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In Our Own Backyard...Feelin' the love

I'd never felt so loved in all my life.

As I shuttled outdoors in Monday's early morning drizzle to fill one of my hummingbird feeders -- for the umpteenth time this summer -- an adoring crowd of the tiny birds swirled about my head. I had only been away for a few short moments, but I could hear their elated "chipping" in anticipation of my return.

Their adoration has been rampant all summer. While the hummingbird population has always been respectable around our yard, this year it seems like the energetic little birds have experienced a population explosion and they're practically eating us out of house and home. I started the summer out with a 10-pound bag of sugar and since then I've replaced it many times over.

The usual scenario is a fair amount of hummingbird action early on in the season, just after they've returned from the south and are angling around for a mate. Then it seems things die down when the nesting season begins, and picks back up again only after the young birds have left the nest and gone out on their own. At that time there's a brief but spectacular resurgence of activity, with all of the young ones sparring for space at the feeders. The males are generally long gone by then, and the only remaining birds are the comparatively drab-colored females and the juveniles. Come September, they're pretty much all gone, leaving me to cast bittersweet glances at the empty feeders and wishing for the frantic activity of hummingbird season once again.

The greater number of hummers this season -- and their seemingly voracious appetite -- has certainly kept the ball rolling so far this summer. It's not unusual to awake in the pre-dawn hours around 4:30 a.m. to hear the whir of wings and the conversational chipping around the feeders off our bedroom deck. I have one feeder off our front deck that I have to bring in every night or the racoons will get in it. By the time I head out to rehang the feeder around 6 a.m., the hummingbirds are already there waiting for me. They hover in midair in the approximate location of where the feeder is supposed to be, and they only move off to the side when I appear to hang it up. As soon as I step back, they are there, drinking long and hard at the feeder as though they had gone days without nectar.

There were nights in the highest point of summer, when it didn't get dark until almost 10 p.m., that I could still hear the buzzing of the hummers' wings as they paused for a "nightcap" before heading to roost for the night in the notch of some nearby tree. Given the fact they are almost constantly in motion in search of sustenance during the day, it's hard to imagine how they can make it through the night without the sugar high they seem to be accustomed to.

Last weekend I spent a good deal of time brewing up a new batch of the sugar water they crave, filling three pitchers full. I cleaned and refilled a couple of the feeders (I have six in all) and the hummers seemed to be perfectly content. By the time I got up on Monday morning, I was amazed to see one of the feeders was already completely empty. I brought the feeder in, washed it out with vinegar and water and filled it with a new batch of sugar water. The whole time the hummers were doing flybys past my kitchen window, chattering away in anticipation of my return.

As I stepped out the front door, I felt like a celebrity as the little birds flitted excitedly all around me. I believe that if I'd had the time and patience, they would have actually come to drink out of my hand!

I attached the hanger of the feeder to the shepherd's hook and stepped back, just as six hummingbirds flocked around me and then descended on breakfast. And as much as I'd prefer to think they come out of pure adoration for the one who feeds them, I am realistic enough to know otherwise. It is, you might say, a case of "the way to a hummingbird's heart is through its stomach."

By the time I turned back toward the house they were feeding hungrily -- and they'd forgotten all about me.