Saturday, September 08, 2007

Big Spider, Little Bird, OH MY!

Did you know that spiders can eat birds? Before yesterday I thought only one kind of spider ate birds...the "bird eating" spider, which is a very large hunting spider in the tarantula family that I think lives in either Africa or South America. I'm not certain which, but yesterday I came to realize that if the spider is big enough and the bird is small enough, anything can happen. This realization came when I saw a hummingbird that appeared to be dead caught in the web of a big yellow garden spider located in a tree directly behind my house in another person's yard. By the way, I think this is the same big yellow spider that used to live in my banana trees but disappeared about a week ago.

Anyway, I was instantly saddened by the discovery because I really like hummingbirds...I just did a painting of one happily sipping nectar after all, but at the same time I was fascinated too. It's not very common to see such a thing around here and in all my years of nature observation I've never seen a bird caught in a spider's web! I mean this is the kind of stuff you expect to see on National Geographic right? I was just about to head into the house to grab my camera when all of a sudden the bird jerked. It wasn't dead!

The spider wasn't reacting at all. It was just sitting in the center of it's web as if it was waiting. I wondered at this point if the bird had been bitten yet and that was why the spider just sat there appearing to wait, or if the bird had been struggling too much and the spider was waiting for it to tire out before trying to bite it...I had no way of knowing. But the more I watched the more the bird began to struggle and started to cry out. At this point I couldn't stand it anymore and I had to try to rescue the bird. If it was alive, there was hope for it. Thankfully the neighbor was home and he turned out to be super nice. His name is Justin.

I quickly introduced myself explaining to him that my house was behind his, that he had a rather large spider in his back yard, and that the spider was going to eat a bird if we didn't act. I laughed at myself as I was spilling all this because the look on his face was one of sheer terror. I mean how would you react if some nutty hippie girl showed up on your doorstep and went on about giant spiders and little birds and imploring you to do something?

Anyway, he couldn't believe that there was a spider that big in his back yard and he was a little hesitant to go check it out...not sure if he wanted to see for himself or not, after all ignorance can be bliss. And what is it with guys and spiders? I've not come across too many men that think spiders are cool...they all run and go "eeeeeek"!

But Justin granted me access to his back yard. I had my camera with me and wanted to get a photo of the scene before turning to the rescue if that was still possible by this time. When we got close to the web to my relief I could see that the bird was still alive and the spider was exactly where it was before leaving my yard. Justin was in the background freaking out a little once he saw the size of the spider with a real bird in it's web. Who can blame him for doing the little heebie jeebie dance he was doing.

So I asked him if he would mind getting a broom so I could try to get the bird down. He ran into the house and came back out quickly with a broom, all the while exclaiming excitedly "Jeeeeesus that's a huge spider, OMG I can't believe the size of that spider, Ewwww what if we can't rescue the bird?, I've never seen anything like this." etc....

So I carefully looped part of the web that contained the bird around the broom handle and slowly pulled the bird away from the rest of the web...all the while the spider is just sitting there nonplussed. The bird struggled a little more but I finally got it down and lightly set it on the ground. It was really scared...poor little thing...and quite tangled up in sticky web. I had to very gently pull away webbing from it's beak, head, and finally it's wings. Once the bird was free it tried to fly but only fluttered a little at first. I thought maybe it wasn't able to fly and started to process what my next move was gonna be when all of a sudden the bird took off! HURRAY! It flew up into a different tree and out of sight. I could hear Justin in the background exclaiming happily...something about good deeds, etc...but I'm sure the spider saw it differently.

I thanked Justin for letting me intrude on him the way I did and made him promise that he wouldn't kill the spider since I thought it was our "pet" spider we'd been observing a while now. If Justin didn't think I was a nut before, that probably sealed the deal. Oh well. Thankfully he said not to worry because he had no intentions of ever going near it. I told him that if he ever decided he couldn't live with a giant spider in his back yard to let me know and I would happily re-locate it. I didn't tell the poor guy that the spider was a female and apt to make more of her kind soon. We'll just keep that little tidbit to ourselves. ;)

As for the bird I don't know if it lived or not, but I like to think that if it could fly it would be okay. At least I feel better now. I would have been terribly bummed had I not at least tried to do something. I know it's nature's way and all, but I'm a softy at heart and little hummingbirds shouldn't be spider food if you ask me.

The picture quality isn't great I know, and you can barely see the bird, but click on the image and look closely. The bird is located towards the bottom of the picture amongst the leaves. If the spider is 12 'o clock, the bird would be 6 'o clock. And is that an egg sac near the spider's leg?


Sarah said...

I love garden spiders. Can you get some for us when they hatch? I would have freaked out about the hummingbird too. I probably would have rescued it. The only one I've ever seen in our yard was a blue one, for about 30 seconds.

We used to have a large one right by our front door but its egg sacs didn't get fertilized so they're gone now. This year we had lots of little black and green spiky ones.

Lynn Kinsey at 9 yrs said...

Yes Ginny, that is probably the egg sac near her as we suspected. The females keep their sacs near the center of the web where they spend most of their time. I also learned that the female garden spider will become frail and die usually by the first frost. Oh it is such a Charlotte's Web moment! lol

Ginny said...

*sniff sniff* Yeah I know she will die soon. But hopefully we will have lots of little babies to croon over lol.

I'll get the adoption papers ready Sarah ;)

Poodles said...

*EEEKKK* I am such a girl when it comes to spiders.

Sharon said...

It's pretty widely known I HATE spiders!!! If I saw that spider in MY yard, it would have been history. Egg sacs...YIKES!!! MORE of them!!!!

Glad you rescued that poor little bird.

Funny, I liked the Charlotte's Web story, but never really did think of her as a "spider".

Now, I leave the ones alone in my yard, as long as they don't get too close to me. I figure they must eat some of the obnoxious bugs that fly around. But, they better not come into the house!

Bruce said...

Good "backyard adventure" and well told story, Ginny.

Interesting how memes work. My mom really liked spiders. She'd never kill one she found in the house; she'd just put it outside.

I didn't inherit her religious faith (which was pretty mild). But I did acquire the "no-killum-spiders" behaviour. That's not a typo. I live in Canada where, like the original English, we use a lot more u's than, uh, youse do.

You sided with (and aided) the pretty bird rather than the ugly nasty big spider. And here in the comments, mentioned how she'll probably die with the frost. You wondered whether the bird, after flying away, managed to survive.

But consider the spider. A single mom with a kid to feed. And you just stole all the food in her cupboard. Maybe she'll catch enough bugs to get by, but I don't imagine birds get caught very often. (Totally guesswork. Not at all familiar with their diet.) And she and her kid would've gotten by for a good long time on all that delicious nectar-fed free-range bird meat.

Not to mention that, in evolutionary terms, you've put a bird that's apparently too stupid to stay outta predator's webs back into the gene pool.

Penn Jillette is among those who decry our caring about only the cute animals. Loved his podcast and miss it.

Anyway, I'm just sayin consider all sides.

Oooh...just thought of this connection. You didn't like it when neighbours (again with the u's) came on your property and cut up your plants cuz they had different beliefs. But the plants weren't gonna be your meals for the next week.

All that said, I too would probably have tried to save the bird. And your neighbours? I'd probably have flipped THEM the bird (or worse).

Ginny said...

Hi Bruce. Thanks for the well thought out post. I couldn't agree with you more about taking the spider's food away, and mucking up the gene pool by letting the stupid bird go...but I just couldn't let the bird die even so...I'm too much of a softy I guess.

Sharon said...

Softy or not, it's human nature to root for the underdog, or underbird, in this case. Helplessness is something we have a hard time dealing with...but in some of the animal world, it's a sign of weakness and certain death within a group. I'm really thinking more in canine terms, as I reflect upon the wolf/dog instinct to drive out or kill the weak and old or sick.

That spider will catch another victim in her web...I'm sure she won't starve because you saved the bird.

Anonymous said...

I am in the same predicament.I went out to the shed to find a little tit bird hanging upside down in a big web.I got the little guy down but the web is every where and I'm having a job getting it off his wings.
I've done the best I can for now but he seems to be quite content just sitting in my household plant located in front of the door.He can leave anytime he wants as I've left the door open.Now all I have to contend with are the darn flies that are coming in.