Rufie's Diary (kept by Gerry Stewart)

Part 3: December, 2002

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

December 1, 2002 Winter Sets In: "Rufie showed up at 6:27 this morning, temperature at 23 degrees. He's lookin' good, and has been back at the feeder a lot."

December 2, 2002 First Meal of Day: "Rufie showed up at 6:25, temperature around 30 degrees. It seems to be normal for him to be tentative about drinking on his first visits, gradually drinking more on subsequent visits.

December 3, 2002 Winter Storm Warning: Rufie showed up at 6:23, temperature around 32 degrees. Yesterday I got an outside thermometer. It's supposed to stick on the window by suction. On one of Rufie's visit this morning, it fell off, and away he flew. I put it back and it fell off again, so I'll be returning it. Another thing about it is the instructions say that if the temperature shown is not correct, you can adjust it by turning this little screw... But if I knew what the temperature was, why would I need a thermometer? Gonna have to upgrade."
4:30 pm " Rufie spent the whole day power feeding -- I think he heard about the Winter Storm Warning. We're supposed to get some kind of frozen precipitation falling from the sky tonight and tomorrow (as usual in Tennessee, they don't know what kind of precip.) Anyway, by the end of the day Rufie even looked extra plump."

December 4, 2002 Icicles! "Whew! Rufie was late this morning and I was getting worried. He showed up at 6:39, temperature around 30 degrees. There are icicles on the deck railing and a glaze of ice on the deck. As I was carrying the feeders out I was having images of me slipping on the ice and breaking the feeders. What would I do? Anyway, I guess Rufie's okay even if he was a little late.He sure stocked up yesterday! I suppose his main problem today would be getting cold feet from sitting on ice-covered branches. I just got a new electric heater for my study (modern little thing which is very quiet! ) especially to warm up my feet; the oil-filled radiator did an okay job otherwise. Today I have turned the new heater toward the window to warm up the feeders, and maybe Rufie's little footsies."

December 5, 2002 Brrrrrr! "Rufie showed up at 6:31 this morning, looking a little groggy, but he stayed for two minutes and did some feeding. No doubt he'll be back soon for more. Temperature around 30 degrees. At 5:00 I turned my new heater towards the window and when I put out the feeder at 6:10 I felt the window and it was a bit warm, so I think my strategy is a good one. When my feet get too cold I turn the heater around for a while.
The ice never really did melt from the trees yesterday, though precipitation ended in the late afternoon. The branches are still coated in ice, though the icicles are gone. It should melt today, but predicted low tonight is 19 degrees.
6:39 am "Rufie came back, looking more alert, drinking a bit more. What a tough little guy!
11:30 am "The temperature has gone down since daybreak. Well, maybe the ice will melt tomorrow."
4:30 pm " Rufie made his last feeder visit of the evening at 4:15, following a serious flurry of visits in the preceding 20 minutes (maybe 8?) We're going down to the 'teens tonight. Brrrrrr! I'm really tired of this ice. It should melt tomorrow."

December 6, 2002 Waking Up Is Hard to Do: "Rufie showed up at 6:24 and just perched at the feeder for a full minute before taking a brief sip, buzzed his wings, short sip, buzz, then took off. He returned at 6:32 for some more serious drinking. He really seems to take a while to wake up enough to feed. I find this surprising. Temperature is around 17 degrees. That's just guessing from what the computer says and the TV news. Will try to get a decent outdoor thermometer today. The process of coming out of torpor takes noticeably longer on a morning as cold as this. Rufie looks good now, fully up to speed and making frequent feeder visits. Although the sun is shining bright now, apparently the temperature has actually dropped. I'm going to postpone my trip to town until this afternoon so I can keep the heater trained on the feeder window (which is in the shade.) At least the trees in the sun (which look like they're covered with diamonds) are beginning to show some dripping. It's supposed to get up to 38 degrees this afternoon -- a heatwave!"

December 7, 2002 Plumage Changes "Rufie showed up at 6:25, hovered by the feeder and just dashed away. Came back at 6:26, hovered and drank a little. At 6:44 he came and perched and did some real drinking. He looks quite alert this morning. I'm guessing it's not as cold as it was yesterday, although the computer says it's 18 degrees. I'm determined to get a serious outdoor thermometer on Monday and eliminate this guesswork. At least the forecast is for about a week of highs in the 40s, so that should be a lot easier on Rufie, although he seems to have done remarkably well this week in spite of the ice storm.
" I've been wondering if Rufie's plumage is changing (sides becoming more rufous, gorget darkening and irridescent spot growing). I found a nice web page with good pictures of a hatch-year male Rufous recently banded in South Carolina: This bird looks a lot like Rufie, including the "five o'clock shadow. Rufie's an inspiring little guy. It was great the way he weathered the ice storm. Makes me hopeful he'll make it through the winter."

December 8, 2002 Comfortable Day: "I first spotted Rufie this morning at 6:33, temperature a balmy 26 degrees. I think I must have missed his first visit, being away from my observation post. Anyway, he's looking very alert and comfortable today.

December 9, 2002 Groggy: "Rufie's first vist was at 6:30, temperature 30 degrees. He looked groggy and just sat there. Back at 6:43 for an appetizer. 6:58 -- fully revved up. Rufie didn't pick the toughest place to spend the winter; maybe this bird in Maine did:

December 10, 2002 Sleeping In? "First saw Rufie at 6:43 this morning; temperature 36 degrees. I may have missed an earlier visit, but I'm beginning to suspect that Rufie sleeps in on "warm" mornings. I've finally got a reliable outdoor thermometer! It's battery operated and has a remote sensor.
Although I was expecting to be disappointed with my photos, I had some hope of being pleasantly surprised. But they're even worse than expected."

December 11, 2002 "Rufie's first visit this morning was a 6:33, temperature 32 degrees. Sat right down, lookin' good and started eating.
December 12, 2002
Mild Spell: "Rufie made his first visit this morning at 6:40, temperature 33 degrees. Sat down and spaced out for about a minute, took a couple of sips. Second visit at 6:52, much more alert, took some good swigs. I backed off using the Kaytee Exact after my scare with the 3:1 water/sugar ratio. Got spooked. I should probably try it again. Also, Chris, the bander, said Rufie was probably finding lots of insects to eat in the cedar trees (of which we have many.) Since Chris is also a Middle Tennessee resident, I figure he probably has a pretty good idea what insects are around.
"We seem to be in a mild weather pattern for now, with lows above (or around) freezing at least for the next five days. I think I'll try the Kaytee again next time it gets cold.
" The novelty hasn't worn off here. I continue to be amazed to see that little tiny bird buzzin' around just like it was summer! One of these days I should count the number of feeder visits he makes; he's around a lot in the morning, takes a mid-day break and then does some really serious feeding during about the last hour and a half before "bedtime," which is approximately 4:00.

December 13, 2002 Sitting in the Rain: "Rufie's first visit at 6:45, 36 degrees and raining. He sat there for a full five minutes, mainly just staring, but feeding pretty well also. Ordinarily, the first visit would be shorter, but I think the rain may have encouraged the long sit.

December 14, 2002 Wondering about Hummingbirds: "At 6:37 Rufie flew up to the feeder, hovered, and flew off. Temperature 33 degrees. He was back at 6:47 for a sit down and a good slurp. One of these days, he won't show up. My reading indicates he's likely to migrate back out west between January and March (I'm kinda hoping for March.) A Hummingbird in winter sure brightens things up. One of my friends wrote, 'I would really like to know where it is that Rufie goes between his first and his second morning visits. What else does a hummingbird have to do on a cold morning? Read the paper?' He might be eating bugs? Though some mornings he looks spacey enough, I think he might just go sit somewhere and stare. Then there are the Sapsucker taps to visit. I am so relieved we seem to be in a warm-weather pattern for a while, at least a week... I don't think we know what the El Nino will bring here -- whether it will be just wetter, or maybe colder. Anybody know? When you look at weather maps, Tennessee seems to be on the dividing line, so it could go either way. Another friend guessed, 'Shuffle around in his bathrobe and bunny slippers, make fresh coffee, eat cold, leftover pizza, check Weather Channel, curse, check email. The usual.' That's what he looks like, all right! It's really different observing a Hummingbird in winter -- I've never seen that sort of behavior in the summer birds. They've always seemed fully revved up. But maybe I wasn't looking. I know there wasn't the suspense there is now with Rufie. Will make a point of observing the Ruby-throats' first morning visits this coming summer to see if they also go through that "I haven't had my coffee" period early in the morning. Of course, the other big difference is that now I have just one Hummingbird to observe, and in Ruby-throat season there are lots of birds and you can't really follow the comings and goings of any particular bird.

December 15, 2002 Serious Swillin' "Rufie first spotted at 6:30, temperature 32 degrees. He sat down, looked around a bit, drank some nectar, looked around. It was longish first visit. I'm wondering if the spate of out-of-range wintering hummers has something to do with tropical deforestation.It's supposed to get up to about 57 degrees this afternoon, and they predict highs like that all week. What a nice break all of us, especially Rufie.
4:27 pm "Rufie's out late tonight -- just finished what is probably his last visit of the day at 4:19 (temperature 51 degrees.) Doing some serious swillin'. It's funny -- he actually develops a sort of "beer belly" during his last visits. Really, you can see it! Back again at 4:25. Glug, glug. Watch out, Rufie, you won't be able to fly!"

December 16, 2002 Fly-By "Rufie made a fly-by at 6:31, temperature 41 degrees. He was back at 6:36 for a couple minutes of concentrated sit-down sipping, looking alert.

December 17, 2002 Warming Up "Rufie showed up at 6:44, temperature 51 degrees. He had a good sit and slurp. I really do think Rufie "sleeps-in" on warm mornings, and when he gets to the feeder he is much more alert and ready to eat. I am so happy we're having this warm spell! I think the insect supply must be way up too. This will give him a real good opportunity to fuel up before the next bout of cold weather. I just hope he doesn't get any crazy ideas about migrating!

December 18, 2002 Balmy Weather: "Rufie appeared at 6:38, temperature 51 degrees. We're headed for the 60s. This weather is strange! Mid-December, balmy weather and a hummingbird... It feels like I should be out digging up the gardens for planting."

December 19, 2002 Rain: "Rufie first spotted at 7:01, temperature 51 degrees, rain increasing. He hasn't been very evident today.

December 20, 2002 Throat Patch Growing: "Rufie's first appearance was around 7, temperature around 41 degrees. Rufie definitely seems to sleep late on warmer days. I figure it's because, in spite of the torpor, it takes more energy to keep from freezing on cold nights, so he has to start refueling as soon as possible. Well, that's my guess...
4:55 pm Rufie was out late today too -- last feeder visit at 4:32, temperature 49 degrees. Pretty comfy it seems. I think he's doing some molting. Anyway, he's got a dark patch on his throat, next to the irridescent patch. I'm hoping to see some more irridescent feathers soon.

December 21, 2002 "Todays' first Rufie sighting: 6:48, temperature 41 degrees.

December 22, 2002 I've Grown Accustomed to His Face "Rufie's first visit was at 6:38, temperature 55 degrees. I have been aware of that magic all along. It really was stunning. As Chris (the bander) was getting ready to leave, he said "if you can remember when you first spotted him [Rufie] please e-mail me" and I immediately said "October 16" he looked quite surprised. He also asked me to let him know when Rufie leaves. I'm not looking forward to that... 'I've grown accustomed to her face... '
Of course, what I'm really hoping is that Rufie stays here long enough that it seems likely that his migration out west will be safe and successful. And apparently it is not unreasonable to hope that he might return here next year if all goes well. What an overwhelming joy that would be! To see him return as a full-fledged adult after his long journey -- whew! Of course, if that happens, he will be the first adult Rufous I will have ever seen.

December 23, 2002 Big Chase "Rufie's first visit this morning: 6:32, temperature 32 degrees. Feeding well.
10:30 am "It seems Rufie is feeling pretty feisty! I don't know what happened, but I saw him over by the tube feeder, then, there he was chasing this little bird all over the place! Round many trees, and going on for perhaps a minute, Rufie was sure mad, and wasn't going to let the matter drop. It was a high-speed chase. It think the chasee must have been a goldfinch, titmouse or chickadee (the birds that frequent those feeders), but I couldn't get a good look at it given the speed and light conditions. I guess whatever it was said something really insulting!
One of my friends said Rufous Hummingbirds are one of the feistiest species in an exceptionally feisty family. They defend their feeder against almost anything. Rufie lives up to the reputation. That made him easy to catch for banding -- he was dive-bombing Chris as he set up the cage.
Today's chase was funny though because Rufie was in the other birds' territory, hanging out by their feeder. Maybe he misses having other Hummingbirds to hassle?

December 24, 2002 More Rain "First spotted Rufie at 6:50, temperature 37 degrees and raining.
I suspect he had tried to eat earlier, but the cats were being quite pestiferous, insisting on sitting in the window right near the feeder. I finally locked them up in the bedroom, and Rufie showed up for some serious sipping.

December 25, 2002 Merry Christmas, Rufie! "Rufie showed up at 6:41, temperature 27 degrees. He looks merry. It's after noon and still only 29 degrees. Rufie is all fluffed up and eating a lot!"

December 26, 2002 Freezing Temperatures "First Rufie sighting at 6:44, temperature 26 degrees. We're supposed to get up to around 37 later. I hope so -- just getting a little above freezing seems to make a big difference. Rufie remained fluffed up pretty much all day yesterday. Warming trend tomorrow. Whew!"

December 27, 2002 Good Morning "Rufie showed up at 6:36, temperature 22 degrees. He sat a stayed for three minutes, looking good and feeding well.

December 28, 2002 Another Warm-Up "Rufie showed up at 6:39, temperature 31 degrees. The weather forecast for the next seven days is quite mild, staying above freezing, and even expected to hit 60 tomorrow. Good to know.

December 29, 2002 Naughty Kitties "Rufie showed up at 6:45, temperature 39 degrees. He may have come by earlier, but I was distracted and didn't notice that Harvey (cat) had taken up a stalking post by the feeder -- locked him in the bedroom. No doubt Rufie looks to him like a flying mouse. My cats will never understand why they shouldn't sit in that window. After all, they are cats. I do believe they are deliberately manipulating me with the early dinner business though. The furry little darlings. If Rufie comes up to the feeder when they're there, he takes off. It's a window mounted feeder at the same level as the floor, so they are literally inches apart. I looked for hanging feeders a while ago, but didn't see anything I liked. I do like being able to see Rufie up close though, and there is a little heat that makes it through the window to the feeder...

December 30, 2002 Very Mild "Rufie arrived at 6:41, temperature 53 degrees. Easy street."
December 31, 2002Very Mild Again! "Rufie showed up at 6:44, temperature 54 degrees!"

Try This! Learn About Torpor
Rufous Hummingbirds are extremely tiny--even smaller than Ruby-throats. The tinier an animal is, the harder it is for it to hold its body heat inside. Learn how hummingbirds survive cold situations!
Which days in December did Rufie seem to have the most trouble bringing his body temperature back up to normal in the morning?