small wonders

small wonders

Two years ago, I was standing by my patio doors, coffee in hand, not loving myself or my life very much. I had just accepted a job I was fairly certain I did not want, and my reasons for doing so - while good, practical reasons - did not make me proud. I was tired of doing the good, practical thing, but had lost my nerve and made a 'safe' choice.

Anyway, there I was, looking out at my patio garden, and thinking I ought to rearrange things. I had brought my six-foot potted ficus tree under cover the previous month to provide better shelter for "my" resident hummingbirds during the winter rains. (I felt bad when I saw them at the feeders, whirring mightily, getting bonked on their little heads by raindrops.) But as I sipped my coffee and thought reorganizational thoughts, I realized there was a lot of activity in that ficus tree.

I shortly realized that one of my hummingbirds was zooming in and out of the tree ... with beakfuls of fluff and stuff ... building a nest.

I can honestly say this was one of the highlights of 2008 for me.

As an apartment dweller, there are fairly firm limits on the wildlife I can provide for. Our Los Angeles apartment patio is a bump-in, on the north side of a building and, while bright, receives little direct sun. I brought in shade-loving plants in containers, and not long after setting up my first arrangement I began to see hummingbirds - Ruby-throated and Anna's - zooming around. The hummer action was so exciting that I immediately ordered some feeders, and within a week was receiving regular visitations. However, I never expected a nest!

The ficus tree was at this time within two feet of the living room's patio door. I told the cats they would have to stay inside for a while (they love the secure patio, and ordinarily the patio doors are open whenever we're home). I looked up hummingbird data and learned that a female would typically sit on eggs for a couple of weeks and that the babies would be fledged and away within three more. Fast, like everything else they do.

The nest was perfected over a period of several days and seemed to be made mostly of tiny twigs, yew leaves, and spider silk. Before long, Ms. Hummer was sitting in it. Mostly all I could see was her greeny-gray head and tail poking up out of the nest cup. She would even sit there, watching me beadily, when I went out to refill the feeders or water the plants.

I took occasional photos, but my camera was very challenged ... it is hard, under the best circumstances, to take a good photo of a bird that is approximately the same size and shape as the leaves of the tree within which it perches, and I didn't want to use the flash.

After the two eggs hatched, Mr. P set up a video camera and let it run once in a while. Without motion-activation, we have several hours of nothing but Ms. Hummer sitting still, but oh! when she would zoom off to hunt and then come back to the nest! The questing little heads would poke up, beaks would open wide, much cheeping would ensue; she would cram her offering down one or another throat, and then zoom away to hunt again.

Within the expected span of time, the babies fledged out and started to perch on the edge of the nest, experimentally whirring their wings, and a couple of days after that they were gone. Ms. Hummer brought them back a few times to show them how the feeders worked, and then they all went their separate ways.

A few weeks later, after I'd moved the long-suffering ficus out where it could get more light, a different hummer came down and started raiding the nest for building material. Recycling!

On any given weekend, I see between four and five different birds visiting my feeders. I like to think at least one of them is coming "home."
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