Maybe the Last Hummingbird of Summer

Early yesterday evening Clate and I sat on the screened porch as the sun dropped low and then set, and light faded on another mild, lovely Fall day. What we could see of the sky through the trees was at first soft blue, then gently turned to cream and orange and soft pink. A few katydids began to sing and crickets. A lingering Scarlet Tanager called a sharp chick! from trees around the yard, now and then the full chick-brrr call. Cardinals peeped loudly. 

One little Ruby-throated Hummingbird sat on the feeder just outside the porch and sipped nectar until it was almost dark. Now and then it zipped off to a nearby branch or to sit for a moment on top of the crook that holds the feeder, but mostly it sat and sipped and sometimes twittered. I watched it, noticing the fine, delicate shape of its head, and the white throat with a faint pattern of speckles, and green, iridescent feathers on its back when there was still enough light to see them well, and the way the nectar rippled when the long tongue dipped in to sip. For the first day in many weeks, it seemed to be the only one around, so it stayed uncommonly still for a longer time. Just two days ago there were still at least two hummingbirds vying for position on the feeder – but even then, they weren’t spending nearly as much time on duels, more focused on feeding as much as they could, and often sharing the feeder. 

This morning when we came downstairs for breakfast, the feeder hung vacant. No hummingbird sat there, intently feeding after a long night. And when we sat on the porch for lunch, we didn’t see a single hummingbird come – or hear the bright, high twittering and humming, zipping sounds. So we wonder if the one we saw last night might be our last hummingbird of the summer, and if it might have left here during the night and begun its long flight south.

We don’t know for sure. We might still have others coming through in migration, and we’ll keep the feeder up for a good while longer. But it’s getting late in the year, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds must leave for their winter homes in Central America. 

This summer of the pandemic, the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been among many birds around our woods and yard that have brightened the difficult times and reminded us daily of the things that matter most. This year that’s felt more important than ever. They’ve given us beauty. They’ve made us smile. They’ve kept us connected to the living world on which we all depend, and whose future we should be doing so much more to protect. 

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