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Hum and Get It

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As dawn creeps over Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, just this side of the border with Mexico, a low, persistent humming fills the air around Jesse Hendrix’s sprawling, one-story house. The hummingbirds, hundreds of them, have come by for breakfast.

“I just love having these little fellas come around,” says Hendrix, 74, a retired teacher. For 11 years he has peppered his place with sugar-water feeders to give the fatigued fliers a break during their long migrations between central Mexico and as far north as Alaska, for some. The birds refuel for the next leg of their flight through the Santa Cruz River Valley, where development and ranching have destroyed many of the wild-flowers that used to provide nectar.

“Jesse has essentially built a Stuckey’s on a bleak stretch of highway,” says Sheri Williamson, co-director of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory. “They hang around like truckers drinking lots of coffee before heading out for another long stretch.”

Steve Russell, an ornithologist who has studied the visitors, says that up to 9,000 birds a day come by in peak season. That amounts to about 1,300 pounds of sugar, from the northward migration in March until November, when they return. “If I’m not here for a few hours,” says Hendrix, “the feeders would be empty, and they’d be upset.”

Married for 46 years to Refa, 65, a dental assistant, Hendrix compares the buzz he gets from his birds to marital bliss. “It’s like asking me what I like about my wife,” he says. “I like everything.”