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August 22, 2020

This far into summer, I notice that when I take a few minutes to sit quietly, I invariably become aware of a faint humming noise. It might be emanating from my car. The source may be my computer. The sound could come from a home appliance. Humming sounds can be natural occurrences. Whales and dolphins beneath the ocean, many varieties of insects, and even the pulsating of heavenly bodies can produce distinctive hums. Some people hear a constant hum caused by the flow of their own blood in the small vessels of their inner ear.

We might well ask, “What is that humming sound?”

This time of year it could be the hummingbirds.

We have several hummingbird feeders located just outside the windows of our dining room and our den. We also have one near our screened back porch. These give us front row seats for a fascinating show featuring the tiny winged visitors to our garden.  Our grandchildren are enthralled, and we are delighted that the children enjoy the hummers as much as we do.  

Last week, a few days of mid-August brought blessed relief from the oppressive heat and humidity of our dog day afternoons. On Monday of last week, I enjoyed a second cup of coffee with Clare on our screened porch overlooking the flower garden. Hummingbirds provided the entertainment while we read our local newspaper, the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. The tiny feathered creatures put on quite an aerial display as they competed for the sweet nectar of the flowers and the sugar water in our feeders.  

At the end of the day, as the sun was setting, Clare and I again sat on our own backporch.  We were treated to an amazing air show.  As we savored our supper, we witnessed an incredible display of aerobatics.  Agile flying machines were buzzing our yard, staging midair combat maneuvers that would impress even Air Force top guns. Late summer is the prime season for hummingbirds. 

Hummingbirds are always interesting to watch. Their activity increases as the summer days grow shorter.  Their excited pace and almost perpetual motion are at once captivating and wearying to the observer. 

From late August through much of September, the tiny birds become frantic in their feeding habits and combative toward all competitors.  Earlier in the spring and summer, two or three hummingbirds might share the same feeder, but in early autumn, they become territorial and will attack any intruder, even fellow hummers. Like feisty siblings squabbling over dessert, the diminutive birds quarrel with each other over which one will have the next turn at their sugar water treat. 

The flight of the humming creatures with tiny wings provides enchanting entertainment. Hovering, darting, and diving, in their heightened frenzy, they put on quite a performance.  These warm days are the most active time for hummingbirds as they prepare for their long migration to Central and South America.

A friend who welcomes hummingbirds to her garden with feeders and blooming plants wanted to put fresh flowers in an arrangement for a dinner party at her home.  She cut several late-blooming red gladioli from her cottage garden.  As she did, what she thought was a sizeable buzzing insect began to bother her.  The pest attacked from the rear, moving up her neck underneath the tresses of her new hairdo.  The well-mannered lady ran, clutching gladioli tightly in one hand, swatting wildly with the other. 

She stopped when the buzzing nuisance confronted her at eye level.  It was a hummingbird, clearly annoyed that the lady had cut the flowers from which it had been feeding.  The woman held the red gladioli at arm’s length, as if making a peace offering.  The hummer moved from one blossom to the next in the handheld bouquet, drinking its fill, before flying off without further conflict.

A hummingbird in flight can be easily mistaken for a large stinging insect. The hummingbird’s tiny wings move so rapidly they make a buzzing sound.    This flight pattern, filmed in slow motion, reveals their remarkable ability to speed forward, to hover, and to reverse directions.    

Hummingbirds are attracted to a variety of blooms.  Fiery red salvias, cup-shaped hibiscus, and even the common trumpet vine provide nourishment to these tiny creatures that are constantly in search of a meal.  Their frenetic activity demands a continual supply of sugary food.  They sip nectar and can be enticed into view at feeders filled with fresh sugar water.  A mixture of one part sugar and four parts water meets the dietary requirements of these small birds.  It is best for the health of hummers if we do not add red food coloring.

Accounts of close encounters between humans and hummers abound.  The tiny birds are frequently trapped in garages and on screened porches, usually drawn into these unfriendly confines by something bright red in color.  A red toolbox or a red fire extinguisher can lure a hummingbird into an open garage.  One was even seen attempting to extract nectar from a red plastic bicycle horn.

This has been an active season for hummingbirds in our garden. Just this week, a person commented that they had never seen so many hummingbirds in one place. I have had to maintain a steady supply of nectar ready and available to keep up with the demand. Last week our daughter went to the fridge to find something refreshing to drink. She thought she was pouring a glass of cranberry juice over ice. Instead, she mistakenly poured a big tumbler of hummingbird nectar. Imagine her surprise! I’m afraid she might sprout feathers and fly off to South America.

Several years ago, a ruby-throated hummingbird, attracted by a cut flower arrangement, entered a large sunroom through an open door in the memory unit of a nursing facility.  The patients all suffered from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  Most of the patients were in the final stage of the illness, sometimes known as the living death.  The nursing staff was unaware of the hummingbird’s presence until they noticed something they rarely saw.  Several of the patients were smiling, some for the first time in months.  The staff allowed the bird to feast on the flowers for a few minutes.

When the tiny visitor attempted to exit, it could not find the way out. With the aid of a towel, a nurse was able to capture the small bird and release it outdoors.  The bird flew away but not before bestowing a gentle blessing on a room full of people who needed tender mercy.

If you pay attention, you may hear a humming sound.

It may be a hummingbird bringing a special blessing just for you.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at

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