A few days ago, while Weeding For Dollars and minding my own business, I was suddenly surrounded by dozens of little birds. Going for my camera, there was a flurry of five or six Tufted Titmice slamming into the screen door as if trying to get into the house. With them were Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, a Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped warblers, Cedar waxwings and this Red-eyed vireo. The shrubs and trees were rich and alive with twittering, tweeting chittering passerines. It felt like an attack!
Passerines are birds in the order Passeriformes. Nearly half of all birds fall into this group including the perching birds and songbirds. The little tweetie birds are Passerines. During migration in either spring or fall, the trees buzz and trill with them as they pass through, gleaning insects and picking seeds as fast as they can. Especially in fall, they congregate in mixed flocks like the one that overwhelmed me.
The Red-eyed vireo jumped from the leaves in front of me carrying this insect. I think it's an Assassin Bug. Assassin bugs are predacious. They lie in wait to ambush their prey. Then, they stab the victim with their proboscis or beak and suck out the vital juices. There are 3,000 species of 'Conenose bugs,' also called 'Kissing bugs." About 100 of them suck blood. The blood sucking members of the family are abundant in warm climates. In South America, there is one member of the family Reduviidae that bites humans around the eye lids and lips. It crawls onto the face while the person is sleeping inflicting a painful bite. They carry a potentially deadly protozoan causing potentially fatal Chagas Disease. Chagas Disease, called "mal de Chagas", in Paraguay is similar to Sleeping Sickness which occurs in Africa.
During my tour in the Peace Corps in Paraguay, I was bitten by one of these monsters while I slept. When I woke up, my entire left eye was swelled shut. I was tested from Chagas Disease, but the results were inconclusive. Maybe I had it; maybe I didn't. The organism can remain dormant in the body for decades. To date, I have not developed symptoms. It's been over thirty years, but I'm still waiting. Assassin bugs here aren't a threat to anyone, so I wouldn't kill one. Still, I admit to a certain glee at seeing it about to be lunch for the Vireo. "Who's the assassin now, mister?"