Opinion: Hummingbirds, geese are good company

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The hummingbird feeder hangs abandoned on the front porch. It sways in the breeze, the remaining nectar turning cloudy from neglect.

The birds are gone. It must have been at the first hint of frost that they gathered, turned south and left.

It’s always been a mystery to me how they manage to fly from our village in the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico and then make a non-stop flight 500 miles across open water. It seems impossible, considering these tiny creatures have such a high rate of metabolism that whatever they consume is used up in a little more than a half-hour. They could literally starve to death in just a few hours.

A rubythroated hummingbird will eat its own body weight in nectar every day. At night the birds activate a sort of hibernation torpor that slows everything down and enables them to survive until daylight. During the day, their hearts beat up to 1,250 beats every minute.

Despite their high-speed metabolism, hummingbirds manage to store fat to see them through migration. I imagine they are pretty frazzled by the time they reach the shores of Mexico.

Canada geese, on the other hand – also migratory birds – are more indolent and laid back. Sometimes they don’t migrate at all, but stay year-round wherever there is open water. The ones that do migrate spend their summers in Canada and the northern states and fly south as far as Texas for the winter months.

Back in the early years of the 20th century, Canada geese had been so overhunted as to be in danger of extinction. The government stepped in, banned further hunting, initiated a re-population program and put the birds on the protected list.

The pendulum swings from one extreme to the other, of course, and once protected, the birds replenished themselves, multiplied and soon became a nuisance.

Every river, stream, farm pond and suburban retention pond is now a haven for geese. People spend hours cleaning their sidewalks and driveways and carefully avoiding nesting areas. Geese are notoriously territorial and can quickly make you regret trespassing.

I spend summer days enjoying the hummingbirds as they land on the feeder or hover outside our front window evaluating their reflection in the glass. The Canada geese, too, are fun to watch when flying in their sloppy V formations from the suburbs to the farm fields and back again.

I’ll bring in the hummingbird feeder now, clean it and store it for the winter. Then I’ll hang it fresh with nectar in the spring and wait for the birds to return.

Meanwhile, the geese will keep me company.

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