What can be more delightful than a close encounter with wildlife? We tend to spend so much time with our faces pressed against something electronic, that the chance moments when life forms in the natural world collide with our own are noteworthy.
And so it was this week, as a hummingbird decided to explore my bedroom. Well, not exactly decided; I'm pretty sure his entrance was accidental.
When I heard the frenzy of wings and the pound of small body against the wall, I hurried upstairs and stood face to face with the tiny bird that had perched just above the window well. His luminescent green feathers shimmered in the afternoon sun in stark contrast to the brushed aluminum frame. I opened the wide porch door and all the other windows to aid in his escape, but for the moment, he didn't move.
I climbed on top of the chair to be closer. His curled beak and dark eyes were only inches away. He held very still, yet the rise and fall of his breast feathers clearly revealed his angst at being unable to get through the wall. Could he read my mind? Did he understand that I was trying to help him?
"Tiny bird, sweet little friend, you need to fly lower."
He looked at me, then furiously did the opposite, flying higher, only to perch again on the upper ledge. Finally, I tossed a soft blanket over his head and gently directed him to the opening. Freed, he flew away like a true wild thing.
So why, I asked myself, did he come back within an hour? Drawn back upstairs by the telltale flutter of wings, there he sat in exactly the same location on upper part of the sill.
"Silly bird," I said to him, back on top my chair. "What is it that you want? Do you have something to say to me?"
Quite silently, he blinked several times before we repeated our routine. Soft blanket capture, window release.
His presence reminded me of the luck of other hummingbird encounters. The most recent was while sitting in my patio writing, sipping coffee from a bright floral cup. A hummingbird had been breakfasting on a red flowers close to my seat. His eye caught floral pattern in my hands and he zoomed right toward me. He hovered within inches of my face, wings whizzing, as he examined my cup from every angle, trying to figure out how to "get in" to the flowers.
Several years ago, my son, Austin, and I found a barely feathered baby hummer hanging upside down from it's nest. As frequently happens, its bigger sibling had shoved it out. We gently put it back, only to find it on the ground in the morning. It was cold and wasn't going to live without intervention.
Austin picked up the tiny bird cradled it in his large hands, trying to warm it. I searched for an eyedropper and made some sugar water. We found a box, laid the bird in soft cotton, and put it under a heat lamp overnight. In the morning, Austin was first to check on "his" bird. It had made it through the night, but what next? Neither of us were certified hummingbird parents. A few calls, and Pacific Wildlife Center in Laguna Niguel said they'd take the baby, and house it with three other "orphans."
In a few weeks, the bird was ready to fledge, and we were able to bring it back to our own yard. When we opened the cage, the tiny bird fluttered up and sat on the edge, scrutinizing the garden and getting his bearings. I swear, by my own hummingbird feathers, that within moments, his own mother flew into the yard (she had maintained a residence throughout), snuggled up against him, and chattered in hummingbird-speak. They rose together and spun in a kind of reunion dance, then perched in the tree in the corner of the yard.
Hummingbirds and my sons seem to go together. My older son, Cooper, had a repeat nester in the Japanese maple tree at the front door to his house in Laguna Niguel. Noticing the same phenomena — that the bigger sibling was trying to shove the smaller one out, Cooper constructed an elaborate chair and pillow-landing pad under the nest. Guests had to maneuver around this protected area to get to his door, which sometimes took some explaining to those less sensitive. Cooper retrieved the smaller bird several times from the pillow pile, gently put him back in the nest, and eventually, both babies fledged and made his yard their home.
The feeder in my own yard is frequented, and as those who have hummers in their yard know, the battle for territory can be fierce. But such joy … those tiny fast-beating wings. Those high-pitched peeps. The aerial ballet of mating rituals. The pure joy of something wild in close proximity.
Catharine Cooper loves wild things. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.