DEAR JOAN — I live on the 11th floor of a building and I do not have a hummingbird feeder hanging from my window, but several of my neighbors do. Hummers fly up to my windows and look in on me, even though I don't feed them.
I wonder if they recognize me from my gardening in the park a few blocks away, where hummers enjoy my flower bed. It is always fun to watch them.
Carole, Oakland, California
DEAR CAROLE: That's a very interesting question, and one that doesn't, unfortunately, have a definitive answer because no one has ever studied that particular aspect. Hummingbirds probably have the brain capacity and the memory to recognize you, but we don't know if they do or not.
When it comes to brains, humans are the ones come up short in a comparison. A human brain represents about 2 percent of our total body weight, while the hummers' brains are 4 percent. That's a massive brain, and hummers put them to good use.
They have remarkable memories. They recall every feeding place they encounter, and remember each blossom they've visited, keeping track of when nectar in plants will be replenished. Our memory cells, by contrast, are full of '70s song lyrics and baseball stats.
There is some evidence that they remember and can identify people who feed them, as opposed to people who don't. What we don't know is if they could see us walking down the street, fly over and say "Hey, I remember you and your lovely garden."
The birds looking in on you might recognize you from your garden, but the previous occupants of your residence might have had feeders or flowering plants on the balcony, and the birds could be looking for them. Or the birds could simply be searching for more food sources, as long as they are 11 floors up.
DEAR JOAN: We had problems with hummingbirds becoming trapped in our garage. I saw one fly in, obviously attracted by the red lanyard handle on the emergency release of the door lift mechanism.
I caught and released it outside, then spray painted the handle black. There was never another trapped bird.
If you don't have black paint, you can wrap the handle with black electrician's tape, making sure no red is showing.
Bill, Castro Valley, California
DEAR BILL: Thanks so much for the tip. That might explain why so many people find hummers in the unlikely place of a garage.
DEAR JOAN: I hope you will tell people it's time to start taking down their hummingbird feeders so the birds can start migrating. Keeping them up will mean the birds will stick around. It really upsets me when I see the birds still feeding in my neighbors' yards. They are condemning the birds to a cold hard winter.
J.H., Concord, California
DEAR J.: Keeping feeders up does not prevent migration. The instinct to migrate is hardwired into all birds, however, the Anna's hummingbird is a permanent resident of the Bay Area and limits its migration within the region. It's OK to leave feeders up for them. And while I wouldn't want to live outside during the winter, it's usually not cold enough in our area to harm the birds.