The Lone Hummingbird

Mar 19, 2020
Land Trust volunteer Byron Dudley discovers an Anna's hummingbird returning to his home earlier than usual.

By Byron Dudley

I was sitting on the back porch on a cold morning in early March having coffee with my cat, Solo, on my lap when we were buzzed by a hummingbird. We had been enjoying an early spring here on the high desert of Central Oregon with sunny days in the 50s and cold nights in the 20s. The black oil seed feeders were refilled each morning for the resident chickadees and nuthatches. Bird seed was scattered on the ground beneath the pines for the Oregon juncos and the towhees. The twin suet feeders were restocked recently for the flickers and the gang of Steller’s jays. The hummingbird feeders were still in storage in the garage. I had not considered a need to fill them with nectar and hang them from the ends of the deck. It was still late winter here.    

I said to Solo, “Did you see that?  It was a hummingbird!” I could not believe it! It was March 12th and the temperature on Fox Ridge at 7:30am was only 24 degrees. I wondered, how could a hummingbird survive in this cold climate at this time of year? Did it come too far north from Baja, Mexico far too soon? We did not expect hummingbirds here until early April. This one was a month or more too early. 

The next morning, she was back, buzzing me and then hovering where the feeders had hung last year. This hummingbird had come home and I was not ready for such an early return. I found the two nectar feeders in the garage and brought them into the house. My wife Nancy cleaned and filled them with a mixture of sugar and water. I hung each one on a long wire from each end of our long covered back deck. At the north end of the deck there is a hawthorn tree and at the south end there is a crabapple. Both trees offer roosting places for hummingbirds in close proximity to the feeders. During afternoons in the summer, Nancy and I enjoy watching the aerial show of Anna’s, calliope, and aggressive rufous hummingbirds as they dart in and out about the red tipped feeders. We have made a commitment to these seasonal, valuable Fox Ridge residents.  

Anna's hummingbird in the summer at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Photo: Kris Kristovich.
Anna's hummingbird in the summer at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Photo: Kris Kristovich.
I should not have been surprised when mid-morning the hummingbird returned. It was a very small female Anna’s, with a long straight black bill and a dark green back. She took no notice of me sitting nearby on the deck with Solo. For a number of minutes, she perched on the feeder in the sunlight with the temperature just above freezing. I was pleased that she was feeding, but I worried about the predicted cold days, the colder nights, and the snow that would be coming soon. The hummingbird returned twice in the afternoon and again at dusk as the temperature was dropping. I brought the feeders in and left them in the laundry room until morning.   

The following morning was clear and cold; only 24 degrees. I hung only one feeder on the south end of the porch. The nectar was frozen by mid-morning so I replaced it with the other from the laundry room. The Anna’s arrived about noon, again during the afternoon, and once more as it was becoming dark. It was obvious the welfare of this hummingbird was our responsibility.  

The next morning, March 15th, I awoke to find three inches of fresh snow on the porch railing. It was the first snow here on Fox Ridge in two months. The temperature was only 18 degrees. I put out a nectar feeder and waited for the Anna’s to arrive. Twice during the morning, I changed feeders, exchanging a frozen one with a liquid one, without ever seeing the small, green-backed bird. In the afternoon it began to snow again and I became concerned, wondering how such a small creature could survive in such a severe environment. I watched the snow fall upon the bird feeders and the heated bird bath in the yard. There was no wind and the temperature had risen to 29 degrees. The birds that live here all year had taken shelter in a cluster of pines.

In the dim light of late afternoon, with the snow falling fast in large flakes, the Anna’s returned. I watched her feed for some time before she departed. She returned as it was becoming dark. Hopefully, the next few days will be less difficult for our feathered friend. We will continue to put the feeders out one at a time and keep them from freezing. We will continue to watch for this lone hummingbird and hope spring arrives soon here on Fox Ridge.

With all that is happening these days with the coronavirus and the associated anxiety with the unknown, it is my pleasure to be able to provide care to a small Anna's hummingbird. 

An Update: This lone hummingbird now appears at the nectar feeder several times each day. On March 19th, when it was just 34 degrees at 10am, she arrived for breakfast. We saw her twice in the afternoon when it was sunny and 48 degrees on the back porch. To our delight, the hummingbird has survived her early arrival in Central Oregon on this, the first day of spring.

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