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The Year of the Hummingbirds
This has been the Year of the Hummingbirds at our house. At the moment I am going through about a gallon of hummingbird food every day.
Several people have commented on the large numbers this season. When I first hung up a 32 ounce feeder on May 8, I had just a few birds, but by late June there had been a population eruption which some have credited to young birds coming our the nests. If so, it’s been a very fecund year for the Selasphorus Platycercus, or Broadtails, as well as for the dreaded Selasphorus Rufus. My guess, (and it is just a guess, since counting hummingbirds is a hopeless enterprise) is that I have about 35 birds at the moment. When the hummingbird factory exploded I had to hang up a second 32 ounce feeder, and finally a third. All are filled twice a day. In all the years we’ve been feeding them, we’ve never seen anything quite like it.
My problem is that I’ve now become a captive of my birds. I have this sense of obligation. When I went to a Rockies game I filled all three feeders, but when I returned late at night, all were dry, and I worried about the health and well being of a bunch of birds.
I have always wondered where the bird live. We are told they nest near water, and Roaring Fork is just a couple of hundred yards from our house, so we have always assumed that is where they nest. They arrive every morning before sunrise and depart about an hour after the sun goes down, pretty much as a group. In the evening they are all there one minute and the next there are just a couple of stragglers who quickly fly off to their nests.
The large numbers have affected the behavior of the beautiful, bronze and brazen Rufus. As you know, a Rufus is here for just a few weeks in July and August, but will always try to dominate a feeder and keep all other hummingbirds from feeding. The Broadtails are so numerous this year that a Rufus must wait his turn with all the others; any attempt to take over a feeder is met with an overwhelming attack by a blizzard of Broadtails. It’s strange to see a Rufus placidly feeding in a circle with five Broadtails. It’s an interesting illustration of behavior modified by necessity.
Changing a feeder has become an adventure. When I hang up a newly filled feeder it often has two or three birds on it by the time I find the hook. Standing next to a feeder offers an up-close peek at the marvelous workings of their long, black tongues as they flick in and out of their bills.
Watching them feed, it looks as though they’re storing up for a long flight and in a way they are, as the young birds grow day by day into adults and they store the energy they’ll need for the long migration to Mexico. I wonder where they will go, what they will see and how they will spend the winter. Will they find another sucker willing to provide fourteen pounds of sugar every week for the privilege of having them around? I hope so. But enough daydreaming. I see one of my feeders is empty…
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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