Molnar: Saying Goodbye

Sep 4, 2015

The hummingbirds are leaving soon. I can tell from the way they fight over the feeder, as fiercely as when they first arrived, famished from their two-thousand-mile journey north. No sharing or taking turns for these birds, ever. Now, eager to bulk up before returning south, they dive bomb and try to bodyslam intruders in midair, the violence mounting as September advances.

For a long time, I mistook their mating dance for a war dance. And no wonder. It consists of the male swinging wildly at mindbending speed like a ten-foot pendulum – his madly buzzing wings getting louder at the bottom of each arc, over and over. But these dances stopped weeks ago, more evidence that the hummers’ job here is done.

The most reliable way to tell they’re leaving is because I could swear they’re saying goodbye. They now often stop their frantic feeding and fly to me as I sit on the patio unmoving, waiting. They hover just a couple of feet from my face, silent except for the vibration of their wings. We stare at each other, sharing the bright air between us, the wild and the tame merging - as if we have an understanding.

I think the hummingbirds are smarter, or at least more observant than I, because they seem to recognize me as me, while I just see their jewel colors, or lack of color in the females and juveniles. I say this because the hummers don’t ever make eye contact with our many house guests, and rarely even with my husband. I think they say their goodbyes to me, because when they return in the spring and hover in the windows, I’m the one who rushes to put out their food. And if they ever have to remind me they’ve run out, I’m the one who feels guilty and offers them a few extra grains of sugar.

Research bears out my respect for hummingbirds’ intelligence. Their brains are larger in comparison to body size than those of any other birds. They have terrific memory. They know every flower in their territory, and how long it will take each to refill with nectar. They remember year to year where each and every feeder is along the migration path. Females have even been observed watching older females build nests, maybe learning tricks and tips - or maybe eyeing materials worth stealing.

My guess is it’s the latter. Nevertheless, I enjoy these tiny warriors with the heart of eagles and the brains of ravens over all other birds.