The absence is puzzling. Hummingbirds have visited this home in significant numbers every spring and summer for 15 years. Then last year, the numbers seemed less than I remembered, but I attributed that to the fact that I was not keeping up with cleaning and refilling their feeder as promptly as they preferred. This year, not even one hummingbird. I haven’t done any surveys, so I don’t know how extensive this strange loss is, but I assume I have not been singled out for some reason.
My wife always eagerly awaited the arrival of the birds. She entered a comment and the date in the notebooks she kept for each year to record the things that mattered to her. On March 30, 2015, five months before her death, she wrote, “Hummer came!” It was the first scout, who would be followed by a couple of others, moving around the house to peer in all the windows, alerting me to prepare their food. Then dozens would flow into the area, whirling around the feeder that hung just outside my wife’s bedroom window, where she could watch from her bed and be entertained by them throughout the day.
I found them entertaining as well. Watching hummingbirds flutter and feed is similar to watching tropical fish — you know what they’re going to do, but you find yourself watching at length anyway, as if something different is about to happen. And sometimes something different does. I would stand and hold the feeder upright and steady, and the hummers would eventually come and perch on my fingers while they ate, taking breaks to look closely at my eyeglasses, fanning my face with humming wings.
Knowing the little visitors would be here only for a season, then disappear southward for the winter, meant their presence was especially treasured. They might feel almost like family, but we knew that someday, like family, they would be gone. The effort to clean and refill feeders was a small price to pay for their visit, as was the occasional rescue effort. Leave the garage door up, and a curious tiny bird would likely fly in to investigate the red emergency door release, and once inside, insist upon trying to fly upward instead of outward. Or leave the main house door open, and a small critter was likely to fly in and check out the dining room. Unable to perch soon and often, they would quickly run out of steam and begin to falter, which was the time to reach up and hold a broom under the tiring dynamo so it could gratefully land on the straws and be transported back outdoors.
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There are no entries of any kind in the black notebook after September, 2015, so I see no record of the birds’ departure. It would normally have been in early October. My own efforts at record-keeping the following year were much more erratic, but I did record the first visitor on March 31. This year, nothing.
I’ve considered various possible reasons for the absence of the birds. Maybe it has to do with climate change. Maybe severe storms have thrown them off their northward course this spring. Or perhaps they decided to impress upon those of us now denied their presence that we should treasure beauty and the wonders of nature more thoroughly when we have the chance.
Or it could be that, like so many problems these days, we can blame this disaster on our leaders. Large numbers of us would be inclined to blame the current President. Large numbers would be inclined to blame his predecessor. Take your choice. Regardless of who is responsible, the rest of us have to live with the loss.
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of “Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage.”