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The Hummingbird Feeder Sept 19 08

I’m sitting by the screen door to my balcony, watching two hornets jousting for position at the hummingbird feeder. They jockey in mid air, lock together in conflict, then tumble together in a ball into the blue canvas seat of my camp chair. You’d think there would be a more cooperative spirit between these little clowns; instead, they’re like shoppers the day after Thanksgiving.

The hornets are amusing, but hummingbirds are the reason I’m parked here in the September sunlight with my camera, which is tripoded and focused on one of the feeder’s red nectar dispensers.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a hummer patrolling the collection of southern pitcher plants that I keep on my deck. Attracted to the long, tubular leaves, the bird was doomed to disappointment. A pitcher plant doesn’t offer much in the way of sustenance to a hummingbird. But the little guy kept coming back anyway, evidently refusing to accept that anything which seemed so promising could deliver so little.

Hating to see that kind of hope and perseverance dashed to pieces, I finally drove to Wild Birds Unlimited and bought the feeder.

I now have hummingbirds dining on my balcony. There are at least two of them. I know this because every now and then both will show up. When that happens, like the hornets, the birds will squabble over rights to the feeder. With four separate nectar dispensers, there’s room for all at the table, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Ask a hummingbird why he needs all four dispensers to himself and he’ll tell you, “I don’t know—I just do. You got a problem with that?” Hummingbirds may be small, but they’ve got attitude.

Today is day three of my hummingbird photo shoot. This is the closest I’ve ever been to the birds, mere feet away. I’ve taped off three of the four nectar dispensers, limiting the birds’ options to the one dispenser on which I’ve got my camera trained. You’d think it would be a cinch to get some great shots. Guess again. The birds are anything but cooperative. For all I’ve heard about how feisty and unafraid of humans they are, nevertheless, if I reach for the remote shutter too fast, they’re gone. The click of the shutter spooks them as well. And when they take off, I can count on waiting a while before they return.

When the birds do make an appearance, they have a way of materializing out of nowhere and catching me off guard. I’ll wait for half an hour or more, get immersed in my writing, then instinctively glance up from my computer screen, and there will be a hummer at my feeder. I reach slooooowly for the remote…trip it, click!…and in a molecular instant, there’s nothing but air in front of my feeder, and the bird is streaking like a compact missile across the parking lot and off into the blue.

Please, Lord, puh-leeeeeze…just one good shot with the sun illuminating those iridescent feathers; one high-speed snap that freezes the blur of those lightning wings; one truly transcendent photo that captures the marvel and beauty of this magnificent little creature.

Day three has turned into day four. I’ve shifted the placement of both feeder and camera. Let’s see what happens.

Here’s a hummer now. He’s jockeying into place…maneuvering in front of the perch, wings buzzing furiously…oh, man, he’s in just the right spot…




At last! I think I finally got what I’m after. Close to it, anyway.

Thank you, Lord!

In another week or two, the hummingbirds will be gone. I’m told they disappear just like that. Meanwhile, I will enjoy them while I can. With my camera setup now removed from the deck, they’re all over the feeder. I can look up from my easy chair as I key in these words and watch the birds flitting in and out, their tiny bodies silhouetted against the soft blue sky. There’s one now, chasing a hornet away from the feeder, pursuing it like a miniature F-15, the only bird I know of that possesses such tight, twist-for-twist maneuverability. Amazing. He’s after another one now. And another. The little guy is a one-bird hornet patrol.

I will miss the hummingbirds when they leave. But they’ll return in the spring, and I will be glad to see them—bright, feisty flashes of color beneath the Michigan sun.




Written by Dave.