May is probably my favorite month of the year. It’s when the warm weather usually takes hold after a long, cold South Dakota winter, and from a birding perspective, no month of more spectacular, with summer birds arriving and many migrants moving through that you don’t see at any other time of the year. One of the highlights of May for me usually happens around May 8th or so, when the first Ruby-throated Hummingbird shows up in my yard. We’re at the fringes of their normal breeding range, but I live across the street from a state park that has some forested land next to a river, and it does seem like they breed there. Breeding has never been confirmed in my part of the state, by I do have hummingbirds around my yard all summer long, including young ones that usually show up in my yard sometime in July or so.
We’ve had an incredibly mild winter, and March was spectacularly warm for South Dakota. Many trees and other plants bloomed a good month before they normally do. I’m not sure if that’s the reason why, but this spring has been very slow for hummingbirds in my yard. I have only seen one male occasionally visit my yard. Sunday, I was out doing yard work most of the day, came in the garage, and noticed a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird flying around the top of the garage, constantly banging up against the roof as he tried to find his way out. We have a very tall garage, with a good 6-feet or more above the actual garage doors. The poor little guy was obviously freaking out, and couldn’t figure out that to get out of the garage, he needed to first go down about 6 feet to where I had left all the doors and windows open.
I continued my yard work, hoping he’d find his own way out. But after an hour, he was still in the garage. He was obviously getting tired, as he’d fly up and bang up against the roof for a bit, then come down a foot or two and rest on a wire to the garage door opener. I started to try to find a way to lure him out. I brought in my hummingbird feeders and placed them low in the garage. Later, as I worried about his strength, I put one high near his wire perch, in the hopes that he’d at least feed. He was having none of it, with no interest in coming to the feeders. After 2 hours or so, when his energy was obviously getting less, I slowly brought up my 2 long-handled fishing nets in the hopes of trapping him in between them, so I could bring him down and out of the garage. No luck. He wouldn’t budge from his wire perch and fly into the nets, and I certainly wasn’t going to force the issue.
I was very frustrated, thinking that the one hummingbird I had coming to my yard was about to die. I went back out and started working in the yard again, when I saw my wife coming very slowly out the back door of the garage with a very long feather duster in her hands. She said “Is he on there???”. Given that the bird didn’t want to fly much any more because it was tired, my wife slowly raised the feather duster up by the bird on the wire until the hummingbird clung on. Then she ever-so-slowly and carefully brought the duster down and out the garage door.
The hummingbird was indeed clinging to the feather duster! But he must have been very tired, because even after getting him out into the sunlight, he just clung there for a minute or two. Finally, he zipped up and away. Given how long he was in there and how tired he seemed to be getting, I just hope he was able to feed quickly and recover.
One thing I will do is change out the ends of the manual garage pulls that dangle down from my garage door openers. They are bright red balls hanging down in my garage. I had heard that hummingbirds are sometimes trapped in garages, because they area attracted to the bright red color, fly into the garage to investigate, and can’t find their way out. I’m not sure if that’s what happened to this little guy, but just to be safe, I’ll be removing the red balls.