Return of the Hummingbirds

Reader Contribution by Vicki Wilson
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Suddenly, it was the end of June and I hadn’t even gotten out my hummingbird feeder yet. So I went into the garage, pulled the feeder from the shelf, and brought it inside to wash. It was a standard feeder: red plastic with yellow and red “flowers.” We always hung it off our gazebo on our back deck where we could watch the hummingbirds as they visited.

I put the feeder in the sink in warm, soapy water and carefully pulled it apart, washing the inside and outside and making sure it was free of mold and dirt. Then, I heated up some water (four cups), added one cup white sugar, and stirred until the sugar had completely dissolved (sources vary, but most say you don’t want to use the premixed red liquid and so I made my own hummingbird food). I let the water cool. Then, it was time to fill the feeder.

Except when I put it back together and poured the mixture in, water — sticky and sweet — poured out everywhere. On the counter, on the floor, on my bare feet. Perhaps I’d taken the feeder apart a little too well. It was kaput.

I ordered a new feeder online, splurging some on a fancy metal one that looked like an old-fashioned lantern. In the meantime, though, I sat in our gazebo and watched as hummingbirds, at least three different birds, visited the space where the feeder was supposed to be. It hadn’t hung there at all yet this year, and still, the birds were back, looking for their treat. I guess I’d underestimated the tiny creatures, because I never would’ve thought that hummingbirds would remember where they fed the year before. Every time one visited and found an empty space where the feeder should be, I felt guilty. On occasion, I’d apologize. “Sorry little birdie,” I’d say. “The new feeder is on its way, though. Don’t go too far.”

The new feeder arrived by mail in a brown box; I opened it, washed it out (super carefully, this time — I wasn’t taking any chances) and filled it with my usual mixture. When I went to hang it, I realized I needed an “S” hook to hook it to, which I didn’t have, so I added it to my husband’s list for the farm store, and he came home with exactly what I wanted. The feeder went up.

Two days passed and I didn’t see a single bird. Maybe, I thought, they don’t trust me anymore. I promised them the feeder was coming and it didn’t show up, so they moved onto the neighbor’s, who probably used store-bought liquid. (Most likely that’s not true; I’m just jealous.)

Then, the next day, my 9-year-old son and I lay in hammocks after school, watching the white, wispy clouds in the sky and heard a buzzing and what sounded like a ticked off tiny bird. That’s exactly what it was. Two hummingbirds fought over the feeder. My son said, “Hey, they don’t need to fight. There are more than enough flower dispensers to share.” I agreed, but obviously the birds didn’t. One flew away, and the other took its time drawing from the feeder. His body was iridescent green. His buzzing sounded like a large wasp, a wasp I would’ve definitely run from if his body was as big as his buzz.

“Well, I guess the hummingbirds are back,” I said.

And they are. I’ve seen four or five different birds visit the feeder. There’ve been a few more squabbles, too. But for the most part, they seem to share. This morning, I had the privilege of standing on the deck, looking out over the back trees, when the iridescent green one showed up for a drink. I was less than an arm’s length from him at the feeder but he didn’t seem to care. He’s definitely the alpha, maybe among us humans, too. He buzzed and drank his fill and I stood still, honoring his boldness and beauty. To come so close to a human was daring and a bit of folly, and I wasn’t about influence anything this magnificent little head honcho chose to do.

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