Tuesday, January 5

Summer Friends

Early August
The sun's barely up
and the morning rush has begun
at the hummingbird feeder outside my window.

It's no wonder these little birds show up for breakfast early and en masse.
With their ferocious metabolism they must often consume
2 to 3 times their body weight in bugs & nectar every day!

It’s an orderly crowd with none of the squabbling that takes place later in the day.
Newcomers hover patiently waiting for their turn,
except for one copper colored ruffian.

This is a Rufous Hummingbird
and he may have reason to be hungry.
Many Rufous hummers fly here from Alaska!

Later in the summer eating will become even more important
as falling temperatures herald the annual migration to Central & South America.
Hummingbirds make that stupendous journey twice yearly,
flying south in the fall and north again in the spring.
Some of them cross the Gulf of Mexico –
more than 500 miles at one go!

And each of them does it entirely alone, even the youngsters,
who are barely five or six weeks old at the time.
Hummers never travel in flocks!

Hummingbirds start their lives as pea sized eggs,
usually laid in pairs.
Although we're surrounded by hummingbirds each summer
I've only found one nest.
It appeared to be made from tiny flakes of leaves
held together with strands of spider silk.
And it was very hard to see!

I wish I could show you images of baby hummingbirds,
but I was lucky to get a shot of the nesting female.

A fellow name Steve Worthington, who obviously lives in
a less rugged part of the country, has done better.
I heartily recommend his
video montage
[Except for occasional popups of ugly animal sculptures.]

After they've left the nest, juvenile hummingbirds are difficult to identify.
They're smaller and plumper than mature birds
and their feathers look a bit scruffy.
Here's a photo of a juvenile hummer resting on one of our feeders.

As you can see, he's quite a bit different from the sleek adult
who visited me in my office a couple of summers ago.

End of August

Our feeders are virtually deserted now.
Perhaps half a dozen early risers show up outside my office this morning.
By tomorrow they may be gone too.
The hummingbirds depart abruptly at summer's end.
There's a brief flurry of activity around mid-August.
Then their numbers drop precipitiously.

We maintain the feeders for a couple of weeks
for migrating birds passing through on their way south,
but soon the last stragglers disappear
and it's time to clean the feeders and pack them away for spring.

The air feels empty without the darting shapes,
and their ubiquitous chirps and whistles,
but eventually we grow accustomed to the silence.

When the first winter storm howls through,
in October or November,
it will be nice to think of our tiny friends
flitting about in a warmer clime,
sipping tropical nectars,
and sleeping under gentler stars.