Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

The Boys Are Back In Town.

Posted on | April 19, 2012 | Comments Off

We spotted the first ruby-throated hummingbird on Sunday.  I immediately rushed to find my single remaining hummingbird feeder from last year.  Because everyone knows that hummingbirds send out scouts and if they don’t find your feeder out they’ll go somewhere else for the season.  “Everyone” being a woman I overheard at church.  In any case, it was enough to send me scrambling.  Too bad my feeder only had one remaining flower to sip from and leaks out of the bottom.

I suppose I was lucky to even have that feeder.  Hummingbird feeders at my house are magnets for kick balls, basketballs, baseballs, frisbees, sticks, footballs, hulahoops, Nerf darts, and any other object that can be launched into the air repeatedly until it strikes the window, causing the feeder to crash to the ground and shatter.  Have you ever seen those beautiful hummingbird feeders made of marbled glass or wonderfully hued blue wine bottles or delicate tubes wrapped in fancy curls of copper coils?  Yeah, me too.  In magazines and gift stores.  Because hanging one of those outside my window would be the equivalent of tearing $10 and $20 bills into pieces on the patio and then sweeping up the mess and tossing it in the trash.  That’s pretty much how hummingbird feeders end up around here.

So we switched to the cheapo plastic feeders that you can find at local home improvement stores for $2-$3.  They still fall.  And they sustain damage such as springing leaks or losing their plastic fake flowers.  And if you want perches for the birds to sit on while they sip, you have to make them yourself.

But they are good for at least 3 falls before they have to go in the recycling bin.  So whenever I hear that characteristic thud and smash of a feeder being knocked to the patio, I don’t have to run outside screaming, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  AGAIN???!!!  YOU BROKE THE BIRDFEEDER AGAIN??????  HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU…” like the kind of ballistic person who shows up at the post office with a sawed off shotgun.  I just settle for muttering quietly to myself and shaking my head like a deranged but generally harmless homeless person.

The only problem with the cheapo feeders is that they aren’t carried all season long.  They are snapped up by the mothers of other bat-wielding children in the beginning of the summer.  Then, when you need replacements, all that’s left is this:

Which costs $36.95.

Oh, you can try asking the store clerk:

“Excuse me, but where are all the hummingbird feeders?”

“Right there on the shelf.  You’re lookin’ at ‘em.”

“No, the type that cost $2-$3, are plastic, and hang on the window?”

“Those ARE plastic and hang on the window.”

“OK, let’s pretend all I care about is the $2-$3 part.  Where is that type?”

“What you see is what we got.  We won’t be ordering any more hummingbird feeders at this time because they’re seasonal.”

“Seasonal” is the retail word for “All the cheap ones are gone and we won’t replace them until the ridiculously expensive ones sell.  Better try Goodwill.”

But that’s OK. I figured it out this year.  When it was time to run errands, I headed straight to Lowe’s.  I snapped up 5 of the cheapo feeders and their hooks.

“Wow,”  said Pretty.  “We cleaned out all their feeders.”

A woman with a cart behind us peered over my shoulder.

“Is that the last of the cheap hummingbird feeders?”

“Just the ones off the shelf, ma’am.  I bet if you ask that clerk he’ll probably get some more out of the back for you. “

(They’ll just cost $36.95.)

Then we hauled a** out of there.  As we made our escape out through the garden center, the check out clerk commented on our purchase.

“That’s a lot of hummingbird feeders”, she said and then smiled at the kids. “What a great family.  Do you homeschool?”

I have never understood this question.  Why do people assume that just because I chose to forgo the standard American family of 2.5 children per household, I must have chosen to forgo another of America’s standard practices—a public education?  As far as I’m concerned having 4 children is one of the biggest reasons to support the public schools.  I suppose you could stay home with 2.5 kids for 18 years, but with 4?????  Wouldn’t you have to build one of those creepy safe rooms and lock yourself in it on occasion?  Or have an isolation tank just to hear yourself think?  No, thank you.  Send my kids to school, please.  I mean, what’s next?  Raising our own food??!!

I smiled back politely.

“Yes, we homeschool.  These are for our lastest science project.  We’re creating homemade hookahs.”

I figured that gave her something to google as we walked out to our car.

When we got home, I replaced the leaky feeder with missing flowers.  But then I was afraid the scout might go to the other window and not see a feeder.  So I hung another feeder on that window.  But our windows are so big I figured we should put 2 feeders on each window–one up high and one down low.  Which started a conversation about how high hummingbirds could fly.  There was some controversy about whether they would fly up to the second story of the house.  To test it we took a feeder to the upstairs window.  Ordinarily we couldn’t put a feeder on any of those windows because the screen would be in the way.  But several years ago, someone pulled out a screen to shoot squirrels.  I tried to replace the screen but despite my best efforts to duct tape the screen back in place, it wouldn’t stay.  So The Other Half was going to use the ladder to attach it properly.  Needless to say (oh, but I will say it!), it has never been reattached.  So it was no big deal to open the window, reach out, and suction the feeder in place.

With a new feeder everywhere you looked, we were ready for the scout to return and spread the word about our hummingbird paradise.  But then Big came upstairs, shaking his head.

“I looked up hummingbirds on the iPad.  Turns out there aren’t any ’scouts,’ ” he said.

He told us that ruby-throated hummingbirds don’t travel in flocks and are solitary except for a brief mating period.  The reason you see a lone male hummingbird early in the season is not because he is a ’scout’ for a flock, but just because the males migrate earlier than the females.  And it isn’t our feeders that probably draw them to our location.  Hummingbirds have a cooperative feeding relationship with yellow-bellied sapsuckers, which we have tons of in our little 4 acres of deciduous woodlands.  Since the flowers aren’t in full bloom yet, the male hummingbirds rely on the sap from holes drilled into by sapsuckers.  So where you find sapsuckers, you typically find ruby-throated hummingbirds.  Although they certainly enjoy the feeders and we get tons of hummingbirds all summer long, it isn’t the presence of a plastic red feeder early in the season that draws them here.  It’s the woodpeckers.

Huh.

Turns out we do a bit of homeschooling after all.

“Well,”  I said.  “We’ll still get to find out if they’ll fly upstairs to the second story window to feed.”

“But, Mom,” pointed out Middle, while tossing his baseball up and down in his mitt.  “We hung up all the feeders.  Now what are you going to use to replace them if they break?”

O.M.G.!

“Back in the car, guys!”  I yelled.  “We gotta get to Home Depot before that lady with the cart gets there first.  She could be getting the last cheapo feeder as we speak!!!!”

Communing with nature can be so stressful.


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