Wintering Over

by Deborah
(Tuolumne, California)

I haven't always been a bird watcher except in the casual sense but, the summer after I moved to the foothills near Sonora, California, I found enjoyment in putting up a hummingbird feeder on a tree branch above the front deck. As I was watching my infant grandson, I would point out the birds and urge him to hush so they would approach while we were outside. I noticed that there seemed to be one particular bird with a brilliant red head that kept careful watch over the other birds that would approach. I named him "Ruby" and noticed his attempts to dominate the others who would come for the sugar drink. There were even soaring "fights" accompanied by what sounded to me like scissors slicing. Ruby didn't seem to mind some birds coming to the feeder but others were forbidden. I assumed that he was the alpha male and would allow the females to come for juice but no other males.

My friends and family endeavored to supply me with various decorative feeders but we found that the cheaper plastic ones with the glass bottle worked best. As one would meet with an accident or deteriorate because of the weather, I would pick up a new one at the hardware store. I happened upon an article about hummingbirds which described their contentious nature and argumentative tone. It said that hummingbirds were only native to the Americas and migrated from north to south and back. I didn't bother to keep up with the feeder in the winter, especially since I had plenty to do caring for my grandson and dealing with the snow, which sometimes was an all-consuming task.

One winter, my neighbor had come over to help shovel the driveway and we were taking a break, standing in front of my open garage and talking. Suddenly, we were "buzzed" by my little friend, Ruby. He seemed to zip right up in front of me and then lift up and over the garage. I was surprised to see him in the winter and felt as if he was saying, "Get with the program and get me some juice!" That afternoon, I washed out the feeder which was still hanging in the tree branch and filled it with sugar water. Sure enough, Ruby and maybe some others would come each morning when there wasn't an outright storm.

I have tried since then to keep up with the feeder in summer and winter. When I would be out on the deck doing chores but overlook an empty feeder, one bird, I'm sure it was Ruby, would "buzz" me and do acrobatics around the empty feeder. Surely, he was letting me know that he expected me to keep up with his demands.

Time passes and my first grandson is now in elementary school but his little brother is now in my charge during the work week. We have also shared watching the birds on the deck, although the tree had to be cut down. I attached the feeder, as well as a decorative bird seed feeder, to the eaves of the porch. The decorative feeder is a metal container in the shape of a bird and painted in a flower pattern with a twisted wire design on the long hanger. One day this March when we had intermittent snow, I looked out and saw that the feeder had snow on the plastic flower nozzles. Then, I noticed a hummingbird perched on the wire design by the feeder. He seemed to be shivering in the cold, trying to figure out how to get to the juice through the snow. I put on a jacket and went out and brushed the snow from the flowers. I heard Ruby making his scissor squeaking as he flew to a tree branch some distance away. I think he was saying, "Thank you." in his own, irascible way and, a few minutes later, I watched as he came back and perched on the wire design and then made short flights to the flower nozzle to drink.

I'm sure there are neighbors in the area who keep up with their feeders in the winter but I feel that I have become an important part of the service we do for these delightful, but scrappy feathered friends.

A delightful story Deborah.

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