I continued to watch until he revealed the subject of his divided attention. In the image below, you can see a praying mantis on the dark leaf in the holly, just above and behind the hummer's head. Praying mantis prey on hummingbirds. I briefly considered moving it out of the holly, but decided I shouldn't interfere and, instead, watched to see what would happen. Needless to say, these weren't the most relaxing observations of hummer behavior I've experienced!
The male-ruby throat ignored the praying mantis most of the time, but ever so often, the insect would get his attention--possibly with a movement--and the hummer would investigate. This was a little un-nerving. I've never seen a praying mantis strike its prey and I wasn't interested in seeing that happen. On the other hand, I was glad to see that the hummer was aware and keeping track of the insect's behavior.
Below, the hummer leaves his perch and hovers near the mantis to get a closer look.
Soon after this interaction. while the hummer was away from his perch, the mantis traveled down the leaves to a limb below the hummers perching twig.
The color of the praying mantis blended so completely into the hues of the holly, that even when I knew where he was, the insect was hard to find. In the image below, he is located on the limb below the hummer's perch, hanging upside down, about in line with the hummer's beak.
The hummer continued to guard his feeders, but to my relief, he appeared very aware of the praying mantis. He discovered the mantis in his new location and investigated.
Not yet bothered enough to give up his perferred limb, the hummer continued protecting his nectar source. Below, you see him perched on the holly twig with the praying mantis lurking underneath the limb below him.
The hummer dropped down to check him out several times. Each time, I held my breath!
Back to the perch again.
A closer look at the praying mantis as he hangs from the holly limb. Notice the sharp appendages on his legs.
Below, you see the hummer on his twig, and the mantis still below, but the insect has moved again. This time, he has crawled up even with the limb, holding on to leaves with his hind legs while keeping his front legs free. Each time the hummer lands on the twig it bends closer to the praying mantis, especially when perched on the lower end.
A closer view of the mantis' new position in the image below. It became clear to me at this point, if I had had any doubt before, that the mantis was stalking the hummingbird. With each new position, the insect moved closer to the hummingbird. I don't mind saying, watching this progression gave me the creeps!
The hummer returned to his twig perch briefly, but this time seemed disturbed by the mantis' new position. After several brief touch-downs followed by hovering, to my relief, he moved to a new perch!
Links and resources:
For a quick look at how a preying mantis strikes its prey: Perfect Predator
Hummingbirds and pollination
More posts on Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on this blog
Hummingbird art at Vickie's Sketchbook