Red In Beak And Throat.

For a brief window there was a plan for me to go back to work in my office, plans which have now been put on hold, and to be honest I had mixed feelings about that. On the one hand it would be nice to go back to my old work space, if only for a change of perspective, and at the office I could take brief breaks and walk around the neighborhood. That’s difficult at home because there aren’t any sidewalks here, and the distance from the house to the street is so much farther. I was also just nervous about going back to work in the office. Masking and social distancing policies are still in place, but there are some office corridors where I knew it would be hard to avoid people, and then there was the issue of parking. My wife let her parking permit expire and figuring out how to get a new one would be a bit of a challenge. My office building is in an area where parking tends to be an afterthought. In recent years several restaurants, hotels, and apartment buildings have gone up and now they can’t figure out where to put all the cars.

And on the other hand working at home I have canine office assistants at home and I enjoy eating lunch with my wife. And then there’s the view. My work cubicle doesn’t have windows but at home I sit right at a window that looks out onto the backyard. Back in the winter I also put a bird feeder on the window and it was fun to watch the variety of visitors that came to pick up some safflower seed

When summer came along I replaced the bird feeder with a couple of hummingbird feeders. Unfortunately it took a really long time for the local hummingbirds to figure out the feeders are there but now that they have I get to watch them regularly. The ruby-throated males are interesting and attractive, but I like the plain brown females as well. Actually “plain” is the wrong word. Their feathers are just as patterned as the males’; the color is just subtler.

Since ornithology was never my specialty I never realized that birds have complex, often aggressive social interactions, and it kind of surprised me to see hummingbirds, which seem like these sweet, charming little creatures, turn that up to eleven. They seem to have recognized me and will even hover and look in at me as if to say, “Hello!” That didn’t surprise me—I’ve heard they can be remarkably intelligent, which is something to keep in mind if you ever call someone a bird brain. But with each other they’re not so friendly. They’re vicious and territorial, driving each other away from the feeders, speeding through their air with their pointed beaks like rapiers ready to strike.

And they’ve gotten worse recently. They keep going after each other and have braved high winds and rain to come sip some nectar. It didn’t take me long to realize that, as hot as it may be right now, summer is still winding down, and the hummingbirds are stocking up because they’re preparing for their annual migration. The ruby-throated hummingbird will fly all the way to Florida, or even farther to Mexico or even Panama, flying, in some cases, as far as nine-hundred miles. So I get why they’re really active now. I get nervous myself before any long trip, especially if I’m flying.

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  1. Maureen

    I love the photo of your canine office assistants.

    Your post about hummingbirds is intriguing. I haven’t come across hummingbirds often in the past, but last year we planted some vegetables and herbs, including peas and mint, in the backyard and that seems to have attracted some hummingbirds. Now, we have many. One of my children told me that one of them is an Anna’s hummingbird, and it makes a particular sound when it drops to snatch an insect. (Or he may have said something quite different — I don’t have much of a memory for this kind of info, yet, having spent so many years staring into tropical fish tanks rather than up into the sky.)

    A friend who has developed an interest in bird photography has been taking close-up photos of birds when he is out on his walks, and then emailing them to me. One of the birds was a hummingbird (I later learned) but at the time, I thought it was a much larger bird, like a crow perhaps. It had an extraordinarily long beak and looked quite droll. I just couldn’t imagine how a bird could get around with a beak like that. It had a very intelligent gaze, too. Now, when a hummingbird zooms past in my garden, I think of that feathered character who captured my imagination in the middle of the night, and even though the hummingbird may not be quite visible to me as it rushes past, I still feel like we are friends, somehow.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m fascinated that you have Anna’s hummingbirds and that they’ve been attracted to your garden by peas and mint. I know pea plants have pretty distinctive flowers but I never thought of mint flowers being all that interesting. Maybe your hummingbirds, also being insectivores, are going after bugs that are specifically drawn to the mint.
      They are remarkably intelligent, though, which makes me feel bad about having ever used the expression “bird brain” as an insult. And apparently they’re not only smart but learn to recognize specific people. My wife knows a couple with a farm and they had lots of hummingbirds. Whenever anyone came to visit the hummingbirds would come down and check out the new people. So that hummingbird that rushes past you likely thinks of you as a friend too.


    I’m going back to the office on Mondays, Chris, after my two-week vacation, and I’m nervous about that. Parking was an issue, but I found an economical solution for my first day back (September 7) by using one of the parking phone apps. Also, I’m probably flying to Portland, Oregon on Tuesday to visit my college roommate, Maria. I hope people I encounter on the plane aren’t quite as territorial and vicious as hummingbirds, but we shall see. Always glad to visit here!
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    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I hope your Portland trip goes well, and from what I understand the people on flights right now can be pretty vicious, but hopefully they’re not territorial and won’t give you too much trouble about a seat. At least I’m not territorial and will always welcome you here.

  3. M.L. James

    Of course, birds have less luggage when they travel! Mona

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      For all that you’d think hummingbirds would travel light they seem to drain the feeders I put out for them pretty quickly.


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