Charles and Ruth Hammer have never seen anything like the feeding frenzy taking place on the back porch of their Coupeville home this winter.
Hummingbirds are tapping into the couple’s generosity by arriving by the dozens to sip the sweet nectar stored in three large second-story feeders.
Charles Hammer estimates that as many as 40 hummingbirds have been swooping in for early-morning and late-afternoon feedings.
Every two days, they go through about a gallon of the sweet clear liquid that he and his wife make, using one cup of sugar for every four cups of water.
“It’s really kind of an unusual sight to see,” Charles said.
The Hammers have been feeding hummingbirds in their backyard near Penn Cove for years but normally only about four or five show up at a time and no more than 10.
“Nothing like this,” Charles said.
He’s talked to a birding expert, who found the numbers unusually high yet couldn’t offer an explanation.
Hummingbirds need additional, timely replenishment to help them survive chilly winters, but the large numbers coming to the Hammers’ home has been going on for months and before temperatures dropped below freezing, Charles said.
“They’re really cute,” Charles said.
The ones buzzing around the Hammers’ yard and using a plum tree as a resting station this time of year are Anna’s Hummingbirds, which live on Whidbey Island year-round.
The Hammers have grown fond of the tiny creatures and bring in their feeders on the chilliest of nights so they don’t freeze. They put them back before first light before the activity picks back up again.
Readily available nectar during the winter can be critical for hummingbirds, which rapidly lose body heat because they don’t have insulating downy feathers like many other birds.
To survive chilly nights, they must conserve energy to be able to go into a deep sleep state known as torpor in which their metabolic rate is drastically reduced and their body temperature cooled.
Hummingbirds frequently are seen feeding at first light and just before dark to help them combat the cold nights.
Charles and Ruth Hammer have encountered hummingbirds in this dazed state right before their eyes on their covered back porch and have literally taken matters into their own hands to try to warm them up with mixed results.
The most recent incident took place last Thursday morning when they found a listless hummingbird resting on a tarp covering a patio table while others buzzed around above.
Hummingbirds need replenishment in the mornings when they break out of their torpor state and start burning more energy. This female bird got knocked down by the chill and was resting in the shade on a 22-degree morning with a few hours until sun would reach her.
“Here baby, let me get you warm,” Ruth said, cupping the bird in her hands to try to raise her body temperature.
This had happened four times before. Two of the birds didn’t survive and were laid to rest in the Hammers’ back yard.
Ruth was determined not to let her join them.
“We made a little cemetery down there,” she said. “You’re not going to go in it though. You’re a big girl.”
Ruth could feel the tiny bird’s heartbeat speed up in her hands. The Hammers eventually put her back outside, wrapping a cloth around her with one end dipped in nectar.
She was still there at noon but by 1 p.m., she was gone. Charles noticed the spot where the bird rested was warm from the sun.
Neither had expected the bird to survive and were tickled when they noticed it was gone.
“That’s my soft-hearted wife’s doing,” Charles said. “Like a mother hen. It’s one of the many things why I love her so much. She’s that way. She raised our boys that way and both turned out to be real good.”