Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Hummingbirds in winter
Anna's hummingbirds recently started overwintering where I live. I have a friend who is big in the Audubon society around here. When we had the first one in our yard all winter about 3 years ago now, he checked it out, and positively identify it as an Anna's. (This second link has more pictures.) Apparently they're just a little bigger than the other types of hummingbirds we get around here, and I was told (but can't now confirm it on the Interwebs) that they're set up to eat more bugs, so they do okay in the winter. Being here before the rest of the hummingbirds arrive in Spring gives them a competitive advantage because they can stake out all the good territories, match up and build nests earlier, whatever. It was a big deal that first year, but now, I guess, no one gets too excited anymore.
So, that's the science-y story, which I appreciate. But, I admit to a good amount of magical thinking tied up in these winter hummingbirds. The first year we had one that stayed was the year I was pregnant with Liam. We knew we were pregnant at the beginning of October, and even though it seemed unlikely at times, both Liam and the hummingbirds stayed and survived all winter. I had this nutty little kitchen step-ladder that I would haul out into the yard at first light to bring in the feeder, chip off the ice, and put out new food on frosty mornings. When Liam was born in the spring, the hummingbirds were still with us, nesting somewhere around the yard. We've had them every winter since Liam was born.
A few weeks ago I thought we'd lost our winter hummingbirds. It was in the single digits at the house one morning, and in the teens for a few days on either side. The feeder was frozen completely solid 4 days running. Not just a little ice. Frozen. Solid. Then one day when I collected the frozen feeder, thawed it, and brought the new food out, no hummingbirds. (Usually in typical Anna's fashion the male(s) are there at first light and will scold and dive at me from the apple tree whenever I go near the feeder.) At 8:00 AM, none. At 9:30, still none. I really thought they were gone. They around 10:00 or so a little male showed up. And finally, much later that afternoon one of the females. I'll have to call my Audubon friend again and let him know they made it. It has warmed up since then and they're at the feeder all the time. When Liam sees them he calls out "Hummingbird! Special bird!"
Science or not, hummingbirds in winter are magic.