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Outdoors Column | Les Winkeler: A minute of pure hummingbird magic

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It started out as a simple, albeit, overdue chore.

My wife and I spent a couple restful hours on the back porch Saturday morning, nursing our caffeinated drinks. Between the cardinals and house finch at the sunflower feeders and the constant traffic at the hummingbird feeders, it was an entertaining morning.

At some point, I stated aloud the hummingbird feeders needed to be refilled. Somehow, I never got around to it.

That neglect was brought to my attention Sunday morning when a hummingbird approached me on the back porch. When I say approached, I don’t mean a flyby. I mean she flew right into my face and stared right into my eyes as if to say, “We’re damned hungry out here.”

So, just after lunch, we got the hummingbird assembly line going.

All the feeders were brought inside. My wife cleaned half, I cleaned the other half. She mixed up the food and I hung the feeders in their place.

While taking out the last feeder, a flat-saucer shaped model, I heard a hummingbird buzz right by me. I looked to my left and saw nothing, but there was the familiar buzzing again. Looking down at my left hand, I spotted a hummingbird hovering just above the feeder.

“There’s no way she sits down to eat,” I said to myself.


The hummingbird sat down, goodness they have tiny feet, at the edge of the feeder and took a long drink. The little bird sat upright for a split second, then dove back for a second helping.

With that, she started up the engines. I figured that would be it, but I was wrong again.

The bird visited each of the tiny ports. At one point, I could actually feel her wings beating against my tee shirt.

In the meantime, my wife was still at the kitchen sink, putting away the sugar and measuring cups. I wanted to holler or signal in some manner, but I also didn’t want to chase away the hummingbird. It was a minute of pure magic.

This wasn’t the first time I’d had such a close encounter with a flying object.

Last winter I lured a couple of pine siskins into eating out of my hand. However, that was active provocation on my part … I stood next to the feeder with a hand full of seeds. I also snatched a white-throated sparrow off a window ledge in my garage, but that was part of a rescue mission.

This hummingbird came to me of her own free will, and stuck around.

I’d like to say video exists. It would be something really cool to show people.

On the other hand, I’m glad I didn’t bother trying to pull the phone out of my pocket. First, the motion probably would have driven the bird off. Second, trying to manipulate the phone with one hand would have diverted my attention from the magic unfolding in front of me.

It was amazing, staring the bird in the eye, watching her use her tail as a rudder. It was also revealing to see just how tiny they are, just how quickly they move.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at, on Twitter @LesWinkeler.


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