EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a two-part series on special challenges writer Georgiann Potts faced during the summer of 2019.

Writer’s Note: In the first installment of this two-part column that ran two weeks ago, I wrote about the zinnia part of my “Zinnia and Hummingbird Tussle”. Today’s column addresses the hummingbird part.

This tussle has been a true challenge for me, as I have had to come to grips with repeated failures.

In our family, one of our favorite expressions is, “This is a character-building experience.” Frankly, my character had just about all of those experiences it could stand!

Patience is a virtue, and in both cases — floral and bird — patience won the game. Along the way there was a fair amount of laughter and large doses of humility, both of which proved good for the soul!

Surviving Summer

2019 — Part 2

One thing that I have learned through the years is that smugness does not pay. Some call it “karma” — others, “fate” — and others, “bad luck”. What goes around, comes around, and too much smugness encourages failure. When I finally defeated the zinnia “curse” and had blooming plants, I should have practiced more humility. Instead, I tempted fate.

Case in point: hummingbirds. Infrequently during the years that we’ve had the lake place, I have put up the ubiquitous hummingbird feeder that all of my lake neighbors have. And every year, I have seen precious few of the little darlings while my neighbors have had hundreds.

Hummingbirds

for Everyone, but Me . . .

I had given up on the “hunt” until this May when the Graingers gave me a beautiful (code for “fancy”) hummingbird feeder for Mother’s Day. It is heavy glass with pretty flower “feeding tubes” from which any self-respecting hummer would surely be tempted to sip. Included was a premade clear sugar mixture. Notes on the container explained that this clear liquid was safer, since the red dye usually used in prepared mixtures might actually be harmful to the birds.

I filled the feeder, positioned it carefully to hang from a bracket, and watched. Nothing. Not a single bird, except for one Oriole who stopped by one day to have a sip. The feeder remained full. Clearly, no one had told the Lake Bartholomew hummers that the clear liquid was “food.”

I also did something else that was encouraged, I’m sure, by my recent zinnia experience. I posted my new feeder’s picture on my Facebook page, announcing that my hummers would surely be enjoying this all summer. In what was clearly a premature burst of optimism, I had unwittingly let those who have no problem attracting hummingbirds know that I was “in the game”.

By June, enough friends had learned that I wasn’t having any luck attracting hummers, so their suggestions and helpful “hints” began pouring in. “Red color attracts them!” was the most frequent comment, so I began addressing that. I couldn’t make the sugar water red, because I had been forewarned about that dye business. I had to find other ways to add red to the feeder’s environment . . .

Because the bracket holding the feeder was white, I spray-painted it bright red (and the bark around the tree it was attached to, as well, but I figured that would just make it a bigger “target”). Our Mississippi children felt so sorry that JB brought a new planter and some red flowering plants over to help attract them. In short order, I had killed the new plants. Sigh.

A sweet neighbor brought me a second feeder that she said was “foolproof and will do the trick”. Not having another bracket, I hung this feeder a little lower on the same bracket as my first one. After several weeks of zero birds, I posted a picture of the two on Facebook with the caption, “Do I look desperate?” Got lots of replies to that one . . . plus more advice than you might imagine.

Neighbors’ Bounty . . .

Another month passed, and another friend felt so sorry for me that she brought me yet another feeder, complete with a portable shepherd’s hook hanger so that I could move it around to try and find the “right” spot. I immediately placed it right on the property line with our neighbor (proximity, you know —AND all’s fair in traumas like this — AND she had LOTS of hummingbirds). I dutifully watched. Nothing.

About this same time, I had seen so many posts about hummingbirds on Facebook that I couldn’t stand it. It was as though all of north Louisiana had hummingbirds, but me. We went to a lake neighbor’s house toward the end of July and I sat in their living room, marveling at their hummers. They have (I couldn’t count how many) feeders by their swimming pool and the hummers were everywhere! I noticed that she had placed artificial roses up the rope (red, of course) that attached the feeders to hooks. That gave me an idea.

My partner in the hunt, Jim, put our two watermelon-patterned patio umbrellas on the two side tables. Their dominant color was red. I then moved the shepherd’s hook feeder onto the patio, pushing it down into one of my largest zinnia pots (I know, but I was desperate — it had been a long summer). I moved another feeder onto the patio fence near some red vincas that were blooming in a pot below.

Cue Etta James —

“At Last” . . .

A few evenings later, just before I was going to post “Do hummingbirds feed at night when there is no moon? Asking for a friend” on my Facebook page, I was talking with neighbor Cathy Brown when I stopped mid-sentence. I realized that I was seeing hummingbirds on our patio . . . real, live hummingbirds! Cathy saw them, too, so I had a witness. The next evening, I photographed one — and my zinnias, too, for good measure.

Over this summer I have been more focused on hummingbirds — or their absence — than ever before. While I was waiting for one — just one — to show up, I did some reading about them. They are fascinating birds!

Hummingbird Facts . . .

For such a little creature, the hummingbird packs a powerhouse of energy and agility. They are nicknamed the “helicopter bird” because of their ability to hover by flapping their wings from 12 to 90 times per second, depending on which species. (Their “humming” sound is the sound of their wings.) They can fly backwards, an ability that is theirs alone, and one that makes them nimble in flights at speeds that can exceed 34 miles per hour for forward flight. When diving, they can reach up to 60 miles per hour. Interestingly, these incredible flying machines cannot walk or hop. When perched, however, they can manage to move sideways on a branch.

Their primary diet is nectar that they use their tongues to extract from inside flowers (and hummingbird feeder “flower tubes”). Research shows that they can lick at a rate of 10 to 15 times per second when they are feeding. In the process, the hummers play an important role in plant pollination. Scientists have proved that they eat more than their own body weight in nectar each day. Because of their diminutive size and high metabolism, a hummer can store just enough energy to survive overnight. Researchers have determined that they will also eat small insects and spiders.

Although there have been more than 325 hummingbird species identified worldwide, in the United States there are only 8 species that regularly breed within its borders. About 24 species of hummers in all migrate to and from America. A hummingbird egg is smaller than a jellybean.

Not All Sweetness

and Light . . .

In spite of their small size, hummingbirds are considered one of the most aggressive of birds. They have been observed attacking interlopers (other birds such as hawks, blue jays, and crows) who come into the areas that the hummers have designated as their private territories.

In some instances, researchers have noticed that often there is one hummingbird that is dominant and actually patrols the feeders, chasing away those not welcome.

There are no hummingbirds in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, or Antarctica except those in captivity there. They are not found outside of the Western Hemisphere. Indigenous people respected the hummingbird and used its image on talismans, weapons, and in religion. The Cherokee believed that the hummingbird was their special protector and carved totems and drew cave art representing the bird.

Some successes are more meaningful than others. Surviving the “Zinnia and Hummingbird Tussle” of 2019 was a big one! I’m now looking into ways to qualify Idiot’s Delight as a hummingbird sanctuary — one that has lots of blooming zinnias near the feeders.

Hope springs eternal!

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