The real hummers

A couple of summers ago, I wrote a whimsical column about hummingbirds being akin to the fairies of the desert. That's still the case, certainly, and I'm not gonna take it back, as these special birds do indeed have plenty of fairy-esque moments, all dazzling in their iridescent finery as they hover and feed, stealing nectar from the gardens of Northern Nevada. But this fairy stuff ain't the whole story.

That's because hummers aren't really all that dainty and lovely and Tinkerbellish when they're busy being the Ultra Bitches of the Desert. And right now, there is some seriously ornery bitchin' goin' on at local feeders.

Yes, the baddest, meanest, most territorial girls ever are back in town, meaning the females of the rufous species, and as usual, they're back with some major attitude. As in, “What exactly do you think you're doing, drinking at MY feeder, pal?” This inquiry invariably being made in the war tongue of the rufous, which sounds like, roughly, “Zee chuppity chup!” Once you hear that strange cry, pull up a chair, top off your lemonade, and enjoy. It's Showtime!

Oh, these girls are contentious little princesses. I'm sure the males are, too, but I don't have any fellas at my place this summer. It's girl on girl action out here. I've got three feeders and there are four females. That means bitchfest with a capital B. Of course, in the world of hummers, if you have five feeders for four birds, you also have trouble. Go figure. They're just not all that reasonable. Lousy diplomats.

If it's mid-July/mid-August, that means it's rufous time in Reno, as thousands of birds pour into town on their way down from their breeding zones in Washington and British Columbia, eventually making their way back to their winter grounds in Mexico. Their journey is impressive, to say the least, since we're talking about a creature that weighs one tenth of an ounce—a tenth of an ounce!—flying about 2,000 miles twice a year. So it's safe to say (a) they're in pretty good shape, and (b) they're hungry.

I encourage you to get in on this free, breathtaking show. All you need to do is put up a feeder. Actually, put up two. At least. The recipe for hummer water is simple. One part sugar to four parts water. That's it. No red dye. Completely unnecessary. And no brown sugar or any organic jazz. Just good ole white sucrose. They love it. And they need it. Don't worry about them finding your feeder. They will. Trust me. People are often amazed at how quickly hummers will show up at a new feeder. Once they know a feeder is up, they'll bang the bejesus out of it. Then, all you have to do is pull up a chair and watch the greatest fliers on earth have the most amazing aerial skirmishes ever. Right in front of your face. And keep that feeder filled! You don't want to get these Fairy Bitch Queens mad at you, do you? Zee chuppity chup!