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A Hummingbird Story
  by Karen Del Pellegrino
     How does that saying go again? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results; I think that’s it or at least it comes close. By that measure continually hanging up a hummingbird feeder over the span of, let’s just say two decades, without ever attracting a single hummer is probably a good indicator that a person is a tad cray-cray! (I think that’s the way it’s said now or maybe it’s just a texting thing but I do believe I hear ‘cray-cray’ on some popular television shows now and again.)
     Mental stability aside, every spring since moving to NJ I’ve put out my arsenal of bird feeders including one for hummers and flying feathered creatures of every description were drawn to my yard to entertain me during my gardening chores. All the typical species you’d expect in NJ visited at some point and I was able to scribble check marks in my little pocket birder’s life list. Some even nested and raised families in my trees; many different birds but never, ever a hummingbird.
     Keeping the feeders filled allowed me to witness some amazing nature vignettes. I remember the family of four Cardinals, Mom, Dad and a baby boy and baby girl, and how when their kids reached adult size in late summer those parents continued to fall for that nestling habit of fluttering wings and begging to be fed with beaks wide open. Especially their daughter who I named Gail because she reminded me of an acquaintance whose philosophy in life was ‘if someone can do it for you, why would you do it yourself?’ Gail-bird had a knack of getting both parents to tend to her so much more often than her brother. Maybe she worked that Daddy’s little girl phenomenon, maybe her bird lashes were exceptionally long, whatever her strategy was it certainly worked for her, the spoiled little Cardinal beauty.
     All sorts of birds cavorted through my garden making it a regular stop in their lives through the years and were generous enough to let me watch. All sorts but one! Still no hummingbirds; none, nada, zip, zero. Ants feasted on the clear nectar, bees mocked me with buzzy little chortles and still I couldn’t catch a single glimpse of that ultimate prize, a hummingbird. Well, not quite true because once while I was tending a plant in my very tall raised flower bed I heard a buzzing sound and my husband said “A hummingbird, look!”. I’m sure you can see where this is going but I’ll tell you anyway. I turned my head right toward my husband Walter and the hummer was greedily enjoying the nectar of a penstemon on my LEFT! By the time I saw where he was pointing and turned my head the hummer had flown away. So not fair! I’m the one who tended that plant for your enjoyment you greedy little bird but my husband, who just so you know, can’t tell a blade of grass from an Iris, gets to see you! Seriously not fair.
     What I didn’t know all those years was that I was doing it wrong. I had no idea of when the little gems actually returned and by the time I put my nectar outside so late in the season, their feeding patterns were already set and I wasn’t on the map. Sure, maybe a hummer or two found my feeder during their regular rounds but never when I was there. Face it, I was an abysmal hummingbird caretaker failure; shameful but true none the less. That’s not to say I’m not more than happy to have provided nourishment to a passing hummer but come on guys, don’t I get just a little payback for the effort? Won’t you let me see you just once for all that boiling, mixing and cleaning?
     The years passed, the business of life went on with all its unrelenting happiness and sorrow. Circumstances may have changed and though I found myself in another place I continued to put out the feeders every spring. Yeah, even the next to useless hummingbird feeder because by now it was a habit, nothing more. No expectation of sitting in the garden and reveling in the hummer antics I’ve jealously read about for ages. Just a familiar pattern of my life, it’s what I do every spring in whatever garden I find myself; marking time, making a small statement that yes, I’m still here.
     One late afternoon in mid July 2014 I plopped myself down to catch my breath and rest after tending the garden, if you consider named plant varieties battling for survival and severely outnumbered by weeds a ‘garden’, well that’s where I was when I spied the female Ruby Throated hummingbird hovering around the nectar feeder. I was beyond shocked but somehow remained completely still even though all I wanted to do was jump up and down & do the Snoopy dance,  high five and shout all sorts of silly platitudes at the top of my voice. I remained as if carved in stone while the tiny bird drank from one port then another, my cigarette was turning to ash between my fingers and still I didn’t move. If blisters on two fingers was the price I had to pay for this encounter with the little bird after all these years of waiting, I was good with that!
     A person can be very still and silent; may even be able to silence each breath taken but tears can’t be controlled like that, at least not without specialized Navy Seal training or something similar. I realized after that little Ruby dined at my feeder then flew away, that my cheeks were wet with over-the-top happy, happy, joy, joy tears that had just popped out of my eyes of their own accord; I am familiar with tears and these surprising tears were a very good thing. I think when a person receives a jolt of joy, tears just pop out to mark the occasion, but that’s only what I think.
     So, all the hummingbird caretakers with YouTube videos of masses of hummers visiting feeders that I’ve been so envious of, mock me if you will. I don’t care because I had one very ordinary little hummer visit ME last year, every quarter hour of everyday like clockwork from mid-July until she flew south. I was so jealous of your accomplishments in attracting the many hummers that I missed what’s important. Each one counts and joy can find you in the form of one tiny magical bird. 
     I do think my little Ruby girl was probably driven away from the popular feeders in the area by more territorial birds and my feeder was a safe haven that she was fortunate to find and no other hummer bothered with. Maybe she arrived in town late, maybe she’s not as aggressive, maybe she just found someone as cray-cray as she is, but having found my lonely feeder she was able to sustain herself last year; the why doesn’t matter. I kept her fed and was sad when she left to go south. I don’t want to think of what may have become of her if I had given up hanging the never used feeder every single year for decades. If insanity really is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then I’m happy to be insane, so there!
Have a question for Walter?
Or a question for Karen?
4 cups boiled water & 1 cup pure cane sugar is all you need to attract hummers & it's the only formula approved by the Audubon Society.
Hummingbird Nectar Recipe

© 2016, Walter and Karen Del Pellegrino, All Rights Reserved
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