The Saga of the Lonely Hummingbird

Aug. 20, 2021, SANTA FE, NM — The distinctive buzz interrupted my reading. I sat still as the little black hummingbird approached a plant in the desert garden just outside the patio railing. He — or she? — hovered, but didn’t find a bloom. The hummer moved toward the small feeder hanging just a few feet from my patio table. Perhaps spooked by my presence, it moved to the larger hanging glass feeder with small red and yellow plastic flowers. A few seconds later, it moved on to the next patio where it wouldn’t be subject to human attention.

When I arrived in Santa Fe at the beginning of June – a month earlier than last summer – I came prepared with a big bag of sugar and my feeders. The next morning I waited patiently to see which of the three common hummingbird varieties from last summer would first discover my feeders. Would it be the burnt-orange necked Rufous, the iridescent-green broad-tailed or the black-chinned with violet-blue highlights in bright sun?

For weeks I waited, wanting to relive the magical mornings with the hummers that I wrote about last year. Finally one day this tiny black hummingbird showed up. In the shade it just looked black, not matching photographs of the three types of hummers in my “Birds of New Mexico” guide. The single hummingbird buzzed by once or twice a day. Of course, I didn’t know whether it was always the same bird, but I had yet to see more than one at a time.

I wondered if this little hummingbird was lonely. Had it arrived in Santa Fe to find its compadres went somewhere else this year? Was it just ahead of the pack?

My queries with friends here and at the Wild Birds Unlimited store didn’t bring ready answers. Late spring cold snaps and even heavy hail might have damaged the plants and blooms that draw hummingbirds here. June’s high temperatures might have been to blame. One friend reported that she was seeing some hummers at her cabin on the Holy Ghost Creek in the Santa Fe National Forest east of here. A neighbor suggested they would come later in July.

So over my morning coffee I watched the orange-faced male House Finches and their mostly brown female partners quickly attack the sunflower seeds in my tubular feeder. Spotted Towhees joined, preferring to feed off seeds that fell to the ground on our ledge high above the dry arroyo.

What I initially thought were crows turned out to be the larger black common ravens, which noisily sat in groups of two or three on the railing over the arroyo wall before soaring off to perches atop tall lodgepole pines.

All I could do was put out fresh sugar water every few days and sit quietly, waiting for that signature buzzing sound.

And finally, in mid July I saw a pair. Then three at once.

They seldom stopped if I was sitting outside, being more skittish than I remember from last year. But the bossy Rufous hummers buzz by, chasing off the others. Just yesterday a bold hummer fed just a couple of feet from a friend who joined us for a late breakfast on the patio.

Will I be able to feed them from my hand as I did last year? I doubt it. But I’m so happy to see that at least some of my hummingbirds have returned this year. They are a large part of what draws me back to Santa Fe.