the ‘trap’ door. The sac immediately fills with water. Whatever gets sucked in is reduced to plant nutrients in about five minutes to two hours. Special cells then extract the nutrient-laden water into the stem. If you are very close to the plant, you may hear a popping sound made by the disturbed sacs gulping air! 

Although it seems hazardous, fishes and small tadpoles use the dense, thick growth of bladderwort as places to hide and find edible organisms.  

The yellow bladderwort is quite common in island ponds and moose and deer like to eat it. 

Send any questions or observations to [email protected]. 

 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

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