Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hummers in the midst

I was sitting on the deck reading in the stillness and quiet of midafternoon when suddenly a ruby-throated hummingbird with a second hummer in hot pursuit came zipping past sounding like tiny speedboats tearing through thin air. Passing within inches of my face, the hectic hummers startled me out of my seat and disappeared before I was certain what I had seen.

A hundred times a day a voice cries out, "Look! Hummers! On the hollyhocks, the salvia, the front feeder, the back!" But by the time you look, they're gone.

Two hummers serenely share the feeder on the front porch but then a third shows up and the others instantly rev up their engines and the chase is on. One hummer sits on a branch of a potted plant guarding the front garden, ready to chase off any new arrival threatening his airspace. This constant vigilance must be exhausting, but they always find that sudden burst of energy to elude intruders or to chase off rivals. When do hummingbirds relax?

Sometimes when I sit reading on the deck, a hummer will hover a few feet in front of me just to check me out: friend or foe? Sometimes they're content to feed in my presence, but then a slight movement--a turning page, a wift of wind--and they're jetting off into the treetops.

I'd like to assure them that I'm no threat to life or limb and, moreover, I'm not even slightly interested in sipping their sugar-water, but I don't know how to convey benevolence to a hummingbird. I'm happy to have them nearby because their hectic movements liven up the summer stillness, but at best, they barely tolerate me.

Now I see one feeding at the back feeder and two at the front--but now they're gone. In a few months they'll be gone for the season, flying south to enjoy winter in a warmer climate. One day we'll notice that we haven't seen hummingbirds for a while and we'll try to remember when we saw the last one, and then we'll stash the feeders for the winter and cut down the hollyhocks stalks and settle down to remember when there were hummers in our midst.

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