Helping Hummingbirds (And People)
 Make It Through The Big Chill

Hummers are beautiful but feisty birds

Cold And Snowy Holidays

While we were expecting to have low key holidays, another unprecedented weather event made them almost nonexistent. I can’t remember such a string of below-freezing days, let alone nights in the teens, with icy North winds making them feel even colder. It feels especially dire when we recall June’s soaring heat dome event. Going from a high of 106 to a low of 15 degrees makes me worry for my plants, let alone the local wildlife. Where I grew up in Massachusetts, such differences were common, so homes were built to handle all kinds of weather. Here in the Maritime Pacific Northwest, older homes tend to lack insulation, making extreme temperatures uncomfortable and even unsafe. Local emergency warming stations are open day and night now and shelters have been packed as volunteers are scouting the streets to make sure homeless people aren’t left out in the cold.

Hospitals are also busier than usual as yet another covid19 wave is cresting. My home community has seen the fewest cases in the county but in recent weeks, we’ve been leading the pack, with fully vaccinated people of all ages getting breakthrough covid. ERs are also jammed, as I happen to know, having spent many hours in one last week. Lately I’ve been having episodes of chest pressure, a feeling of fullness even after many hours without eating, accompanied by a sense of impending doom. When the funky feeling occurred again, my daughter urged me to call 911 and I ended up in the ER. After a zillion tests to rule out heart issues, and every test came back normal, I refused to spend the night there and went home. During it all, I became deeply sure that I’ve been having anxiety attacks. The medics disagreed, insisting that there has to be a specific trigger for a panic attack. Since I’d been calmly cooking salmon this time, nobody was convinced by my self-diagnosis, but the more I named it out loud, the more I realized the truth of it.

Pressure Is Pain

I get why the medics ran me through all the hoops. Say “chest pressure” and they hear “chest pain” and respond like you’re having a heart attack, which might well be the case. Heart attacks in women can present in all sorts of ways, but rarely look like the male version (which is of course the classic example). However, as I’m learning, anxiety episodes also come in many forms and not all are textbook-obvious. When I really started looking at my recent behavior, I realized that I’ve been self-soothing obsessively, knitting every minute I could spare from doing crossword puzzles and re-reading favorite comfort books (sometimes getting through more than one a day, the dark side of being a fast reader).

Now that I’m paying attention, I notice that I really, really don’t like not knowing what’s coming and I really dislike not being in control. There have definitely been a lot of events falling into both categories in recent years. Hmm. Almost the minute I recognized that I was making myself crazy, something released and a remarkable feeling of peace and spacious freedom blossomed within me. It’s been a week and I’m still riding that high, despite the crazy cold weather and holiday cancellations galore. Today, the neighborhood kids are playing in the snow and their cheerful happiness is infectious in a GOOD way (right?).

Sledding down the street at 10 degrees

About Those Hummingbirds

Last year, my grandkids gave me a lovely glass hummingbird feeder, which was so popular that I got a few more plainer feeders to give more birds a chance at the nectar. During the summer, there are plenty of flowers and insects for the hummers and I don’t put up the feeders until the garden slows down. This year, a pineapple sage bloomed its heart out right up until the Big Chill arrived. Hummingbirds love those tubular red flowers and that and my many fuchsias kept the crowd happy, but overnight the world changed and now the birds are really hungry. To keep them well fed, I’m rotating feeders every few hours so the frozen ones thaw out before they get swapped out again. I start putting them out at dawn (which is well before sunup) and in minutes the little birds are buzzing in for breakfast.

Sadly, hummingbirds are very territorial and really do not share well. I keep moving the feeders farther apart to try to stop one big male from hogging the whole feast. My Russian neighbor also feeds them and the smarter birds zip back and forth from her porch to mine, with the big male in hot pursuit. It seems ridiculous for these busy little birds to waste so much precious energy fending off other hungry critters when there’s enough for everyone to be well fed. Apparently animal nature and human nature have a lot in common… By night, five or six hummers retire to a bushy screen of Mexican orange (Choisya ternata) that blends into a big evergreen clematis on my other neighbor’s trellised porch. It’s charming to hear them chirping away at dusk, when they tuck themselves into the evergreen foliage for the night. Apparently the territorial issues don’t arise over sleeping quarters as they do over food?

Feeder Filling

Once we start feeding birds, we have to keep it up, as they’ve come to depend on human help in winter. When filling feeders, always use the classic Audubon-approved recipe. Never use alternative forms of sweeteners, none of which are good for birds (and some of which are outright harmful). Never add red dye, which can be harmful; the feeder’s bright color is attraction enough. Always wash the feeders between fillings so they don’t get moldy, and let them dry before putting them back outside so nobody’s feet get frozen to the perches.

Classic Hummingbird Nectar

4 cups warm water
1 cup cane sugar

Mix well to dissolve sugar and fill feeders immediately. Refrigerate mix for up to three days or make a fresh batch each time you fill your feeders.

This entry was posted in Birds In The Garden, Care & Feeding, Health & Wellbeing, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Helping Hummingbirds (And People)
 Make It Through The Big Chill

  1. Anna says:

    My hummers were frantically gorging themselves before the Big Freeze; as were the chickadees and other small birds. I believe they can sense when change is afoot. I found myself pacing and checking the moon phases and tearing-up over everything. Part of the problem was emotional exhaustion; going from quietly living alone, to holiday happenings all within a couple months. Part of the unknowing was a closer connection to the seasons and lack of sunshine. When I worked and traveled I spent most of my time in bright rooms artificially lit. Now I sit by the window and soak in the sunshine, watch the rainfall, the snow swirls. Like an old friend welcoming me home, the weather embraces me like it did as a child. Skin crawling? Arms tingling? Get ready for a weather change. That’s Life. ❤

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Anna, such beautiful, thoughtful words and ideas, thank you for sharing them. I too find my semi-retirement so refreshing as it allows me more time outside, experiencing the natural changes there wasn’t enough time for when I worked far too much. I think our emotional exhaustion is exacerbated by overexposure to troubling news, local and national and international, that makes it quite challenging to maintain perspective. More exposure to the natural world and less to politics!

  2. Katy Gilmore says:

    I’m glad you came outside the other side of that little dip! You are important to the community and much appreciated. Stay warm – somehow!

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Thanks, Katy! All those drapes made the house snug but dim and as the deep cold recedes, I’ve been joyfully dismantling the “cave” and delighting in the natural daylight coming through clean windows again.

  3. Martha PAGE says:

    Anxiety is a stealthy culprit…it wears many guises…
    Happy for you that you have such a caring family. They were right to insist you seek medical attention. Heart issues in women often present in different ways from what is considered the norm (male symptoms). Glad that was ruled out for you.
    I think anyone NOT experiencing some level of anxiety given the current state of affairs (ie covid, climate change, politics) would be the exception.
    Thankyou for your wonderful writing….I’ve followed and implemented your gardening wisdom for years. Your writing helps reduce my own anxiety. Keep Calm and carry On!
    Blessings from Vancouver Island, Canada

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Oh thank you, Martha, I really appreciate your kind words. So far, a strict media fast is definitely helping, and now the rain is washing the compacted ice off the streets, it’s safe to walk outside again, always restorative to the spirit! Nature is truly our best medicine.

  4. Diane says:

    Great email Ann!
    I have several friends and my grandson, who are entranced with the hummers. Mac (grandson) told me he had wrapped glove warmers with insulated (?) tape around the feeders and they were great all day long! Ingenious huh?!?
    I want to wish you a very peaceful 2022 Ann, we can all hope that life becomes a bit less worrisome.
    Cheers and hugs,
    Diane

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Great idea, Diane! One of my favorite holiday gifts is a box of reusable hand warmers–you boil them to make them usable again. I used painters tape to stick them on the feeder and sure enough, it kept them from freezing all day.

  5. Patricia Bell says:

    Hi Ann,

    I’m sure you won’t remember me but I was in charge of Bainbridge in bloom for at least seven years. Recently I was reading one of your columns and you mentioned that it was OK /safe to burn weeds in your garden during the cold winter days. I’m looking for a good home for my propane wand along with canisters. Everything is brand new…I just feel a bit old to be using them myself. Do you know anyone here on Bainbridge that would take these items… I want no money for them.

    I’m a member of the BI Senior Center. If you are interested in this offer I could bring them in to the Senior Center.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Wow, Patricia, what a generous offer. We’d love to have them for use at the library and/or the Senior Center so sure, drop them off with Mary or Reed. And yes, sometimes we have to recognize that it’s time to pass the torch, especially flame throwing ones… We will gladly let younger garden crew people do the flame throwing and reap the benefits ourselves.

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