Humdinger of a Crop

The Mountain Farmgirl has been enjoying her gardens all summer, but her best crop of all doesn’t have leaves, it has wings! Come take flight in the fun that’s been buzzing in her backyard this season as she shares a Humdinger of a Crop …

This time I really AM writing about hummingbirds … honest!   Last time it got pre-empted by my article “In the Blink of an Eye” in which life (and blog) changed at the very last minute when my husband and son were in an auto accident that totaled their car and two others. Thank you all for your kind thoughts, prayers and good wishes for their speedy recoveries. They are doing amazingly well.  Strangely, our car actually got totaled twice in two days: once in the accident, and again when the warehouse it was towed to burned to the ground the very next day!  What are the chances of that?! Anyway, the important thing is that hubby is healing, we have a new car, and we are thankful for our many blessings. So now on to butterflies and hummingbirds … -MFG

‘Dazzling!’ … ‘Stupendous!!’ …  ‘Never seen so many in one place!’


These are some of the comments I hear daily from our inn guests as they stroll through my gardens or sit amongst our grounds, contemplating the wonders of nature. There’s much room for thought in these mountains which surround me, as well as in the abounding rivers and waterfalls that pass through our little patch of heaven. But even though I’m proud of  where I live and my efforts out in the gardens, these comments just as often refer to the ‘flocks of feathered fancy’ of which I’m equally proud.  Dancing at our feeders as they do near my flowers and vegetables, people never seem to tire of watching our flocks of hummingbirds and butterflies, where this year I’ve had bumper crops of both.



These tiny little powerhouses of energy have come in astounding numbers this year, and I’m not sure what can account for their prolific presence, which is astoundingly more than in years past. Without exaggeration, there are clouds of each at our feeders and flowers.  Just seeing them is good for the soul.

While there are at least half a dozen species of hummingbirds in the United States, it’s the Ruby-throated hummingbird that I am most familiar with, and the only kind that graces our yards and feeders east of the Mississippi River. Averaging about 3” in length and wingspan, these feisty little birds weigh only .2 - .8 ounces  (that’s 2/10 of an ounce in case you missed the decimal point!!!)   But what they lack in size they make up for in temperament, being both  fierce and feisty!! (a bit like me, my husband tells me. I wonder if that is a compliment?).

Several years ago these little natural wonders gravitated to my yard because of our numerous flower gardens. While they have a preference for red tubular-type flowers which grow here in profusion, they like the nectar from most other blooms as well. If you want to attract them to your yard, they love azalea, butterfly bush, trumpet vines (it’s rather invasive, though), honeysuckle, Bee balm, columbine, foxglove, fuscia and the like. However I’ve also see them drinking from the tiny purple flowers on my mint and chive plants!


Intrigued by them, I put up a hummingbird feeder near my back door and watched them flock to it almost immediately. However I soon discovered that I was putting myself in a compromising position as they darted and dove past me every time I walked out the door! There were so many of them vying for the sweet red syrup that I literally felt the buzzing of their furious little wings  close to my face. (Believe it or not, their wings beat about 55 times per second!). While that was a pleasant, ticklish sensation, I’m not too keen about sharp objects and had no desire to be the target of their sharp, needle-like beaks.  It got so bad that I would instinctually shield my head with my arms whenever I walked out the door. Lovely as they were, their high-pitched chirping and squeaking definitely got too close for comfort.  It felt like I was taking my life into my hands whenever I walked out the door.

That’s when I decided to put up feeders outside all the rooms at our inn, so that guests could enjoy them as much as I while sitting on their balconies.  I also wanted to spread out the density of their population, making it safer to walk outside. It worked, and for the last 4 years our Lodge has been referred to on more than one Trip Advisor review as “Hummingbird Heaven”!

I mix my own nectar by making a ‘Simple Syrup’ consisting of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. This is brought to a boil and allowed to cool before adding it to the feeders. There is some controversy about whether it’s preferable to buy or make nectar. Certainly the homemade nectar is a lot cheaper than store-bought, and this is a consideration when you go through as much nectar in a week as I do … somewhere around 2 gallons!!  I’ve read things suggesting that the commercial mix is healthier for them in the long run because it contains special vitamins and minerals which they would normally get from the flowers in the wild, and which is absent in sugar water. It is said that they need this nutrition in order to make the enormous trip to their winter habitat, a flight of more than 1000 miles, (500 of them over open water!). That certainly makes sense, but I could never figure out whether this was fact or just propaganda started by the nectar manufacturers.  Does anyone know the answer to this? The article I read also suggested that red food coloring NOT be used because it may have an adverse effect on their tiny systems. Again, I’m not sure, although we humans are cautioned to stay away from Red Dye #2 whenever possible.  Comments? Thoughts?


When cool weather comes, their annual migration takes them as far south as Mexico, as well as to Central and South America. In preparation, they double their body mass in late summer to early fall, storing both fat and lean muscle tissue to provide enough energy to propel them on their arduous journey south. We’ve had night-time temps down into the lower 40s these last few weeks, and already I’ve seen a decline of my resident hummingbirds.

While we still see many of them at one time darting  to and fro to lay claim to a perch on the feeders, hummingbirds are actually very solitary creatures, and extremely aggressive when it comes to their interaction with other hummers. They defend their territory by viciously attacking and chasing competitors away. They actually look like they are jousting with one another!  I’ve seen 2 dead ones on the ground this summer, and wondered whether or not it was from such sword fighting.

I’ve always wanted to find a hummingbird nest, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful. Female hummingbirds build them in protected locations in shrubs or trees. I have the perfect shrub right next to the back door near my feeder, and each year after the leaves drop I look for them. Constructed of bud scales and lichen connected with spider silk, these tiny nests are lined with plant down, making them inviting to both hummingbirds and fairies alike. One to three tiny eggs are laid twice each season, and the chicks hatch in less than 2 weeks.  How I would love to see that!!

They live much longer than you would guess; the oldest known Ruby-throated Hummingbird to be banded was over 9 years old. The average age of most adults that we see is probably 4-5 years. When you think how many miles these little guys have traveled in that time, you have to admit that they are to be admired and respected for their hard work.

I have a very funny hummingbird story to tell you!  It happened many years ago when my oldest son was a baby, and we traveled to Ridgeway, Colorado for a family reunion on my husband’s side.  The family rented a big ranch, complete with a cook, where over 30 of us lived for more than a week.  It was pure heaven to be in the Rocky Mountains in such a beautiful spot. Every afternoon the family would gather on the big outdoor deck after the day’s adventures, comparing notes, and having cheese, crackers and various libations  before dinner. The deck was huge, where there were many large, gallon-sized hummingbird feeders hung, which attracted more hummers than I’d ever seen in my life. My father-in-law was sitting with a few of us at a table out on the deck one day when something happened I will NEVER forget!  Dick has a fairly prominent nose shall we say … and it was quite sunburned from our outdoor activities in such a high elevation. One of the dozens of hummingbirds found its way to him, and hovered about 2 inches from his scarlet proboscis, checking it out to determine what sort of strange flower it might be! Time seemed to stand still … he must have been there for half a minute or more! Oh, if I only had had a camera at that moment, it would have been a million-dollar photograph. We all sat unmoving and speechless during this little performance, most of all my father-in-law Dick, then we all burst out laughing when the little bird flew away. Oh my … the proverbial picture worth more than a thousand words!


Another time we had a hummingbird get into our house when I left the screen door open by mistake. At first I thought it was a bee.  It’s buzzing drew the attention of my daughter, who discovered it frantically trying to find a way out through the glass windows.  Zia was able to catch it in her hands, let it calm down in her little hands and then release it. It was so tiny, she said it felt like air!

If you like the thought of getting up close and personal with hummingbirds, you can actually order a hummingbird wand that you can hold in your hand, as I did recently. You’ll have to be patient, but you will be able to attract them to drink practically out of your hand! My hummers were very leery at first, so I took my regular feeder down and hung up the wand. They didn’t disguise the fact that they were most distressed over this change of venue, and sat chirping and scolding me for two days until they finally decided to give it a whirl. They discovered that the nectar tasted the same, and soon they were drinking from it regularly.  Then I did the old bait and switch routine. I took down the wand and held it in my hand, sitting like a statue out on my patio.  Sure enough, a few daring hummers came to investigate and eventually took turns drinking only inches away from me!  It was SOOO cool!

If you’re of a ‘literary bent’ (as I am), you’ll enjoy a very interesting book I just discovered called: “A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Martin Johnson Heade”. It’s written by renowned critic Christopher Benfey, who is also a professor at Mount Holyoke College. Intertwining these seemingly disparate Civil War-era characters as well as a few others (such as Mabel Loomis Todd, Lord Byron, and Henry Flagler), Benfy weaves their lives into a bizarre fabric that illustrates the many unusual personal connections between them, not the least of which is the hummingbird, which had significance for all. It is a wonderful ‘summer read’ and highly recommended!

So my friends, I will leave you with that thought, and a request: that if you have any hummingbird ‘buzz’ of your own to share, I’m all ears and would love to hear about it in the comments section below.  I always love to hear from you!
Until next time, Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings from Cathi
The Mountain Farmgirl


By: Shery
On: 09/03/2012 07:35:06

Dear Cathi, Your gardens, butterflies and hummers soothe my parched soul. Even during a good summer (when it rains), we don't have hummingbirds here. Just not enough to eat for them.

But, when I lived in NM years back, I had 4 feeders hung from each corner of the house. We had Rubies, but the Rufous variety was more plentiful. I remember well the dogfights between males. They fed on the feeder while I hung them. Fearless they are. I sure miss them.

Thank you for the green break from a parched and dust-dry west. It is nice to know that green & lush still exists SOMEwhere.

Hi Shery, We also had a dry start to the summer, and some mighty hot days.  I had to water almost daily for a while there ...  But frtunately the drought broke for us up here in New England. We're in good shape here now, but I will pray for rain for you in the dust-dry west ... That expression created a pretty powerful mental picture for me. Blessings (and precipitation!) to you, cathi

By: Adrienne
On: 09/03/2012 10:28:55

How terrific it is that you have so many hummingbirds! You are very blessed. I checked with a few experts and they pretty much said the same thing: Commercial hummingbird nectar products may advertise different flavors, vitamins and other additives that are supposed to attract additional birds. These additives are not necessary for hummingbirds’ health and a simple sugar solution will attract just as many birds as more expensive commercial products. Red dye is not necessary and be sure not to use brown sugar, molasses or sugar substitutes because their little bodies can't process those ingredients. Good luck with your colorful friends!

Great tips and info, Adrienne.  Thanks so much for sharing.

By: donna robinette
On: 09/03/2012 10:47:54

for the syrup mixture..don't you mean 1/4 c. sugar to l c. water l/4 ratio..these are migrating hummingbirds..such your blogs..Im not so ambitious..but it is all good stuff

You are absolutely right, Donna; I wrote it backwards by mistake.  I have changed it to the proper ratio or we'd have some diabetic hummers on our hands for sure!  Thanks.

By: Jeanne
On: 09/03/2012 11:34:56

In 1956, we moved to a new house in a canyon in the San Fernando Valley in California. There was a large kitchen window overlooking the front of the house and a landscaper had planted three large elephant leaf shrubs. Every morning we would see hummingbirds fly around the window. After a year or two we found a small (my thumb size) nest wrapped around and securely attached around one of the large stems to one of the elephant leaves. We looked inside and saw two of the tiniest eggs I had ever seen. We watched daily from the window her taking care of her eggs ane her babies. It was magical. I had forgotten that memory until I read your story. Thank you.

Some day I hope to be as lucky!!  It sounds strange, but it is on my bucket list to find one!  Thanks for writing. cathi

By: Sharon Elaine
On: 09/03/2012 11:38:52

My feeders are on the front porch where I enjoy photographing them perched on the hemlock and drinking from the potted flowers. I watch these determined little powerhouses belly smack one another and chase the larger birds from our dogwood tree. They make the blue jays look well-mannered. The entertainment value is priceless.

How true! I've never seen them attack larger birds.  That must be amazing. And you're right ... I always used to think that blue jays were the ones lacking in the manners department.  Not so!  Thanks for writing!

By: Debbie
On: 09/03/2012 17:56:46

A humdinger of a summer for sure Cathi! You really have had bumper crop and your gardens are lovely! We've seen them in our gardens this year as well and I love watching them. They hide in our tall pine trees then swoop in for a drink of nectar in the bee balm and wiz away in a flash. I've not been too lucky at all capturing them on camera... However, the butterfly invasion we had this summer was amazing... I didn't' realize that butterflies liked zinnias until this summer when they descended on my zinnia beds. It got to the point that I could stand with in inches of them with my camera so I did get tons of photos of Painted Ladies and Monarchs this summer which was very exciting! I bet your guests just love watching them too. Sending love from the beach!

Hi Deb! Butterflies are now the only thing left, as the humming birds all left right after I posted the blog.  We've had some pretty cold nights already, and I think it scared them into warmer areas! Butterflies are still numerous, however.  How I love them.  Thanks for writing!! cathi

By: Ellen
On: 09/03/2012 18:33:15

Wow. sounds like my summer. we have been watching the Hummingbirds all summer in the kitchen window. My Grandson Jordan and All the 4 grandaughters and everyone in the family have been enjoying them. It is amazing. I would love to find there nest. They dive bomb each other they are so much fun to watch. Thanks for all the info. I hope all our Hummingbirds have a safe flight and return next year. Love your Blog.

Dear Ellen,  Thanks so much for writing.  Since I posted my blog on Monday, my hummers have all flown the coop so to speak.  I was in the gardens all day yesterday and nary a one to be seen. The butterflies are another story altogether ... there were clouds and clouds of them.  It almost made me wonder if they were congregating to start their migration. Thanks for writing.

By: Renee Fisher
On: 09/03/2012 19:14:27

While vacationing in La Veta, CO a few years ago, I noticed that the hummingbird would drink from the feeder on the front porch and then fly away, only to return within 3 or 4 minutes to drink again. I decided I would see how close I could get to the feeder to take a closer look at the little flying gems. So, each time it would fly away, I would position myself a giant step closer to the feeder. When my head was finally only inches from the feeder, the hummer came 'round and flew right up and hovered only an inch from my nose! It tilted it's little head to the right and then to the left, as if putting a bit of thought into the situation. Then, it backed up and visited the feeder for a bit of nourishment. Next time it came back, I had positioned my finger just under the drinking hole...and amazingly, the hummingbird rested on my finger as it drank! I'll never forget those tiny little feet curled around my finger and the magic of that moment!

Magical moment, indeed!  What a beautiful story and a wonderful memory to cherish.  Thanks for sharing!

By: Victoria
On: 09/03/2012 20:12:41

Love our hummingbirds! Hve had many, many experiences with those fiesty little buggers! They hit our windows all the time...poor things. Some revive, in our hands(!) and some, sadly do not. One day my D.H.was trimming a bush and out flew a hummer. Not knowing, he had cut the branch a mama bird was building a nest on. It was too late, we could not remedy the situation, as the nest was on the cut branch. We were heartsick. So now the tiny nest is on my stepback cupboard. Every once in awhile, I touch it, ever so gently and marvel at God's incrediable goodness. Whatever could explain such workmanship. Once, we rescued a baby hummer from the dog water. What an experience! We carefully dried the baby in a tiny piece of toweling. It's eyes were shut and it's chest was heaving. I mixed some sugar water and squeezed it by it's beak with a cotton ball. It's little tongue actually came out to eat the syrup. We set him, towel and all next to a protected wall, out of the breeze and directly in the sun. Before long, mom and dad were tending to him, and in two days, he was gone. What a privilage!! What marvelous little creatures they are! Thank you for sharing!

Such lovely stories; thank you! In the book I am reading (which I mention at the bottom o ght eblog), author Harriet Beecher Stowe had a hummingbird that she rescued and took care of while they were on vacation.  There is even a sketch she made of it drinking from a spoon.  Thanks so much for writing!


By: Susan Cooper
On: 09/03/2012 21:39:44

Hi Cathi,

First of all, I hope your husband and son are healing fast. I'll keep them in my thoughts.

I use the 4/1 water/sugar formula as you do. The hummingbirds love it all year long. (They stay through the winter here in the Seattle are - at least at my house.)

A friend uses 2 parts water to 1 part sugar and says the birds love it. I'm thinking it might be too strong. Every recipe I've looked at is the 4/1 ratio.

Thank you so much for the great stories and wonderful pictures!

I think I must have a dyslexic brain, because I wasn't thinking that when I wrote it!!  You are right, 4 parts water:1 part sugar.  Thanks for pointing out my how I transposed the recipe.  Have a wonderful day.

By: Marcie
On: 09/04/2012 10:15:12

...glad your loved ones are safe.

We love hummingbirds and like you, we get the Ruby-throat Hummers here in the TN Smokies. Back in central TX where we're from, both the Ruby-throat and the Black-chinned nest there. We once took a crash course in Hummingbirds with a professor of Hummingbirds and learned that the little creatures have to nectar about every half hour. When they start their fall migration south, they feed all along the Gulf coast all the way to the Yucatan and possibly beyond.
We plant native nectaring plants for the hummers and butterflies rather than put out feeders but I so applaud your efforts.
People such as yourself make the best stewards for providing nourishment for little creatures that depend on us for their survival.
The fall migration has started and you are seeing the 'flying jewels' first. They will be passing this way soon and then on toward the Gulf coast and their southern journey ... leaves one with a warm feeling. Thanks Cathi

Dear Marcie,  Thanks so much for writing. I'll bet the course you took was fascinating.  I have always loved these little birds, and find it amazing that they can fly so far! Ours have left in the last couple of days. One day we had them in profusion, the next day, POOF!  -cathi

By: Diana Campbell
On: 09/21/2012 16:52:23
Here in Mary Janes Farm country, we have five different hummers that frequent our gardens. It's so fun to try and identify them all. Rufus (the orange one) is the most aggressive, and Calliope is the tiniest and has a red and white striped gorget! So pretty!
diana from Sandpoint, Idaho

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir