What a difference one week can make. Not in the world in general, not these days, but it’s been massively different in my backyard since Rufus arrived.
One week ago my sister and brother-in-law were sitting on our back deck, their first visit in the time of Pandemia, and they were remarking on how many hummingbirds were zipping around.
And this was even less than usual, because one day after bragging about how Lynn and I sat out under her new umbrella mosquito-free, our guests experienced plenty of mosquito visitation, despite Tia’s gift to Lynn of anti-mosquito incense sticks. My theory, with no science to back it up, is that we were down a few hummingbirds since Don and I were sitting close to the feeder on the deck railing and no one was imbibing.
But there were still lots of hummingbirds to impress our guests with.
It was probably only a day or two later that I looked out to see the sparkliest hummingbird I’ve ever seen perched on the wire of the deck railing. His (I assume) throat flashed the most glittery orange I’ve ever seen as he turned his head and caught the light. It was brighter than the shiniest application we put on shirts, usually for young girls. Bling to the extreme.
I took a picture and showed it to Kara, and she told me I had a rufous and that they’re very territorial. She got that right: now it’s Rufus and Rufus alone.
Early in the week I saw the feeder in the eaves had run out, so I dutifully mixed up sugar water (a far messier proposition than I ever considered when looking at other people’s pleasant feeders) and filled the sticky container. The second I hoisted it back into place, there was a hummingbird: Took you long enough, Human.
Since then, though, the feeder has been a lonely place, and the liquid that drained so readily into tiny beaks just one week ago is still leveled at the top of the feeder. So is the one on the deck railing, which I topped off at the same time. Between the two feeders, equidistant, is Rufus, perched on the deck railing wire.
His is a full-time job and then some. He is on the railing when I look out at 6 a.m.; he is there at 8:30 p.m. It’s not a restful job, either: his head is constantly swiveling, that magnificent throat bursting forth in the light until all of Rufus bursts forth, harrying any interloper that dares come near his feeders.
Except that I thought they were my feeders, and we’ve had a couple of conversations about this. If he’s going to run everyone else off, he needs to step up his game on the mosquitoes.
Kara tells me hummingbirds recognize and remember for the rest of their lives human faces. I’m not returning the favor, and for all I really know there’s an entire cadre of rufous birds, winking orange in the sunlight, taking their turn at the watch just like sailors on a ship.
One evening I watched Rufus dart off at amazing speed into the trees to the east, and just as I turned my head back Rufus glided from the west onto the wire. I suppose, as fast as Rufus One was moving, he could have managed a circle around or over the house — or maybe Rufus Two was just messing with me.
I did, last evening, observe a very fat, duller bird on Rufus’ perch (his girlfriend, perhaps, possibly expectant?); she flew down into Lynn’s as-yet-unplanted flower bed and then ran under the deck. And hasn’t been seen since. And maybe wasn’t even a hummingbird.
So really, I have no idea how many hummingbirds might be holding court in our backyard, but my feeders are still full and nearly every time I look out, Rufus is on guard. No matter how many times I tell him it’s nice to share.
I don’t know how broad a rufous’ territory extends; perhaps I should try a better, non-flower-shaped feeder out front, preferably hoisted high since Lynn’s co-worker who lives just across the highway from us has had a bear in her neighborhood recently. (So has Gilly, who lives in town but seems to get a bear who sets up camp in her backyard tree every summer.)
In the meantime. Rufus isn’t leading too lonely an existence, even if he’s just the one (or he and the missus, or he and an entire flock who look just like him): my other bird feeder has been quite popular, just suddenly as of this week. Not being a bird pro (yet), I have no idea what these are, but I’m getting lots of little brown birds, some with black and white stripes on their heads. I hope they don’t fill up so much on pistachios or whatever it is in their mix that they forget to eat the mosquitoes.
I don’t really know how much I’m liking Rufus’ takeover of my little hummingbird kingdom. It was fun to see all the different colors, not that he isn’t quite the splashy fellow all by himself. I did a full minute of research on the internet, from those folks at Audobon, where they tell me climate change is endangering the rufous as their summer habitat gets more limited.
So then I think I need to be a hospitable host, but right as I type that, Rufus lifts himself off his rail to run off a would-be consumer of my wares, and it seems like it’s probably time for another talk. I don’t know how old Rufus might be, but he listens like a teenager.
He hasn’t been forthcoming with his plans, either, unless the fat brown bird was an indicator. The Audobon map shows rufouses ranging up into northern Canada for the summer; either this guy missed the memo or he’s still in transit.
He could be like the geese, who appeared suddenly one day with their downy chicks and then were gone, the very next day, the little heartbreakers. Just as I get accustomed to our evening chats about how he’s not pulling his weight and it’s nice to share, he might be gone. And then I might get my other guests back.
But I will probably be a little sad when Rufus leaves.