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Veronique de Turenne

Sugar rush

I have violated the Prime Directive and I am paying the price. About fifty cents a pound, which is what sugar costs here in Malibu. I hung a hummingbird bird feeder near the top of a dry canyon (are there any other kind in August?) where I spend a lot of time and suddenly, I'm a pusher.

I started small. One of those dinky little feeders you can get at Target. I washed it, filled it (one part sugar to four parts water), hung it from the eaves of a weathered barn and waited. Nothing. Days went by. All I saw were a bee or two, the occasional ant. Then one day, while I was working in the barn, there was this sound, a zoomy, whirring, whooshing sound I couldn't quite place. Outside, its tiny talons curled around the red plastic perch, was my first hummingbird. hummingbird in the canyon

A miracle, I thought. I still do, but now I've got a lot of asterisks attached to that word. Some bird books call them "nature's little jewels." Nature's little MiG's is more accurate. Hummingbirds, I have learned, are cranky birds, ferocious and fearless and territorial. From that first day on, they fought over the feeder, dove at each other full-speed, flew eyeball to eyeball in looping arcs and drove each other, literally, into the ground. Alarmed, I bought a second feeder and a third. I thought to ease the pressure, spread the wealth. But instead, more of them came.

I now host two jumbo feeders (down from three - tough love) and go through almost ten pounds of sugar a week. They know the sound of my car and they're waiting for me when I arrive. I can hear them in the trees and scrub around the barn, making that scritchy little sound that passes for birdsong. If I'm slow in hanging the fresh food, they do a few overflights, then hover and drink right from my hand. It's remarkable having the breeze from a hummingbird's wings ruffle your hair.

It's just plain weird when, at dusk, they're as thick as mosquitoes. Ten, twenty, thirty of them at a time, Anna's and Allen's and Rufous and some I still can't quite figure out. It's last call, just moments of daylight left and they don't have time to fight. They fly in formation, hover at the feeder and actually take turns. Then all of a sudden, they're gone. Silence.

Next entry: Paradise sold, part deux

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