Hovercraft of the Avian World
Impressive acrobatics and delicate beauty make the hummingbird a welcome visitor to coastal gardens
Hummingbirds are true avian acrobats. They can dart forward at lightning speed, hover in place like a helicopter or fly upside down or sideways. They are also the only birds that can actually fly backwards. Speeds of up to 30 mph are no big deal — and that may increase to over 45 on courtship dives. Their wings not only rotate but, unlike those of most birds, they also deliver power on the upstroke. To accomplish all this, a hummingbird’s wings must beat about 70 times a second. No wonder they blur.
Of course, all this calls for prodigious amounts of energy. To provide it, their hearts pound at some 225 beats a minute at rest and over 1,200 beats per minute while in flight. (Once, at a bird banding station, I actually held a hummingbird in my hand and listened to its heart — it sounded more like a buzz than a beat, and that was while the bird was at rest.) In order to save energy, hummingbirds periodically lapse into torpor, a sort of short-lived hibernation that allows their heart rate to drop to about 50 beats a minute.
Lewes-area landmark gets a facelift
When retired U.S. Sen. John G. Townsend Jr. bought a farm at the corner of Kings Highway and Gills Neck Road near Lewes in September 1941, it didn’t have a barn on it. There was a house that had been owned by William H. Virden, a widower, and before him the Carter family. But no barn for livestock, or for storage of hay, or even for a good old-fashioned hoedown.
Townsend, who served as Delaware’s 55th governor from January 1917 through January 1921 and in the Senate from March 1929 to January 1941, soon fixed that. He hired William Ritter, who owned large pieces of farm equipment and who moved houses, to transport a dairy barn from an area farm to the Townsend land.
Howard Ritter, founder of Howard L. Ritter & Sons, a Lewes-area company that provides topsoil and gravel, was William’s brother. His son, Ronnie, who now owns Ritter & Sons, remembers his dad telling him that William enlisted the help of another Ritter brother, Roy, who worked for Townsend, to move the barn.
“All I know is what I’ve been told, just hearsay,” Ronnie says. “But Dad told me that they had a lot of snow that year. So William and Roy put the barn on skids and pulled it with a farm tractor to its new location.”
The Eagles Have Landed
Thanks to endangered-species protections, growing numbers of this majestic raptor are nesting in Delaware again
The bald eagles are back! In honor of their dramatic return from the brink of extinction, Gov. Jack Markell has proclaimed that henceforth June 20 will be known as “American Eagle Day” in Delaware.
In fact, eagles are one of the major success stories of the Endangered Species Act. It wasn’t so long ago that they were listed as threatened in every state except Alaska. Credit for their recovery must go to the dogged efforts of many conservation organizations, both public and private; it was a truly impressive accomplishment.
We know from records from the early 1900s that there were once more than a thousand nesting pairs of eagles along the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware’s Atlantic coast, averaging one pair for every five miles of shoreline. Not that they were ever safe from harassment; a man named W. Stone wrote in a Delaware magazine of 1919 that “farmers with their usual antipathy to all birds of prey, make a practice of chopping down the eagle tree or of shooting the old birds.” Egg collecting was also a common practice of the time and eagles’ eggs were so highly prized that their nests were robbed with impunity. By 1940, the impact of such practices had become so serious that Congress passed The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, making it illegal to harm, harass or possess an eagle, alive or dead, as well as their eggs or feathers.