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Originally published April 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 30, 2009 at 2:15 PM

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It's spring, and region is aflutter with hummingbirds

The return of rufous hummingbirds is a sure sign of spring as they complete migrations totaling about 4,000 miles, from breeding grounds as far north as southeastern Alaska to wintering sites as far south as southern Mexico — one of the longest known of any animal their size.

That's a lot of flapping

Rufous hummingbirds winter in Mexico and in Gulf states. In the spring, they migrate up the Pacific Coast, reaching as far north as south-central Alaska; they are the northernmost breeding hummingbird. They arrive in Washington from late February to early March and their arrival typically coincides with the bloom of red-flowering currant and salmonberry. Males leave in June and July; females and juveniles leave the state from late July through September, with most migrating in August.

Source: The Seattle Audubon Society

About rufous hummingbirds

Appearance: Males: rufous (brownish-red) all over, except for white chest, green wings. Females: green above, with rufous flanks.

Diet: Insects and nectar. Locally, they feed heavily on red-flowering currant, salmonberry, honeysuckle, and on sugar water at feeders.

Nest: Built with moss, lined with plant down, covered on the outside with lichen and bark and held together with spider webbing.

Offspring: Two eggs are laid; 15- to 17-day incubation. Young are independent about 21 days after hatching.

Source: Seattle Audubon Society

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HYAK, SNOQUALMIE PASS —

Hummingbirds swirl in buzzing clouds, zipping around more than 10 feeders to sip sweet nectar.

Here in Hyak, Kittitas County, snow stands 2 to 3 feet on the ground, and the trees are still in the deep freeze, without so much as a bud. But the air is abuzz with a sure sound of spring: rufous hummingbirds.

Tiny, tenacious, they cling with claws thin as threads to the rims of feeders or hover in midair, beaks sipping nectar Chris Caviezel rarely lets run dry during the feeding season.

"I may have missed four days," he says — over the past four years, that is, since he started feeding hummingbirds at his house in Hyak.

These tiny migrants have traveled all the way back from Mexico to this spot, indeed some are returning to these very feeders, remembering them from previous years.

Not one to disappoint, Caviezel devotes an entire shelf in the refrigerator to storing hummingbird nectar, to make sure he's always got some on hand.

This time of year, when the hummers are feeding heavily, he serves up more than 100 ounces of nectar a day. He buys sugar in bulk — about 200 pounds a year.

The birds stage in a big pine outside his windows, resting briefly before streaking back for another meal, their wings a blur of motion.

Hummingbird wings are fixed but for their shoulders, which rotate in every direction, allowing hummingbirds to spin their wings in figure eights to sustain a perfect hover.

The spectacular orange throat patch of the male refracts the light with brilliant shine. And while the birds weigh in at no more than a penny, they are the mighty mites of the bird world.

"They are really tough little birds, which people don't associate with hummingbirds because they are so small," said Dan Harville of Edmonds, who bands hummingbirds as a volunteer to help track populations. "But they fly into windows and bash on each other and fight and bounce right back."

For Caviezel, the hummingbird thing started innocently enough about six years ago, with a visit to a friend's house where he admired the birds at a feeder. Why not give it a try, he thought.

Now he's up to 10 feeders in use at the moment, with more at the ready as needed. Then there are the hummingbird hand towels, rug, shower curtain, art, books, Web site, and of course, his house.

Caviezel said he ditched the condo and bought the house just so he could plant a hummingbird garden for the birds.

"It started small," Caviezel says of his hummingbird obsession. "And just sort of grew."

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or lmapes@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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