“There’s a Dr Who episode where all of time happens at once, with pterodactyls flying through a modern-day London where Churchill is Prime Minister and rules from an Egyptian temple,” my daughter Kelsey tells me. “That’s how I feel seeing a hummingbird at the feeder when our Christmas tree is up.”
I know exactly what she means.
To me, hummingbirds have always been birds of sunshine and warmth, birds of bright-flowered springs and summers. Here in our Northwestern neck of the woods, they’ve always arrived in the spring to sip from our red-flowering currant, binge at our hummingbird feeders, zoom through looping courtship displays, rear their young, and then zip away to warmer climes when the leaves change and autumn’s chill nips the air.
But this year, our reality has been rocked. Hummingbirds have turned into birds of dreary gray days and unrelenting rain, birds of ice and snow, birds of Christmas and New Year’s Day.
While our diminutive rufous hummingbirds migrated away in the usual fashion, a number of Anna’s hummingbirds–relative newcomers to our feeder scene–decided to stay on (all males, apparently; I suspect the females showed superior intelligence and/or sense by flying south). Concerned that my feeders were tempting them to remain when they should flee winter’s approach, I did some internet research. Turns out the Annas have extended their range northward in recent times and decided to become year-round residents in many parts of Washington state, including our Puget Sound region, feeders or no feeders. The Seattle Audubon Society encourages people who feed these hummingbirds during spring and summer (i.e. me) to keep offering them nectar throughout the winter. Doing so could tip the scales of survival in their favor.
I’m ashamed to confess I felt slightly dismayed, at first, to hear this. My usual routine involves feeding our numerous seed- and insect-eating wild birds–chickadees, jays, woodpeckers, juncos, etc.–from fall to spring, and the hummers from spring to fall. As for our domestic farm menagerie, small though it is, they must be fed/watered every day, year round, and accomplishing this always becomes more challenging, if not a downright pain, during winter (think rain and mud, ice and snow, more rain and mud). Great, I thought, now there would be even more mouths to feed this winter, more living creatures to feel responsible for.
Teeny-tiny ones, yes, but still.
Of course, there was really no question about what I would do. Because I love these gorgeous, cheery, pugnacious little feathered jewels and, in my book, you take care of the ones you love–or at least you try–no matter how busy you might be, or how much work it means, or how cold it is outside.
So once or twice a week, I clean and fill my winter hummingbird feeders with their homemade organic sugar/water mix (only the best for my hummers). When the temperature plummets, we bring the feeders inside after dark to keep them from freezing solid and put them back out at first light so our hummers can tank up after a long winter night’s torpor. I’m also on call to provide hummingbird rescue services on the rare occasion one hits our (decal-plastered) window, usually after a scuffle and chase between feisty, territorial males. This entails responding immediately to that distinctive, terrible “thunk” by rushing out to gently scoop up the stunned victim before one of our feral cats or another predator discovers him–or he freezes to death. After letting the hummer come to his senses again inside a dark, washcloth-lined shoe box set within a warm, cat-free room, I take him outside and let him zip off into the wintry world again, my heart in tow.
In return, my hummingbirds sparkle like little ornaments in the gloom, turning every day into Christmas. They decorate my barren honeysuckle or wisteria and serenade me with their peculiar, adorable, scratchy little songs. They zoom here and there, full of vim and vigor and good cheer. Best of all, they make me smile…
and remember summer.
Here’s to a Happy (and Hummingbird-filled) New Year!
Thanks for reading,