Rufie's Diary (kept by Gerry Stewart)

Part 2: November, 2002

Photo of immature male Rufous Hummingbird by Bill Hilton, Jr.

November 10, 2002, Momentary Visit: "Wild weather here. Tornadoes nearby last night, and maybe more to come today, with a high of 75, very windy. You can imagine my surprise when a hummingbird showed up this morning looking for food. I think it was Rufie! I hadn't seen her since Oct. 23rd and had taken down the feeder. So I hurried to put a feeder up this morning, and hope she'll check back. Stay safe little darlin!"

November 17, 2002, Back Again! 7:49 a.m. "Rufie was just here! Burrrr! It's 29 degrees out. The feeder is mounted on the study window, so I expect that keeps it a little warm. She was perched and all fluffed up, mostly turning her head back and forth, then taking long sips. I was hoping she had headed south, but I guess I'll make up some more nectar today."

8:43 a.m. "Rufie's been back to the feeder four or five times now. She's looking better than she did at first: she must have just been coming out of her torpor that time."

9:29 a.m. "It does warm my heart this morning to see her improving mobility. It is sunny now, though still only 30 degrees. I suppose she may be hanging out in the sunlight between visits to the feeder."

November 18, 2002, Cold Day Routine: "Rufie was back this morning at about the same time -- 6:30. Brrrr! 29 degrees. Looking 'groggy.' One doesn't ordinarily associate hummingbirds with 'grogginess' but I assure you that's how she looks. She perks up quickly though.

" Just as she did yesterday, she's been coming back to the feeder at intervals, between 5 and 15 minutes I'd guess. I hope she's really getting the idea that this is the place to be. I'll keep the food coming as long as she's around, and this place being so rural, I think it's unlikely anybody else will do that (though it's possible.)

"Late yesterday afternoon, my husband came into the study while Rufie was at the feeder and I pointed out our distinguished guest. He said, 'What's she doing here now? You'd better take down the feeder.' I explained that was a myth about feeders preventing migration and how she would just die without the food (and that I was conversing with an ornithologist about it!) It is just so strange, the power of these popular myths!

"I'm going to start providing room temperature or almost lukewarm water for her in the morning. I had begun to worry about freezing nectar, so bringing the feeders in at night certainly makes sense. I'll start bringing the feeders in for the night (and putting them out again by 6:30.) Fortunately, we're going to be having a warm spell for the next few days (low tonight of 47 degrees.) I'm glad to hear that lost hummingbirds this time of year someimes actually survive in good order.

"I just noticed today that Rufie has a little irridescent spot, like a little ruby, in the middle of her throat, at the base of that necklace she has. Can't take my eyes off her! What a little wonder. I hoping for a mild winter."

November 19, 2002, Warm Day Routine: 7:30 a.m. "Rufie made her first appearance this morning, at 6:28. The temperature is 49 degrees and she's looking just fine, alert and frisky. So endearing!"

10:37 a.m. "Rufie hasn't been around nearly as much so far today as she was on the two preceding very cold days. I wonder if there are still some natural food sources around, and if so, what they might be. We haven't had any really hard freezes yet, with the lowest low being probably 26 or 27 degrees."

"Maybe it's the sapsuckers that are hanging around! Wow! That is so cool. I have read about the Sapsucker/ Hummingbird connection."

November 20, 2002, New Food, Trying to Take Some Photographs "I washed the outside of the windows as far up as I could reach without a ladder. While I was doing that, Rufie showed up and let me know in no uncertain terms that she did NOT approve! She buzzed me repeatedly, and I got out of there as fast as possible. Though I'll admit I rather enjoy being buzzed by hummingbirds -- they sure don't lack for nerve.

"I set up a new food mixture in one feeder, putting 2 tablespoons of a pet store powder for handfeeding baby birds into a half-cup measuring cup, filling the remainder with sugar, and adding two cups of hot water. This mixture should has extra protein, since insects are hard to find on cold days.

"I took a few pictures of Rufie. I don't have a good camera, and it's rather discouraging through the viewfinder, but with cropping hopefully Rufie will show up well enough.

"I remember the first time I saw her I wondered if she would maybe stay, but then she disappeared for a week, and showed up, then disappeared again. But she's been here every day now for at least a week, and given her territorial display just now while I was washing the windows, I'd say she's planning on sticking around. It is encouraging that some maps show Middle Tennessee as a known winter range for Rufous Hummingbirds. She's here again. I'm in love!

"Oh yes! The Sapsucker dropped by a while ago, so I hurried out with the grape jelly.

"Unfortunately, my cats have discovered Rufie and jump to the window to watch her. She's nervy, but it must be pretty intimidating to have a large white carnivore staring at you from a few inches away, and she does fly away. The cats don't do this often. I fed them and the problem disappeared. Rufie came right back."

November 21: New Food Experiment: Is It Working? "First Rufie sighting at 6:17 this morning, temperature of 45 degrees. It was barely light out, and she perched at the sugar feeder looking back and forth, sipping a little. She came back at 6:23, looking a bit more awake, and now again at 6:39 looking pretty alert.

"Rufie hasn't noticed the feeder with the special food mixture yet. I saw that the solids had separated out, so I went out and shook it up. Messy, smelly stuff that hand feeding mix is, isn't it? Will take some getting used to.

At 8:48 Rufie did check out the special food mixture, briefly dipping into both ports, but then went immediately back to the sugar water, and has continued to ignore the special food. I was glad that at least she'd noticed it. I've got enough of the baby bird hand-feeding powder for a whole troop of hummingbirds, so fine-tuning the recipe certainly isn't a problem. I think I'll just go ahead and mix up a new (smaller) batch with half the ratio of the baby bird powder to sugar.

It's pretty balmy today (48 now, but going up to 60) but temps will be dropping (Friday's low predicted at 25 degrees.) I wonder if she might find the low temps make the protein mixture more appealing.

"I feel so privileged that she is here, and I'm a position to try to help her make it through the cold months. Of course the other thing is that instead of just missing hummingbirds for months, I get to keep admiring this little wonder!

"I Gotta hurry up and finish that roll of film. I can't wait to see if any of the pictures come out well enough to see the bird. I know the lovely little irridescent patch on her throat won't show up, but it really is there. I was very surprised the first time I saw it. Hopefully, I'll be able to get some pictures of her by next week."

November 22: Warmer Breakfast "First Rufie sighting this morning at 6:30 (temp. 36.) She went to the feeder with a special mixture of sugar water and baby bird handfeeding mixture and took a couple of sips. She's been back since, going to the regular sugar water feeder. She looks quite perky this morning. I had put a small amount of food in each feeder and set them in front of a baseboard heater to warm up for about 1/2 an hour before putting them outside around 6:15. I wonder if the warmer food is helping her rev-up faster this morning. Anyway, she's lookin' good!"

2:03 p.m. "Hurray! Yippie! Rufie just dropped by and took a long swig of the special protein mixture. How encouraging. I think I'll just bring both feeders in tonight, wash 'em good and fill them up fresh and warm in the morning."

3:30 p.m. "Rufie has been engaging in "power feeding," really seriously sucking down the sugar water. I wonder if she knows it's going to be 25 degrees tonight. But then it warms up for several days."

November 23: Groggy in the Morning "I put the feeders out at 6:10 this morning. Temperature around 26 degrees. Rufie was at the sugar feeder at 6:16, looking like she hadn't had her coffee. But after several return visits she looked pretty alert within about half an hour. I think I'll put the feeders out at 6:00 tomorrow, just in case."

November 24: Hummer on a Friend's Shoulder "Put the feeders out at 6:10 and Rufie showed up at 6:20 this morning. Temperature around 33 degrees. She looked very good and immediately set about eating, without the initial grogginess or confusion (sitting there looking back and forth as if she didn't know what a feeding port was for) she's been exhibiting on colder mornings."

Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Patricia's shoulder!

"My friend Patricia Bragdon writes:

I am totally fascinated by Rufie's story, and envious of you having this great experience. When I was up in Maine this summer, a hummingbird flew into the glass window of a shop just as I was walking by. A female rubythroat -- she fell to the ground, and since I had already observed several large pussycats in the vicinity, I picked her up! Yikes! I have never before been that close to one. I could feel her little heart beating, and feel her heat -- extraordinary what a little heat machine she was -- so I held her in my cupped hands for a while, until she began to stir a little, then she flew up, hovered right in front of my face, and landed on my shoulder. Sat there for a few minutes, then left at the usual high velocity. I felt blessed!

4:00 p.m. The Trouble with Cats "Rufie was just here at the sugar feeder. I've noticed that her last feeding seems to come by 4:00 p.m. Unfortunately, the cats begin their dinner lobbying at 3:30, so that created a conflict, which I have decided to solve by moving up the cats' feeding time to 3:30 (from 4:00.) Hopefully that will avoid having Rufie being deprived of her last feeding trips of the day. I wonder if she retires to her hideaway (wherever that is) early to preserve heat. She stops coming when it's still light out, but when the chill of the evening has begun. Well, anyway, with the cats out of the way, I should get a better idea of when she chooses to make her last feeder visit of the day."

4:30 p.m. "She takes a few sips of the protein mixture each day. She may be taking more as time goes on -- not sure. She still shows a strong preference for the sugar water though. It's quite warm today -- like 62 degrees, and I wonder if she will take more to the protein/sugar mix when it gets colder. In any case, she does eat some, so I'll keep making it available. She's made about 5 stops at the sugar feeder in the last 25 minutes. Glad I got the cats out of the way!"

November 25: Where Does She Sleep? "Rufie made her first appearance at 6:20, temperature around 43 degrees. She looked alert, but didn't settle down to eating seriously right away. She was fully revved up within 20 minutes though, and is now feeding vigorously at the sugar feeder."

Noon: "Rufie just took a real long swig of the protein mixture -- the first I've seen her do that. This mixture has about half the amount of the hand-feeding mix as previously. I'm encouraged that she seems more interested since we are heading into a colder stretch, several days probably not getting above 45. So yippee!"

I just read a fascinating article about hummingbirds wintering in Louisiana on the Internet. Here's part of it:

It is fortunate that most of the hummingbird species that settle into southeastern U.S. gardens each winter seem to tolerate periodic sub-freezing temperatures fairly well. This we know from reports by dozens of winter hummer hosts who have kept close watch over their birds throughout all sorts of weather conditions over the past few decades. Doubtless, one of the most important factors contributing to the long-term survival of hummingbirds that end up wintering here involves the availability of dependable, evergreen shelter.

Hurrah!!! Eastern Red Cedar we've got plenty of! We've got big ones, little ones and some are concentrated in groves, which I imagine would be especially good at stopping the wind. I was thinking that's where I would go if I were a cold little hummingbird, and it's good to see some confirmation.

November 26
: A Sapsucker Connection? "Rufie made her first appearance at 6:25. Temperature around 39 degrees. She looked fine, calm and alert, feeding well on sugar-water. We're headed up to a high of 40 degrees today. I'm already getting nervous about Thursday and Friday nights with low temperatures forecast for 20-23 degrees. At least the days are supposed to be sunny, so I suppose some sun-bathing may help. The lowest she's seen before (this year anyway) was 25 degrees. She seemed to handle that well enough. Still I can't help but worry. But she's looking good today, making regular visits (one visit to the protein mixture, took two good swigs).

"Rufie may be getting sap at the holes Sapsuckers bore in the trees. I have seen a Sapsucker here a couple of times in recent weeks, so I think that is a good possibility. Other than that, I really don't know what she's eating away from the feeders. She does disappear for an hour or two at a time during the day, with feeding flurries first thing in the morning and again in late afternoon, finishing up by 4:30."

12:36: "She's now back for more protein mixture. I think she's really beginning to like it! That's great! I put out some meal worms -- the Mockingbird was at them by the time I got into the house. He pulled a trick on my cat Harvey earlier. He landed on the window sill near where Harvey was cozied up to the heater, and "barked." It startled me and Harvey! And as I was out tending to some other feeders, Rufie buzzed me again. Then later she came and had some more protein mixture.

4:40 p.m. "Rufie took her last feeding of the evening at 4:20. She had been sitting on a branch of the nearby oak for several minutes, with her feathers all puffed out: seen from the rear she was shaped like a light bulb. She came and took a long swig of the Kaytee mixture, returned to the branch, sat there looking agitated, then flew off. I dare say she knows the best cedars to hang out in. Bless you, little bird."

November 27, 2002: Cold Night Forecast, Letter from an Expert "Rufie showed up at 6:22 this morning, feeding on the sugar water. Temperature around 31 degrees. In an hour she's made numerous visits, including three to the protein mixture. It turns out that tonight will be the rough one, with lows in the upper teens. So if Rufie turns up on time tomorrow morning, I really will be full of Thanksgiving! Thursday night will be cold also, low 20s, but the next five days will have lows about 29-33, which Rufie has handled fine before.

1:00 p.m. " Sapsucker sighting! This one was a male, and I believe the two previous sightings were of a female. So that means we have at least two sapsuckers! More sap for Rufie!

I posted over at a Bird Watcher's Digest's forum the other day about Rufie and got a response today from hummingbird expert Sheri Williamson. She advised me to change the sugar water ratio from 4:1 to 3:1. I think I'll do that. She had quite a bit of other information to offer.
She gave me a link to a group that bands winter hummingbirds, so I guess I'll contact them.

4:10 p.m. I e-mailed the Hummingbird bander who handles Tennessee and Kentucky.
Also read some very interesting stuff about Rufous Hummingbirds. Both interesting and encouraging! I sure was relieved to read about Rufous Hummingbirds regularly dealing with 0-20 degree temperatures! And according to the article, it seems they really get around! I love the description of them as "beautiful and hateful." Not that I ordinarily regard things that are hateful as beautiful, but it takes on a different sense when applied to hummingbirds. I love it when Rufie buzzes me, as if to say "that's mine! Get out!" Fortunately, I'm big enough to ignore her.

7:00 p.m. "I have exchanged a couple of e-mails with the bird bander, Chris Sloan (who is based in Nashville) and hopefully he will be out here bright and early Friday morning to try to band Rufie. I am so excited!

Sheri Williamson wrote to me:

Hi, Gerry, and congratulations on your special winter guest! Rufous and Allen's hummingbirds (which are virtually indistinguishable in female and immature male plumages except in hand) are very early migrants. You can expect this bird to leave sometime between late January and early March, provided the resources it has available through the winter allow it to build enough fat reserves to travel. This may be a repeat of advice you've already gotten, but for wintering hummingbirds I recommend making the feeder solution a little stronger than usual: 3 parts water to 1 part sugar. The stronger solution will make feeding more efficient and also not freeze as quickly, saving you some work and worry. The concentration is well within the normal range for hummingbird flower nectar and perfectly safe, but you can alternate it with the normal 4:1 solution if you prefer. A dripper or other water source that stays clean and thawed through the winter will provide a much needed place to bathe (a dirty bird is a chilly bird).

You'll have a pretty good idea if your efforts have been successful if a similar bird shows up in your yard next fall, but the only way to know for sure is to become part of the winter hummingbird network in the Southeast and invite a federally licensed bird bander to give your guest an ID bracelet. Some absolutely jaw-dropping records have come from such efforts, such as a male Rufous banded in Lousiana and recaptured in Michigan and a female Broad-billed also banded in Louisiana last winter and recaptured this fall in Colorado. That's right - COLORADO! At the very least you'll have an opportunity to contribute to our growing understanding and appreciation of these tiny but tough travelers.

Good luck!

Isn't that cool?

November 28, 2002 Worry Wart "Due to unexpected cloud cover, the low lows predicted for this morning didn't materialize. Rufie showed up at 6:17. Temperature at 28 degrees. I had made up fresh batches of sugar water (using the 3:1 ratio) and the sugar water with baby-bird handfeeding mixture. I hope they were cool enough by the time I put them out, but I'm kind of freaking out because Rufie is not feeding vigorously as usual. I got so worried I went out and added a splash of water to the sugar water feeder, thinking maybe Rufie was put off by the extra sweetness. Arghh!!! Maybe there are just some real good Sapsucker taps this morning.
One of my friends gave me this quote: "To love is to give up hostages to fate." Boy, ain't that the truth!

10:00 a.m. "She was just here, sat down and sipped at the sugar water, but didn't stay long.
Maybe it's because it's sunny for the first time in many days? Maybe the additional sweetness means she doesn't need as much nectar? Or perhaps she's a 'water snob.' Today's batches were made from bottled water instead of our well water. The reason for that is that our well water got all muddy a few days ago (we think someone nearby dug a new well.) But our water seems to have cleared up now, and after I change the water filter, I think I'll just mix up a couple new batches of food for Rufie (using a ratio of 3 1/2:1 for the sugar water.) Just in case...

" I'm turning into a worry wart! She was just back and took a pretty good drink. Maybe it's just the sweetness... Arghhhhhhh!!! Or...or...Anyway, I'm so excited about the bird-bander coming tomorrow morning! Rufie can help add to our knowledge of these feisty natural wonders." I'm also curious. I think they use "mist nets" -- fine, nearly invisible nets that the bird flies into and their tiny toes get caught or something... We'll see!

November 29, 2002 Banding Adventure! 8:30 a.m. " What an exciting morning! The banders from Hummer/Bird Study Group were just here, Chris Sloan and Portia MacMullin. They got here about 7:15 and left around 8:00. Chris is a young fellow and his partner in bird-banding, Portia looks a lot like David Letterman's mother.

"They set right to work in the 33 degree temperature with a decisive wind chill. Portia started setting up a portable table and getting the record keeping stuff and measurement devices, and banding tools. I showed Chris the feeder and he set up a little table and put a cage on top. The cage is wire mesh, about three feet tall and two feet by two feet, with a door that can be pulled closed by a long cord. He hung the feeder in the cage. Rufie buzzed us a couple of times while he was setting up. Then we stood back and Chris said he hoped it wouldn't take too long, since the wind was so darn cold. But within less than a minute Rufie was in the cage and the door closed. Good thing Rufie is so territorial!

"We moved out into the sun and Chris took Rufie and put her in a little nylon stocking to band her and examine her.

"Well, upon examination, it turns out that Rufie is indeed a Rufous Hummingbird (and not an Allen's) but Rufie isn't a she after all--Rufie is a he! He is a first year male, born last summer or spring. And he's nice and fat -- yippie!!! That little irridescent patch on Rufie's throat is actually the first red feathers of what will become a completely red throat! I hope I get to see a female Rufous sometime. The little opal-like spot is at the base of a sort of "scarf" around his throat -- I can picture that changing into the adult Rufous throat marking, though the female also has a "scarf." I think I could go on and on...

"None of Chris and Portia's digital equipment would work (scales, calipers, GPS) perhaps because of the cold. So measurements were done the old-fashioned way. Chris apologized for not taking pictures, but he was beginning to feel that Rufie was getting stressed (cold again) and let him go. But first he put him in my hand to have the honor of releasing him, but Rufie just sat there, so Chris picked him up and then Rufie flew away. The sensation of having Rufie in my hand was -- close to no sensation, he is so nearly weightless!

" Oh yes, as all this banding and measuring was going on Chris would occasionally put Rufie's bill into the feeder, and he would obligingly drink.

" Rufie was only a captive for a short time, 5 to 10 minutes I'd say. Everything was done with the utmost gentleness, and it was a truly joyous occasion.

" Then Chris and Portia headed off to the nearby town to try to band two more Rufous Hummingbirds reported there! There have been something like 13 Rufous banded in Tennessee this year.

" Chris warned me that Rufie might not come back to the feeder for a while after being subjected to the insult of capture. But Rufie was back within 5 minutes of Chris and Portia's departure. So, all is well, very well indeed!

" Back to the day-to-day stuff - Rufie first showed up at 6:17 this morning. I had put out the 3:1 ratio sugar water I made yesterday, but she didn't seem to like it. In all the Thanksgiving Day bustle, I hadn't gotten around to making new nectar. But I hurried to do that this morning, making it with well water and 4:1 ratio and she (oops! he) seemed to like that a lot better.
I mentioned this to Chris and he said he'd would definitely stick with 4:1, that hummers have extraordinarily sensitive sweetness detectors. So, 4:1 it shall be.

" Chris also noticed our many Cedars and said Rufie was probably getting lots of insects to eat in those. I mentioned the two Sapsuckers I'd seen and he said there were probably lots of them around. He said to be sure and let him know if Rufie shows up next year. I sure will!
The whole experience was just thrilling!"

November 30: "Rufie made his first visit this morning at 6:25, temperature around 46 degrees. I think he may have been a little skittish after his capture yesterday. At 3:30 yesterday, when the cats began their dinner lobbying, my cat Lucy was over by the window when he showed up, and although I got her away from the window immediately, he never returned for his late feedings. Then this morning, he dashed away when a Blue Jay showed up just as he was approaching the feeder. I believe he'll get over it though."

I found another interesting site on the Internet. Someone is mapping out-of-range Hummingbirds, wintering Hummingbirds...Way cool. He asks people to report banded birds, so of course I reported Rufie and he will appear there on the list of Rufous Hummingbirds banded in Tennessee this year, probably number 10.

Will Rufie survive December? Make sure to check out Part 3 of the Rufie Diaries!

Try This! Fun with Bird Photography
Have you ever tried to photograph a bird at your feeder? It can be very tricky! Some cameras have trouble focusing at close range. Shooting pictures through a window can cause glare or make photos out of focus. And most birds don't want to hold still to make it easier! You can make a photographer's "blind" by hiding in a tent or even just under a blanket so birds won't realize a person is there. Or, if you have a special cord called a cable release for your camera, you can set the camera right on or next to your bird feeder and hide farther away. Just click on the cable release when a bird is in the right place. It takes patience, but sometimes you can get some great photos.

Try This! Journaling Questions
Why do you think Rufie didn't eat the special protein mix at first? Some food that is very nutritious for humans tastes bad to many of us. Do you think that can be true for animals? When a hummingbird finds a new feeder or flower, what would be the smartest way to test whether the nectar was safe to eat?