Minnesotan cooks for hundreds of hummingbirds

CANNON FALLS, Minn - As head cook and grandmother, Marlyce Quittem will tell you food equals love.

"I love to cook," says Marlyce as she stirs a kettle on her kitchen stove.

She dashes off to another room and returns with a photo taken at a family gathering. Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren fill the frame.

"This is about 35," she says, unsure of the exact figure, but certain of one thing. "A lot of love," she says proudly.

Marlyce cooks for all of them when holidays come around. The larger group -- the one outside her kitchen window - - drops in unannounced.

"It's crazy," says Marlyce as she eyes the swarm of hummingbirds gathered at three feeders hung a couple feet from her kitchen window. "They just keep coming and coming."

Tiny as they are, Marlyce's hummingbirds consume 10 pounds of sugar a week, mixed with water and cooked in her kettle to yield more than five gallons of sugar water.

Quittem's birds lap it up like a free tap at a bratwurst festival.

"She's for the birds," says Oscar Quittem, Marlyce's husband. He means it as a compliment.

Oscar met his wife more than 60 years ago, when she also served him something sweet. "Stopped at the drive-in root beer stand, and she brought me root beer," he reminisces.

As a retired nurse, it remains Marlyce's nature to nurture.

"They're just so little," she says. Yet with wings that can beat 80 times a second, hummingbirds make more trips to the kitchen than a teenager, eating twice their body weight every day.

"If the cats caught one, they wouldn't have much to eat," says Marlyce, casting a glance at her two cats in the yard. They look up frequently at the birds which remain well out of their reach.

"I think they're jealous of them, my attention to the birds," she says.

Marlyce feeds her birds several times a day when she's home and hires a bird-sitter when she travels.

"That's a nurse," says her husband.

Now in their 80s, Oscar and Marlyce know the day may come when they have to move from their bird house.

"It's going to be in the contract when we sell the house," laughs Marlyce. "Feed the birds."

In a home where food equals love, the hum of a bird equals contentment.

"Yeah, it's a holiday for my birds - everyday, for sure," says Marlyce.


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