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  • Mj Pettengill

When to Come and When to Go

Hummingbirds



Hummingbird              (Max Pixel)
Hummingbird (Max Pixel)

From springtime until the onset of autumn, the musical tones of the hummingbirds are reassuring.


My mother and I often discussed these beautiful creatures. Had they arrived? Did they go away? Were they back? We frequently shared thoughts regarding the birds’ activity at our feeding stations.

No matter how I tried to frame the squirrel and chipmunk dilemma, my mother could barely tolerate them, if she did at all. She also had an attitude towards bluejays. I love them. Yes, the rodents can overrun the place if you let them, but it’s all about the art of sharing and patience.

How is this possible? It begins with the acceptance that these creatures require food and water to survive. If you put out these things, they will go for it. Of course, this is natural; they’re hungry. They lack the insight to stop and rationalize whether or not the seeds and cracked corn are for them or other creatures. What they know is that it is food, and it’s there. Understanding is a much gentler way to approach this situation.

In the heart of winter, I might hang suet and a feeder or two, but I prefer tossing the food on the ground—in and around stumps and in a long feeding trough. This provides my wild neighbors with an opportunity to forage. It is also cumbersome for the wandering bear. This method of feeding makes it easy to avoid bear encounters. They aren’t usually into scattered seeds but never say never.


Now is the time for a changing of the guards. Plenty of nuts and seeds are still available in the wild, but soon that will diminish as we give way to winter. Once the decision is made to feed birds, it is essential to continue throughout the winter. They seek out and rely on their established feeding stations.

I consider the hummingbirds’ departure at the end of August and into September. I have an abundance of (healing) wildflowers, herbs, veggies, berries, fruit trees, and untamed fields—all wild or organic. It is a haven for pollinators and others that make their way along the pathway from here to there.

A few days ago, I saw a female hummingbird hovering at my studio door. She looked at me for what seemed like a long time. In bird time, it was equal to a half hour; in real-time, it was about thirty seconds.

I sensed that they were getting ready for their migratory trip south. I continue to provide fresh nectar in clean glass feeders, keeping an eye on their activity when possible. They have been in and out of the garden, visiting the phlox and other sweet blossoms.

Making sure not to miss them, I stood between two hanging feeders in a busy area and announced, “Farewell, sweet hummers. Have a safe trip, and thank you for gracing me with your presence.” Many years ago, I realized I didn’t like not having a chance to say goodbye.

A few days ago, when I was in my office, I saw a fluttering outside my office window. I looked, and there, again, was a female hummingbird hovering and looking in at me. I can only imagine she was responding, bidding farewell, and thanking me for being here, too.

After spotting the last hummingbird—for those north of here that may stop on their journey heading south—I will keep the feeders up for a few weeks. They do not plan their migration based on me and my activities. They are aligned with the shifting cycles and seasons. They’re aware there are fewer bugs and flowering plants, and the days are getting shorter. They know when to come and when to go. I am grateful for their presence in my life.



(Marya of the Wood)