Monday, July 30, 2007

Hummingbird Heaven

In the back northeast corner of the yard is a scrofulous thirty foot upright juniper. It is hummingbird heaven.

The hummers set up housekeeping in the juniper tree every year in May and they've come to know the humans pretty well. As soon as they arrive, they start buzzing me, knowing that I am the one who fills the feeder. Being a well trained human, I go back into the house and cook their elixir.

The first few feeders full in the spring I mix one cup of sugar to three cups of water because I figure the birds need a little extra oomph in their food after their long migration. I put cold water into a small pan and bring it almost to a boil, then pour in the sugar and stir until dissolved. It keeps in the refrigerator for weeks if necessary. I have a special plastic bottle boldly labeled "Hummingbird Food" so that no one accidentally drinks it (yuck!)

After a couple of weeks, I use 3 and a half cups of water to one cup sugar and in a couple more weeks I do four cups water to one cup sugar, which is what I've been told is the traditional formula. It seems to work because I have the busiest feeder of anyone I know in the neighborhood.

This has been a spectacularly successful year for the buzzy birds. I think that all of their chicks must have fledged because they are zooming and fighting in flocks around the feeder. I'm putting out twice as much food as usual and the feeder is drained dry about every 36 hours.

I do miss my North Carolina hummingbird feeder, though. I had it hung on a shepherd's crook at one corner of my 5 foot by 5 foot back deck. I would sit out there reading and watching the hummers feed and fight at close range. Usually Esmerelda would lay on the deck rail beside me, keeping me company and ignoring the hummingbirds. I think she thought they were big bugs and thus beneath her dignity.

Then one day there was a major twitter fight -- two hummers making like World War I dog fighters, buzzing and diving at each other, twittering madly the whole time.

Esmerelda sat up and stared at them. I could practically see the little light bulb over her head.

"Wait a minute! Those are birds!"

She dropped into hunting cat posture and began creeping towards the feeder just as the losing hummer zoomed away. The winner chased for a moment, then turned back to the feeder and saw Esmerelda. It zipped up to her and hovered inches away, bird beak to cat nose, totally unimpressed and unafraid, and twittered at her.

I could see the tension of an immanent spring in her legs, so I tapped her gently on the rump with my paperback and said, "No!"

She went one way, the hummer went the other, and the next time she lay out on the deck with me, the hummers had regained bug status. She never stalked one again.

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