Friday, May 09, 2008

Today is Mother’s Day

Several times today, we scoured the bushes. Watched the tree for any sign of a clumsy baby hummingbird. But we found no sign of the baby. Inali and I weren’t the only ones looking. His mother would come back to the feeder, search the tree, sit close to the spot where she had fed him this morning. She called, but there was no answer.

I had resolved myself to the fact that something might have happened between those few hours of 10 and noon when he seemed to have disappeared.

As twilight started to fall, I sat across from the tree and watched as a constant flow of hummingbirds, Allen’s and a few Anna’s, stopped at the feeder to top off for the night. There was an awkward youngster that crash landed in the top of the tree before going to the feeder. But it seemed too large for the baby I had held in my hand this morning.

As it got gradually darker, the mother hummingbird perched on the branch where she had last seen her fledgling. We waited.

Then I saw a shadow appear from behind the ivy across the street. A cat. It’s been years since we’ve had a cat prowling this part of the street. Could this cat have spotted our little hummingbird on its perch 5 feet off the ground?

Inali barked and growled. The cat slunk down the street.

My heart dropped. It was getting darker. If the young hummingbird didn’t come back to roost in his nest tree with his mother, we would know something had gone wrong.

Mom chased off another hummingbird that attempted to come to the feeder while she was watching. She seemed as anxious as I was. The sound of her slapping bills with the Anna’s female was like the clashing of tiny sabres. Soon, she returned and sat on the feeder.

Together, we waited.

Suddenly a tiny figure dropped into the tree. It was nearly dark, 7:40 PM. The little hummingbird hovered above the feeder and came to rest beside the waiting female. It drank and then lost its footing and fluttered, like youngsters often do. Mom sat and watched it drink. Our relief was audible.

The little youngster had been exploring the neighborhood all day long. It is amazing how hummingbirds go straight from vulnerable to independent in an hour or two. After a few more slurps, he flew up to a tiny branch in the tree. Mom followed and they settled in for the night.

Tonight, this little one is on his own. It was a team effort, but we did it.

We saved this tiny baby and he has become a remarkable flying jewel.

For Pictures and the whole story.

The Rescued Baby Hummingbird

My heart is broken.

For the past three nights I have been gently plucking our baby hummingbird off of this man-made nest and bringing him inside. He seemed lacking the feathers to get him through the cold night without the shelter of a real nest. Each morning at 5:20 AM, just before sunrise, I carefully put him back on his tiny roost.

With the arrival of day, his mother would dutifully appear, feed him and watch over him.

Last night when I brought him in around midnight, his fluttering wings were stronger and he actually got lift. As I tucked him in for the night, I thought, “He might try to fly tomorrow.” When I put him in his “nest” this morning the process had become old hat. He easily fluttered from my hand onto his spot.

When I checked him at midmorning. He was about 6 inches from the nest on a tiny branch. Had he “flown” there? He still looked a bit downy to be truly flying. Mom came and fed him and our routine seemed to be working out just fine.

But when I went to leave the house at noon, he was gone. No tiny figure perched on the twig. I looked in the immediate area. Some hummingbird fledges test themselves with short flights, while I’ve seen others just take off and go straight from the nest.

When his mother came back I watched her do the same thing I had done. Look in his spot, search the immediate area, then become concerned. She came over to me, chirping. I tried to convey to her, that I didn’t have him. I hoped he would call to her and she would find him, but so far that hasn’t happened.

There are no signs of foul play. Inali has searched the planter. She found bits of the destroyed original nest, but this time no baby. I think he tried to fly and wasn’t as ready as he thought he was. I hope he is somewhere in the tree.

It is hard to move forward with the things I know I should be doing today. This baby hummingbird fluttered in my hand like a moth. The first time I brought him in for the night, his tiny tongue came out and tasted my hand. The second night, when he was shivering, he seemed to relax when my warm hand encircled him. His tiny claws actually clung to the ridges on the pads of my fingers. He was a bit of grace, a living wonder.

His mother, Inali and I, we’ll all keep searching.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A True Mother’s Day Story

I know why the hummingbird in the front, “F,” has babies that seem so far behind in development. (see Hard-Working Single Mom's). The branch she has built her nest on is at the top of the plum tree and just the slightest breeze can make it bend dramatically. I believe her first brood tumbled out of the nest , at only a few days old, in one of our March storms. She must have immediately laid two more eggs.

I came to this conclusion after watching her try to keep her two new chicks in the nest during a few windy days. Her chicks were about 8 days from flying, too big to sit on, but there she was trying to sit on the smaller of the two. All through the day she hunkered down on the edge of the nest trying to help the chicks ride out tossing wind gusts. With each moment of calm she would dash off to find food. Sometimes, while she was gone, a gust of wind would carry the chicks to a near vertical position.

The next morning one of the chicks was gone. Sometime during the night, it had disappeared. We looked through the planter beneath the tree but could find nothing.

For the last few days, I have checked the lone chick daily. The weather has been cool, but the winds have abated. “F” stays close to her nest . She and I are counting the days until her precious chick can fly.

Then yesterday afternoon I came home and as I walked up the front steps I glanced up at the nest. It was torn apart and hanging in three pieces. What had happened?

I looked around under the tree. “F” appeared. The Allen’s hummingbird was frantic. I have come to know the rapid peeping sound these females make when they are distraught. (Predators and hummingbirds). This little bird had worked so hard to be a mother.

Inali, our 5 year-old black lab / golden retriever mix, was out front too. She frequently birds with me. She grew up following 4 chickens around and has an affinity for birds. Inali started sniffing the ground beneath the tree. There it was a tell tale sign–a large dropping from a good-sized bird. The nest had probably been raided by a crow, jay or even the raven.

I kept telling “F” how sorry I was. But Inali kept sniffing. She froze and stared into the twisted undergrowth of African daisies. She kept staring. I followed her gaze, and there, deep withing the tangle of rambling stems, sat the tiny hummingbird baby. Somehow, as the nest was torn apart it had tumbled out, landed unharmed, and now clung to a twig with tiny feet.

We had to save this baby. My mind raced. Could I feed it and keep it alive for the next few days as it got all of its feathers and learned to fly? Probably, but if I could get it back up in the tree, maybe “F” would finish the job she had set out to do. Only she could encourage the baby to leap into hovering flight. Only she could take it to the best places to find food in the neighborhood.

I had to get this little one back up into some kind of nest in the tree. I carefully scooped it up in my hands and took it into the house. I tossed a towel in the fruit bowl and placed the chick there. A nest. How to make a nest?

I grabbed a small plastic cup that had held take-out salsa, cut it down, gathered dog hair and nesting wool to make a cozy inside and then taped it securely in the tree. I chose a lower branch, closer to the trunk. No more worrying about the wind. Then I set the baby in the manmade nest and told it to call for its mother. Everything happened in less than 10 minutes.

Inali and I retired to the house and watched from the window. We could hear thin squeaky chirps. “F” called for her baby. She checked high in the tree. She searched the ground near where it had been. She stopped. She called. There was an answer. Then I watched her triangulate, getting closer and closer, until she found the little one. My nest didn’t offer a convenient place for her to sit and feed her tired and frightened offspring, so “F” walked sideways down a twig and then turned over her shoulder to feed the hungry chick. Mother and baby were reunited.

Inali and I sat on the porch watching “F” chase off other hummingbirds and then returning to feed her chick. Then “F” came over to us and hovered a few feet away looking right at us. I could feel her gratitude. Together the three of us had saved her baby.

The chick doesn’t really like my nest. It prefers sitting on the edge. Last night was going to dip into the low 40s. Afraid that it would be too cold without the comfort of a real nest, especially after its traumatic day, I scooped it up last night after dark. It slept soundly in a plastic container cushioned with paper towels. At 5:20 AM, before the sun came up, I put it back in the makeshift nest. “F” is feeding it again this morning. The baby is stretching its wings and fluttering.

This baby hummingbird has three mothers–its natural mother, me and a big black dog that saved its life.