Armand Bieber has a big heart for the tiniest of birds that flit through his way station of a garden.
On almost any day from late April until late October, you'll find the retired 67-year-old sitting and watching hummingbirds as they stop and feed and rest.
"I'm out here all day. This is my office. If I sit up there real still, I can get them to land on my finger," said Armand with a grin, pointing. He built a "loft" deck up a half-dozen steps from his big vegetable and flower garden, where he can watch the hummingbird feeders set out around the property.
"This is our retreat," his wife Mary said of the deck. It's painted green to blend in with the garden, which backs onto a large stand of mature trees -- just the place for the hummingbirds to sleep and be safe.
Armand said he always has been interested in birds and gardening. He ramped up the work to lure more of the mighty little creatures with iridescent feathers after he retired in 2006 as a switchman with Alton Southern Railroad.
"I think they're just beautiful and I love to watch them," he said.
On a Tuesday evening, the nectar-loving birds made a low buzzing sound (That's their wings flapping 80 times per second.) as they moved from one feeder to another.
"They'll fight each other off," Armand said of their battling to get in line for food that they reach with long, tapered bills. They're not afraid of bigger birds, either.
They also feed from the blue salvia and hibiscus plants that Armand and Mary plant each year. The rows of 10-foot-tall sunflowers make a natural privacy fence for the garden, the plate-size drooping heads providing food for the cardinals, tufted titmouse, chickadees and finches that also inhabit the garden.
"The hummingbirds are curious and will check out the sunflowers," but there's no food for them there, said Mary.
Armand has to refill the feeders twice day.
"I make my own (nectar)," he said. "I use one cup sugar and four cups water and boil it." No food coloring necessary, though Mary added that he uses filtered water in the recipe.
For the individual feeders, Armand built mini perches so "they can sit and not fly while they're feeding. I also put stoppers (in the feeder hole) to keep the bees out."
It all makes for a comfortable stop on the way south for the winter, one the hummingbirds remember and return to year after year.
"They're here every day, though they like it when it's a little cooler," he said of seeing dozens in the evening, especially after a shower.
Sitting in his loft perch, Armand patiently rested his forefinger by a feeder. He knew one would settle there eventually.