Karla's Hummingbird Story
Once upon a time I was mother to a hummingbird. Or, more correctly, I was mother's helper for several weeks. What an experience.
It began on a spring evening, probably late May, in my garden patio in Marina del Rey. I was enjoying the evening when a neighbor came rushing up to my gate with something cupped in his hand. He said "Look, look what I found lying on the sidewalk". It looked like a piece of gray chicken skin, about the size of my thumbnail. But in the center of that lump of skin was a pulsing dark spot, a beating heart. It was a baby hummingbird that had apparently fallen out of a nest. My friend said he wanted to leave it with me because he was on his way to a meeting and didn't have time to take it back to his home. I looked at it lying there and said, "What am I supposed to do with it? It's not really my thing to take care of something like that!" He looked me in the eye and said "Well then, I guess we'll just have to kill it!" My response was just what he had expected... "Give that little thing to me right now!"
I put it in a small shallow box, about 4-inches square, lined with jewelry cotton. I set the box on my garden wall, hoping that the mother would discover it and know where her baby had gone. I took some sugar water out of my hanging hummingbird feeder with an eyedropper and tried to place a drop or two in the baby's mouth. Most of it ended up on the cotton but I didn't know what else to do.
It started to get dark. I was afraid that if I left the baby outside overnight it would be eaten by one of the critters roaming our property at night, a cat, a possum or some such. So I brought the box inside and set it on a towel on top of my kitchen bar. I was sure it would be dead by morning anyway, but at least I could tell my friend I had tried.
Next morning I was surprised to see that tiny little heart still pulsing. I again tried the eyedropper method of feeding more sugar water, with not much result. I took the box outside to place it once again on the garden wall. No sooner had I set it down and turned to go back inside than the little mother came swooping down towards the box. She hovered there, looked at me and at her baby, and immediately moved to feed the little thing from her beak. Oh my gosh, I couldn't believe it! I quietly went back inside and kept watching, and watching, and watching for what turned into 5 fascinating weeks of observing nature at work.
All that first day the little mother would appear again and again to feed the baby. I didn't try any more with the eyedropper since the sugar water on the cotton was attracting ants. I put a clean piece of cotton in the box and left well enough alone, knowing now that the mother had things under control.
That night, I again brought the box inside at dark; first thing in the morning I set it outside, and the mother was right there waiting for us. This became our routine for several weeks, and every morning the mother was right there waiting for me to bring her baby to her.
I started to notice that each time the mother would come near, the baby would lift up its head and open its mouth and the mother would place her beak inside. I did some research on hummingbirds and learned that the baby senses or hears the hum of the wings of its mother and instinctively opens it mouth to receive the food it knows is coming. A much more efficient delivery system than my eyedropper, and no ants!
And then the baby started to grow and he didn't look like a piece of chicken skin any longer; he looked like a piece of chicken skin shaped like an actual little bird. Soon wings became very evident, his beak became longer, and fuzz and then feathers started to develop. The mother continued her regular feeding visits and I continued bringing him indoors at night and moving him outside in the morning.
After about 3 weeks the baby started stretching its wings and moving around in the box looking like it was ready to start flying. At that point I started putting a loose-weave basket over the box when I brought him inside at night so in case he decided to take off during the night, he wouldn't end up flying around inside my house.
For the next few days I watched as the mother would encourage flight. She would chatter, chatter, chatter to the baby as it flapped its wings and hopped around, but it never got out of the box. I knew flight was close and I didn't want to miss it, so I planned my days to spend almost all my time watching those darned birds. One afternoon I got involved indoors doing something else and when I next looked out, the box was empty. I had devoted myself to this, and now I had missed the big moment. I was so disappointed I almost cried.
I knew it couldn't end there, it just couldn't! So I kept watching.
Within a day or so I spotted a hummingbird regularly flying in and out of a huge hibiscus bush on the outside of my garden wall. I went out and peered into the bush, and there sitting on a sturdy branch, protected by the leaves of the bush, was my little baby. I was so relieved that it hadn't left me; it had just been moved to a secure spot to finish its development.
About a week later I again heard the chatter of the mother bird and I saw them both perched on a low tree branch. The mother would start flying and hovering and chattering, and the little guy would frantically flap his wings and fly about 3 feet to another branch. They continued this for 10 or 15 minutes, with the flight distance getting a little longer with each try. Eventually it looked like he was ready to soar, and I was feeling both motherly pride and loss when that little thing flew off on its own.
But that still wasn't the end . . .
All during that summer a little hummingbird would sleep perched on a branch of a ficus tree growing in my patio directly outside my front door. I could come and go within two feet of him and he wouldn't move. I knew that it was my little guy, wondering why I wasn't taking him inside for the night like I had done when he was a baby. So he did the next best thing and slept right outside the door.
I moved to Murphys several years later. Arriving late in the afternoon after the long drive from Southern California, I went outside to look around my new back yard. I swear this is true... a little hummingbird flew right up to my head and hovered for a few seconds looking at me. I said "Well, you little thing, did you follow me all the way up here!"
Needless to say, I have a special fondness for hummingbirds.
P.S. Bertie, you gave me your beautiful hummingbird oil painting, so I have put my story in writing, especially for you.
NOTE: This is a lovely story. However, please do not take hummingbirds inside as it is technically illegal to do so.
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