2:9:14 The Flight (and Fight) of the Hummingbird

Day Four of snow in Portland. Portland is not a Buffalo where generations have learned to cope with the white stuff. Snow in Portland typically leads to a shambolic situation, so to stay on the safe side, the town shuts down as quickly as if we're on hurricane watch. I mean where else does snow (we're edging toward a total of 8-10 inches) cause the County to shut down all nonessential services for three consecutive days?

Okay, Portland is prime for icy roads. Arctic air to the east blows down the Columbia Gorge and meets moisture-heavy air off the Pacitic. If temperatures edge out of the 20s and dance around freezing, snow turns to freezing rain and any packed snow hardens into an epoxy-like sheet of ice.


As a rule, though, these snowbound days can have a positive quality. Happiness is walking to a neighborhood Starbucks five blocks away.

But in these we're-doing-our-best-to-stay-warm-and-get-by days, I see an anomaly in my backyard.

Territorial fighting.

For years I've watched two hummingbirds sipping sugar water at our feeder: One has a reddish head; one doesn't. And they chase each other with aerial agility not unlike UFO dash-and-hover-and-dart.

My provisioning problem is sugar solutions freeze. So I bring in the feeder overnight, let it thaw. But with really low temperatures, that's not enough. I have two feeders and swap in and out to keep the hummingbirds happy.

Or so I thought.

One is obviously not a born sharer. The past few days, he--who appears to be the fluffier of the two--sits on the bare wires of a vacant tomato cage stuck in an empty raised bed a few feet away from the feeder, his head with its stiletto beak swings right and left, right and left, like some metronome ... guarding, what else?.

As soon as the other shows up, out shoots Fluffy to chase him away.

So amidst the challenge of getting enough calories for a racecar metabolism and a snowy 23 degrees, Fluffy has the take-no-prisoners attitude. The law of the jungle writ small. Sometimes Fluffy will shoot up thirty feet to a nearby hawthorn branch, but as soon as his intruder appears, he's off in combat-intercept mode.

Fortunately, others on our block also have feeders (though I don't know if they do the overnight thawing and feeder swaps) and I'm sure when Fluffy makes the rounds, he surrenders his post so Skinny can get some life-sustaining nectar too. I've watched him sip unaccosted, sure Fluffy is occupied elsewhere. Again, I'm getting two hummers through a Portland winter.

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(click to enlarge image)

The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

Also, a flash fiction, "Ylena Thinks Nyet," is at Cigale Literary Magazine.

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