Monday, August 08, 2005

Hummingbirds, for some reason

One spring day in 1990, I noticed a hummingbird investigating the brightly-colored outdoor thermometer on the back of my house. Always a fan of the little sugar hawks, I broke out a couple of little feeders from storage. I'd hung them outside of other places I'd lived, and considered myself lucky if I'd get to see one or two a season.

Living in the piney woods, I was surprised to see a hummingbird at all. Imagine my astonishment when I soon had several at a time, day after day, all summer. Apparently, they like to nest in the shelter of the evergreens. Now my gardening wife has planted many flowers, but the breeding population showed up without any incentive I could see. They certainly seem to enjoy the feeders, if enjoy is the right word for the twittering dogfights that make up their day.

The first one, usually a male, shows up on May 12th each year as if by appointment. It may not be exactly the 12th in a given year, but it usually is. Days will pass with just the single bird, and then another. By the end of May the whole crowd has arrived. The buzzing and twittering joins the calls of phoebes and other nesting songbirds busy with the rites of spring.

They're insane. They battle constantly. Then, suddenly, peace will break out and two or more will land and sip amicably. The truce will last for minutes before everyone launches again.

They eat during the battles as well. Usually, a dominant bird will defend the feeder against all comers. You can actually hear them slam into each other. One day I came out the door to find one squirming on the ground. I thought the cat might have made a lucky pounce, but then I heard the other bird. It had simply knocked the loser out of the sky. The one on the ground gathered its wits and charged back into the air.

We just put a seed feeder out on the other side of a double hook in one of the flower beds. Chickadees and nuthatches look huge after watching hummingbirds for a couple of months.

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