Colwell Cedars Retreat

      ~ merging awareness, creativity, and nature ~

          I can set my calendar when the hummingbirds bring spring with them. At my location, I count on April 21, give or take a day or two, to welcome the first hummer.  Often it is just a whirr of wings as the first outrider whizzes by, maybe stopping, maybe just teasing me with his passing shadow.  But I have anxiously awaited them, food ready in the feeders, to announce another season.

          Usually, the lazuli buntings are fast behind, and a little later, the black headed grosbeaks, Bullock’s orioles, nighthawks, and other migrants. But I don’t await the first ones of these.  They are part of the crowd that pushes out the winter birds, such as the juncos, and brighten late spring and summer with their jostling, singing, and just being here.  But they don’t have the meaning, the anticipation of the little whirlwinds.

          Within a week or two of the outriders, the lagging main entourage arrives, mostly black chinned, but a few broad billed. The males lead the way, choosing their territories, awaiting their mates.  Whether they have already chosen, or do their courting at their new summer home, I don’t know.  I do know they put on their displays of diving, circling high, buzzing down, hovering, intimidating for several weeks.  How they avoid crashing into branches, buildings, the ground, I will never understand, but they have been perfecting this display for eons.

         Often, they will have to huddle down, shivering, wet, during a late spring snowstorm that often slams into us in early May, but they survive. There is nothing more dismal than an otherwise perky, vibrating hummer, braving out these snowy interruptions, dripping wet and sitting on a branch.  But I have never seen a dead one.  Then, I have only found one nest in years of looking, so they are good at hiding.

          As the days lengthen and nesting begins, I am entertained by dozens flitting, bouncing back and forth, jostling for feeder position. I have tried to count them, but it is like counting a swarm of mosquitos.  How many are there?  I guess two dozen, but there is no way to count.  Better to count electrons vibrating in an atom.

          Sometime in July, the Rufouses arrive from their northern breeding grounds. They are bronze, have a metallic whir, and make me want to swat them with a fly swatter.  Much more territorial than my docile black chins, they drive off other from the feeders, then sit regally in their arrogance.  I keep telling them there is plenty of food.  In one large feeder is more food than he can consume in a lifetime, but still he drives everyone else off.

          Then in August, I notice a thinning of the crowd. Still a crowd and still a daily chore to make food and fill the feeders, but something has changed.  Unlike the finches, jays, grosbeaks, and others, I cannot tell the young hummers.  But I am sure many of my whirring friends are the young of the year and the parents have already started leaving.  The dry heat of June is gone, the thunderstorms of July and August have brought relief, but all of a sudden, there is something in the air that hints of autumn.  A slight breeze, a cooler evening, the sun slinking further south.  I finally notice the hummingbirds are fewer.  By September, we are not making much food.  I change from large feeders to much smaller ones.  A few leaves are hinting yellow.  The Maximillian sunflowers are showing yellow.

          Then the shock hits. I saw only one hummingbird today.  Then two days with nothing.  Then one more.  We approach the equinox and I wait.  No one.  They are gone.  I said my silent goodbye a week ago to the two still hanging around.  I wished them well and Godspeed.  I hope they get past the powerful storm bringing remnants of a Pacific hurricane our way.  Snow has already dusted the highest peaks like powdered sugar.

          I leave the feeder up for at least a week after I have seen the last one. I stare at the unused feeder, hoping one last migrant will stop on her way south.  The feeder seems so forlorn, so lonely.  It matches my feeling.  I know they will be back, but the feeder is ready to end another summer, as I am ready to end another one as well.  I am at the age now, when it is possible I could not make it to April.  I brush off the thought, but some day, it could happen.  Someday it will happen.  For now, I will just think that I have spent another summer communing with the cheerful bouncy hummingbirds and will look forward to another one in seven more months.  Endings do not always precede beginnings.  Sometimes, endings are just that.

          There is no one date to end the season as there was in April. I think their arrival is spread over a couple weeks, but their departure is spread over a month or more.  I cannot know these details.  I don’t know if they know, but somehow they make it work.

          Like a permanent resident in a vacation resort town, I now feel the loneliness of their departure. I am left to survive the winter, the cold, the snow.  I will not be alone.  My winter friends, the juncos, the chickadees, the deer, will all show up more often to keep me company.  But I do feel the silence, miss the bouncing and whirring back and forth, up and down, their cheerful little beeps and twitters.  I smile when I think that as I stare out at the first big snowfall, there are people far to the south who are now enjoying my hummers.  Take care of them and send them my way.  A much anticipated day will come with the arrival of the hummingbirds next April.  I will be watching the calendar.But for now, I will clean the feeders, put them in the root cellar, wait for the juncos to return, say goodbye to the golden aspen as their leaves twirl to the ground, bring in the firewood, and await the long, cold, dark days until the winter solstice.  Then, I will look at the new calendar and count the days until April 21.

When the Hummingbirds Leave

By Joseph Colwell   Copyright 2014