A loud buzz summons me to the window to watch a male ruby-throated hummingbird rocketing back and forth in front of the spicebush, parabola flattened into an x-axis 18 inches long — not the usual U-shaped courtship trajectory. The revs are correspondingly shorter: rrRRR rrRRR rrRRR. The female sits a foot away in the shade, as green as the green leaves but more shimmery: polished jade surrounded by raw jadeite.
Long before hummer ever became a car, it was a bird with the fastest engine and a fierce red flag for everyone else in the race. In courtship displays, its manic energy is simply redirected. If you’ve ever hung out a hummingbird feeder and witnessed the constant dogfights, you can probably understand how Hummingbird-on-the-Left became a god of war to the Aztecs, in whose songs the heart was always a blood-red flower waiting to be plundered.
Evolutionarily speaking, it cannot be an accident that the eponymous gorget of the ruby-throated hummingbird is the same color as its favorite nectar sources. For the watching female, it must be both hypnotic and deeply alluring, this swinging blossom dangled right in front of her. For the male, I imagine, it’s as vertiginous as any great wager: Take me. Attack.