Elusive Hummingbird

Hummingbirds, I thought, hibernated. Or migrated. Or something. I’ve never put much thought into what I thought they did, but I’ve certainly never seen them in winter. When my family lived in northern British Columbia, we had the beautiful Rufous hummingbirds at our feeder, zipping around like little red and green living jewels on a perpetual caffeine high. They stayed all summer and then disappeared. [NOTE: If anyone read this when it posted itself yesterday after I explicitly instructed it to publish itself this morning, you’ll notice that I have now corrected my mistake regarding which hummingbird is common in British Columbia. Thank you to my mother for noticing.]

The hummingbirds we have here in Oregon are not as brilliant in plumage as the Rufous, but they’re still charming. My best guess, looking through sites like Beauty of Birds AvianWeb, is that either ours are the Broad-Tailed hummingbird, or I’ve been seeing female or immature Rufous hummingbirds. Anyway, since they are also tiny, high-energy birds, I’ve assumed they must have similar behavior. Gobble nectar all summer, vanish mysteriously once the weather turns cold. When our feeder froze solid┬áin November, I figured the cold plus the lack of food would prompt our own hummingbirds to hibernate. Or migrate. Or whatever.

I kept thinking that until I read a blog post by Garden Fairy Farm, “Feeding Hummingbirds During the Winter.” Wait. What? We have to feed them in the winter? Turns out, hummingbirds are migratory birds. They don’t hibernate. But some of them inexplicably hang around their favorite spots instead of migrating. Oh dear… this could explain why my feeder has been looking emptier and emptier, until there’s now only a tiny bit of red liquid in the very bottom. The hummingbirds are still here! Or maybe just one, or… Who knows? The point is, with few insects for food this time of year (yes, they’re carnivorous — another surprise fact I turned up in a flurry of research after reading Garden Fairy Farm’s post), they actually need the food I’m providing. Apparently they can survive, if necessary, on the wells of sap that sapsuckers store up (another fascinating fact), but their chances of survival will increase if they’re given an additional food source like a hanging feeder.

My poor hummingbird! I feel like a terrible bird parent. Time to fill the feeder. Maybe they’ll reward me by letting me witness their presence this time around.

Sayonara, Hummingbird

When we came to view our home before purchasing it, the owners had a pretty glass hummingbird feeder hanging in the tree that grows next to the pond and stretches its branches over the porch. They generously left a lot of gardening tools, even fish and bird food, but they took the hummingbird feeder with them.

There was a gap of about twelve hours between the feeder being removed and our arrival. When we walked up onto our porch that first morning to start unloading, we were greeted by a furious hummingbird. It dive bombed my head and then swooped, chirping angrily, around the empty spot. I quickly drove to the convenience store about ten minutes away, found a similar glass feeder, and hung it in exactly the same place.

The hummingbird was not placated, nor were its friends and family satisfied. Despite having fed from that identical locatio not five feet from my face on each of our visits before we took possession, they all refused to use the new feeder while I watched. All summer, I did not see them feed from it even once. They ate from the petunias hanging on the porch, from the wisteria, from the gladioli, from the bright red Crocosmia across the pond, but they never allowed me to witness them at the feeder. Gradually, as the summer passed, I noticed the nectar level dropping; slowly at first, then more quickly. I would see the tiny birds buzz past the feeder. They’d fly toward it, then swerve away. Sometimes I’d see them perching above it, even on it, never feeding — making a point of not feeding. I am positive that they watched for the car to drive away before flocking to the green glass feeder to greedily consume the red nectar.

Until today. For the past week, we’ve had a skim of ice on the ponds this morning. Today, for the first time, it was cold enough to freeze the nectar. There was an intricate frost pattern on the glass, and the red nectar was hard and slightly opaque. No more pretending to avoid the feeder; now it’s unavailable, inaccessible, frozen.

Sayonara, hummingbirds. See you next year.

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