Right now, I sit at my table in the cabin watching the hummingbirds come to the feeder, these tiny dazzling jewels of birds, with gold and red platelets for throats, like sunlit armor that catches the sun. They are extremely excitable, hardly able to relax for a moment while sipping the sugar water I put out.
At times, I feel like I’m watching a miniature aerial war, with dive bombing, defensive maneuvers, long buzzing chases, occasional body contact and threatening displays. When I sit on the porch, they zoom around me, miniature fighter planes criss-crossing the sky, and I can hear the zoom of their tiny motors.
At other times, their movements form a dance, as five sit on the feeder sipping the nectar, nervously eyeing each other for a possible sneak attack. When one twitches, they all back off, their wings thrumming, almost translucent in the air until they decide it’s safe, then return en mass, only to repeat the performance 10 seconds later, an almost synchronized ballet accompanied only by the thrumming of their wings and the wind.
The rufous hummingbirds (above) are migrating through now, upholding their reputation as belligerent birds, not allowing the broad-tailed (left), which stay here all summer, anywhere near the feeder. I watched one defend the feeder against all, chasing away any bird that came near, even its own rufous females. It stood guard on a nearby thistle, not even partaking of the nectar, just boldly claiming this territory, even after I took the feeder in and it got dark.
There’s a good reason for its fierceness. These tiny birds, about three inches long and weighing less than an ounce, have one of the longest migrations for a bird its size: from Alaska to Mexico, sometimes flying 650 miles without stopping to eat or rest.
It’s a feat no human could ever match. I think of the camping trip I took last week, my car stuffed with tent, a sleeping bags, stove, an ice chest full of sausages, potato salad, yogurt, coffee, Washington state cherries and chocolate bars. And that was for two days.
Yet in a few weeks these birds will continue their long, perilous journey with no backpack, no water and no extra food, surviving only on insects and flowers they find along the way.
I bow to their fierceness.