Feed The Birds

It hardly ever snows in Portland. Every year we long for a White Christmas instead of a soggy one. This year, it seems, we’ll get our wish. A whopper of a blizzard blew in over the weekend. The airport shut down. So did the trains and the buses. Hundreds of people were stranded. I-5, our main East-West artery, was closed. The road goes through the Columbia Gorge. Forget the snow and ice. The force of the wind alone was enough to pick up a semi and toss it around like a toy.

Many streets and roads are still blocked. We expect more snow tonight. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so we may get that White Christmas after all. There’s a lesson in this. It’s also the theme of one of my newest books, The Fisherman and the Turtle. “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.”

We’ve been snowed in for the past three days. What have we been doing? Feeding the hummingbirds. We love the hummers on our street. Over the years we’ve discovered the kind of feeders they like and the proportion of sugar to water that keeps them coming. It’s one to four, in case you’d like to feed them, too. We’ve planted bushes and flowers that attract them. In summer, we have as many hummingbirds in our front and back yards as bees.

Up until a few years ago we’d take in the feeders as autumn approached. We didn’t want the birds hanging around if they were supposed to migrate. However, my wife checked with the Audubon Society. They told us that hummingbirds winter over in this area. The climate is mild enough so they don’t have to migrate. We could keep the feeders up if we wished. It would be like setting up a feeder of seeds for the juncos and nuthatches. And squirrels. But that’s another story.

After the storm hit, we noticed the hummingbirds perched in our rhododendron bushes. The sugar water in the feeders had frozen. The birds were depending on us, so we had to find a way to help them. It took a bit of experimenting, but here’s what we arrived at. We made up two batches of sugar water. When one batch froze, we brought the feeder inside, emptied it into a pot, and refilled it. We melted the frozen water on the stove and kept it warm until it came time to bring the feeder in again. We kept running back and forth, filling hummingbird feeders, for two days. The birds were not grateful. They kept buzzing around us, like people in a long line at a soup kitchen. “Where’s the chow! Hurry up!”

The weather report says more snow is on the way. We’re ready to feed the birds right through Christmas Eve. In one sense, it goes with the holiday. Animals have always been part of Christmas. Think of the ox and the donkey, the sheep, the camels of the Wise Men.

Why not hummingbirds?

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