The first rufous hummingbirds spotted in Prince William Sound
this spring may have made a stop in Arizona during their annual
2,600-mile migration from southern Mexico to Southcentral Alaska. Jesse
Hendrix's house, six miles northeast of Nogales, is located on the
migration path of the tiny birds and is hummingbird heaven.
Bird feeders filled with red, yellow, green and blue-colored
sugar water dangle from a magnolia tree, metal poles, a bamboo grove and
mesquite trees surrounding the 77-year-young Hendrix's home. A constant,
low hum fills the air as little hummers dart from feeder to feeder,
pausing only to lick at the sugar water that the retired high school
teacher has prepared for them.
"It all started by accident," Hendrix said. "My
daughter noticed one hummingbird out of the kitchen window 15 years ago.
We bought a feeder, hung it up, and the next day two hummingbirds showed
Hendrix bought a few more feeders, which drew in more birds. He
bought more feeders, and still more birds showed up. He now goes through
1,500 pounds of sugar a year to keep up with the demand of these hungry
little birds traveling to and from South America, Mexico, the
Continental United States, Canada and Alaska.
Typically, hummingbirds start showing up at this hummer oasis
around the last week in February and are usually all gone by the first
week of November. Hendrix keeps meticulous count records for the
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of
Arizona, as well as detailed information on the amount of sugar water he
prepares. It is estimated that he now feeds up to 10,000 hummingbirds,
using 150 feeders, during peak days in late August and early September.
Hendrix pays for most of the sugar out of his own pocket and said
he watches for sales in the newspaper.
"I don't worry about the expense of the sugar," Hendrix
said. "My doctor, who gives me excellent care, tells me to keep
Not only does he stay busy filling feeders, Hendrix believes the
birds are helping his health, too.
"I can't prove it, but I'm sure these little guys keep my
blood pressure down," he said. "They are so colorful.
Especially when the sun shines on them-it's like sun hitting a crystal
spectrum, light changes colors."
Hendrix said the hummingbirds start feeding at daybreak, so he
goes to bed at 8 p.m. and gets up at 4 a.m. to mix the sugar water. He
adds a different nontoxic food dye to each day's solution.
"With the colored water, I can see from a
distance when the feeders are getting low," he said. "The
birds get discouraged if there is nothing in the feeders, so I make sure
The colored water also tells Hendrix when the sugar
solution was made. For instance, he may put blue in Monday's solution,
yellow in Tuesday's and a soft red in Wednesday's. If by Thursday there's
any blue solution left in any feeders, he will change out that water
because it's three days old. He wants the birds always to have fresh
Hendrix has opened his home to the scientific
community, as well as to anyone interested in birding. The path to his
house is well-known to People Magazine, PBS, the Smithsonian, the
British Broadcasting Co. and several universities.
"Ornithologists come out and band
hummingbirds," Hendrix said. "It helps scientists answer
questions such as how do the birds know to come here, the general
condition of the birds, their patterns and so on."
According to officials of the American Birding
Association, the National Audubon Society and other experts, Hendrix's
home has the largest number of hummingbirds anyone has seen in one place
in the United States.
Scientist have identified 14 different species of
hummingbirds at the feeders surrounding Hendrix's house: broad-billed,
Berylline, blue-throated, violet-crowned, magnificent, Lucifer,
black-chinned, Anna's, Costa's, calliope, Allen's, broad-tailed,
white-eared and the rufous.
The rufous is the only known hummingbird to travel to
Prince William Sound. The rusty-colored, 3-inch bird is the most hardy
of the hummer species.
"If I see a hummingbird scaring other birds off
a feeder, it's sure to be a rufous, "Hendrix said. "They are a
feisty, fearless little bird."
They might be the toughest because they have the
farthest to travel. Aaron Lang, education coordinator for the Prince
William Sound Science Center, said two rufous hummingbirds were spotted
in Cordova on May 4.
"The rufous are pretty common around here,"
Lang said. "But they are a little later this year than average.
They usually show up around the 20th of April. All of the songbirds are
late this year."
Lang said the rufous is the only hummingbird to come
this far north. He said sometimes the Anna's shows up in Southeast
Alaska, but the rufous is the northernmost hummingbird in the world.
"People in Cordova really like
hummingbirds," Lang said. "Even if they're not interested in
any other birds, they always know a hummingbird. You see feeders all
The tiny birds will start leaving again around late
July, according to Lang, and most will be gone by early September,
heading back to winter in Mexico.
Scientist suspect that most of the rufous hummers
traveling from Alaska heading south in late summer and early fall will
refuel at Hendrix' place. And rest assured, his feeders will be filled
and waiting for them.
"I love feeding the birds," Hendrix said.
"I don't have a desire to go anywhere else. The birds give me