As long as the hummingbirds had not abandoned the land, somewhere there were still flowers, and they could all go on. -Leslie Marmon Silko
Welcome to the world, little hummingbird hatchlings!
Aren’t they cute? Well, okay, they’re in that awkward state…bumbling and naked and temporarily blind. But if you close your eyes and think hummingbird, can you visualize the possibilities?
Given their wrinkled, raisin-y state, I suspect the first egg hatched on Friday and the second hatchling followed suit on Saturday. Just think: As these tiny creatures performed their quiet bit of magic, the Women’s March was unfolding on a very grand scale!
If my math calculations are correct, and the magic holds, these hatchlings will become iridescent-feathered, gossamer-winged fledglings by Valentine’s Day.
Speaking of which: I’ve named them after my dear friend Carl and his wife Mary– lovebirds who were married for 58 wonderful years before she passed. Hummingbird images appear in several cultural traditions–symbols of devotion and joy, the stitching together of heaven and earth–so this seems to me a wonderful way to commemorate their enduring relationship and eternal love.
P.S. Rest assured, I use my zoom lens to gather these snapshots. I would never touch the hummingbirds or their nest! I observe and record them from a respectful distance…
Treat yourself, why don’t you, to our hummingbird hatchlings’ pre-fledge antics. Watch as Rain helicopters above the nest, hovers mid-flight, and manages a graceful landing on a twig beside the nest. Beau’s feathers get ruffled, but he looks on with rapt attention. Aryana chirps in the distance, as if to say, “Come into the garden, kids–let’s play!”
Not long after I filmed their playtime, Rain zipped off to join Aryana in the flowerbeds. Beau surfed the ocean breezes, hanging ten on the rim of the roomier nest.
See the shadowy “beard” on Beau’s chin? That’s a simple way to differentiate a juvenile hummingbird male from its female counterparts. Rain has white-tipped tail feathers, instead.
I revisited the nest before dinnertime, and voilà!
The nest is empty now, but my heart is full. I’m grateful for Aryana’s mothering instincts; thankful, too, for the fuchsia that camouflaged and provided shelter for three successful broods.
I also appreciate everyone who gathered around Aryana’s nest with me, watching her tiny eggs crack open, revealing featherless hatchlings that grew overnight, it seemed, eventually sprouted gossamer wings and needle-shaped beaks.
And yes, I’m glad for this schoolbus-yellow ladder. I’ve climbed it again and again with my camera, over the past several months…
…receiving firsthand the gifts that come of observing up close those tiny jewels of the sky.
Rainbows, flights of fancy, shimmery magic, and Mother Nature’s sensibilities: I’m grateful for this embroidered tapestry, stitched on my heart by a charm of hummingbirds. You, too?
Aryana, a non-migrating Allen’s hummingbird, built her nest in the fuchsia that grows along my front walkway, way back in December. And here we are, celebrating her fourth brood of the 2015-16 mating season.
Such a good mama: she camouflaged her nest among the foliage, and protected it from predators by sheltering it under a tiled roof overhang.
We named this pair of hatchlings Rain and Beau, in honor of the Orlando nightclub shooting victims, “because love is love is love is love…” And you already know how much I adore these tiny harbingers of hope.
Rain hatched 23 days ago, and Beau broke free of his shell the day after.
At the time, they looked like tiny raisins with stubby orange beaks.
But they quickly grew pinfeathers, and their beaks grew long and dark.
Mama Aryana fed them slurry mixtures of nectar and insects, and before long, they were fighting for space inside their cushy-soft nest.
While Aryana was off foraging, I climbed a very tall ladder to observe these wee little miracles and the architectural wonder that they inhabit. I never interfered with Aryana’s nesting habits, never touched her cottony treasurebox or the tiny jewels it protected.
I used a zoom lens and my camera settings to get close-ups, which make the hummingbird babies seem much larger than they really are. They also make this tape measure appear closer to the nest than it actually is. Mama hummingbird trusted me with her babies–a privilege and an honor that I’d never violate.
I snapped this photo just shy of three weeks post-hatch. Notice their their needle-sharp beaks and shimmery wings? They’re looking more like adult hummingbirds every day.
And at 23 days post-hatch, Rain and Beau are perched on the nest rim, flapping their wings and pointing their beaks toward parts unknown.
I’m snapping photos from my front porch now–stretching my camera to its limits, but I don’t startle them into fledging early.
As my friend Priscilla Sharp said, “It looks like they are sitting in a classroom, paying close attention, absorbing all the lessons from unseen teachers to prepare to go out into the world.”
An occasional ocean breeze wafts into the sheltered alcove, ruffling their iridescent wings. Teased forward by Mother Nature’s nudging, they seem ready for lift-off. But for now at least, they’re holding tight to the nest with tiny talons. Won’t be long, though, until whoosh! Off they’ll go.
So much has changed since we last talked about Aryana’s hummingbird hatchlings on this blog. In brief: Within the span of 24 days, Wendy and Peter broke free of their eggshells, sprouted feathers and needle-sharp beaks, and took to the skies on iridescent wings.
I’ve already posted countless pictures on Facebook and Instagram, because…#bragbook. But from the online album my friend Carol Meadows so graciously curated, I’ve culled a few of my favorites. Pull up a chair, and I’ll tell you all about it…
When they first hatched, a Facebook friend suggested they looked like plump raisins with candycorn beaks. They were roughly an inch long, and were less than 1/3 the heft of a U.S. dime. But look how much they grew and developed, in just 2 weeks!
Even when their peepers hadn’t fully open, they sensed their mother’s approach.
Aryana was a whirring blur of motion. No surprise, given that she had two mouths to feed, and a nest to defend against fluff-snatching rivals. I actually saw a female hummingbird snatch a wad of cotton from Aryana’s nest; but before she made her way clear of the fuchsia, Aryana was in hot pursuit, scolding and dive-bombing her like a fighter jet.
On very rare occasions, she cozied up to her brood in the nest. Even then, she was watchful.
In that shaded alcove, Aryana’s babies were relatively safe. They were shielded from the elements and well-camouflaged. But when the afternoon sun brightened that dark corner, she used her body to shield them from eagle-eyed predators.
Wendy and Peter grew bigger by the hour, it seemed, and looked more like their mama every day.
As their bodies expanded, their walnut-sized home seemed to shrink. But the nest held fast, thanks to the magical properties of spider silk, one of the building materials Aryana instinctively knew to use.
While their mama was away, the hatchling flapped their wings (wingercizing, some called it), and watched the skies for her return.
Aryana seemed unfazed by my presence, mainly because I was quiet and unobtrusive. Once they were moving around more, she even allowed me to record a short video.
In the blink of an eye, it seemed, Aryana’s babies were ready to make their way into the world. Wendy flew away first, leaving her younger brother more room in which to spread his wings.
It wasn’t long before Peter got the urge to follow her. Here’s what that final push looked like.
“Never say goodbye,” said Peter Pan, “because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.”
I saw both hatchlings take to the sky. Sheer magic, like few people ever get to see in their lifetimes! And just so you know how rare and wonderful this really is: researchers estimate that only 17-59% of a nest’s inhabitants actually make it from hatching to full feathering and fledging.
We’ve hosted several hummingbird families at Chez Shore now. Blessings though they may be, they sometimes revealed to us the darker, seemingly cruel aspects of nature. But on the whole, their stories had happily-ever-after endings, same as Wendy and Peter’s.
They’ve flown the coop, but they haven’t gone far. Aryana’s watching over them in our garden, showing them the best food sources (including but not limited to “her” window feeder), and teaching them how to find/defend their new territory.
A couple of days ago, I was trimming the sweet potato vine in our side yard. A hummingbird whirred past my ear and landed on a nearby branch. It watched me work for a long while, tilting its head and cheeping. Most likely, it was Aryana or one of her fledglings. Heartwarming epilogue, am I right? But lemme also tell you about the task I’ve been avoiding. To wit: those teensy birds spattered a huge (yuuuuge!) mess o’ poop on the stucco walls that surrounded their tiny nest. The Crap They Leave Behind: let’s include that chapter title in a book for Empty Nesters.
Welcome, everybody, to this week’s art challenge. In honor of Valentine’s Day, our theme is–you guessed it–LOVE.
Meet Wendy and Peter, affectionately named for two of our most beloved storybook characters. They’re nesting in a fuchsia, alongside our front walkway. At 19 and 20 days old, they’re still too young to fly; but within a week, they’ll take to the skies on shimmery wings, as hummingbirds are wont to do. Love, ongoing and everlasting.
Vincent van Gogh once said, “If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” That quotation goes to the heart of who I am: a child of God who views the world with a wide-eyed sense of wonderment. It also speaks to the joy that comes of taking field trips with my camera.
Meet Aryana, the beautiful hummingbird that built her nest in our front yard fuchsia. Here, the stuff of magic: spider silk, cotton batting, and iridescent feathers. Other stories, too, if you examine it closely.
Right before Christmas, Aryana set about building this nest. She pressed nesting materials into the bottom with her tiny feet, and used her torso to help give it a cup-like shape.
It took mama hummingbird ten days to construct her walnut-sized nest. Soon after, two tiny eggs appeared.
I like to think Aryana nests here because Chez Shore is peaceful, and because our gardens are filled with nectar plants and flowers. But the truth is more nuanced, and likely more practical. Instinct no doubt led her (and previous mama hummingbirds) to this very spot because it blends in with the foliage and flowers, and the roof overhang helps shelter her from predators, heavy winds and rain.
Collage credit belongs to Aryana’s “godmother,” Carol Cosper Meadows.
It’s not easy to snap photos into that dark corner –and through the kitchen window, at that. But the opportunity to witness firsthand this unfolding wonder, well. The payoff is huge. I’m learning to rely less on my camera’s Auto Mode, to angle the camera just so and wait patiently for her visits.
Earlier this week, Aryana’s babies broke free of their shells.
Wendy hatched on Sunday; Peter showed up on the scene a day later. I only know this because, while she was foraging for food in one of our flowerbeds, I stretched myself across the top rung of a 6-foot ladder and zoomed in.
Click, click. I pressed the shutter button a couple of times, and then clambered down. I never, ever touch Aryana’s hatchlings, never disturb her nesting habits.
“Miracles on a cloud,” someone called Aryana’s newborns. I can’t remember who, or I’d give them credit. But it sounds about right to me–you, too?
Aryana’s feeding her babies a slurry of nectar & insects
I know it won’t surprise you to hear that I love talking about these winged beauties. I point out the nest to visitors, post hatchling updates on Facebook, Instagram and (less often) Twitter. So indulge me a little while longer, please, while I tell you a related story.
When the dishwasher repairman showed up on Monday, he’d already spotted the little hummingbird nest, camouflaged as it is in that dark, leafy corner.
When I expressed surprise; his smile reached from the corner of his mouth to his eyes. “I always pause to pray before I knock on a client’s door,” Mr. Nguyen told me. “I pray for peace. I pray for my client’s happiness, and for my own.” He went on to say that his customers are sometimes very angry when he first arrives: about being inconvenienced; about the news of the day; about the fact that he’s running behind schedule because he’s spent “too much time” helping another customer. “If I find something beautiful in nature before my clients open the door, I am happy. My smile is God’s smile, and that encourages them be happy, too.”
So magical, the ways in which we’re introduced to kindred spirits. New friendships are carried to us on iridescent wings, and nestle into the cushy-soft spaces of our hearts.
It was still dark this morning when I snicked the front door open. Just a sliver, mind you–I didn’t want to startle the remaining hatchling, but after two solid days of pounding rain and intermittent winds, I worried that she might be cold and wet. But there she was: cozy as could be inside her dry little nest. How wise Walela was, to have built their cushiony home under a roof overhang!
(This set of two pictures comes from yesterday’s photo session. I didn’t get pictures of Jennifer in the nest this morning.)
Not an hour later, my husband called me to the door. The nest was empty! I grabbed my camera and snapped a picture. Just one, inadequate though it might be, to honor the nest that served Walela and her brood so well.
I lowered my camera to my side, and stood silent for a few minutes longer. And here’s where the magic happened, as it so often does when we’re willing to stay in the moment…
Jennifer returned to the fuchsia plant and perched herself on the slimmest of branches! She must’ve sensed Walela’s whirring approach, because with one eye focused on me, she turned her head and opened her beak.
I didn’t capture the feeding itself, but seeing as how I’ve posted so many pictures and videos, here and on Facebook, I’ll bet you can easily imagine it in your mind’s eye by now.
A small part of me is sad, of course. Who wouldn’t be, after cheering them on, for days on end? But more so, I’m celebrating. It rarely happens that both hummingbird hatchlings survive from egg to fledge, so I’m thrilled to know that Sunshine and Jennifer beat the odds.
Walela’s babies been riding the wind currents all day, hanging ten on the edge of their nest. Whew, scary! If the video’s jumpy in a few spots, it’s because I was more than a little nervous. But when the winds died down, the birds were safely ensconced in their nest, seemingly unruffled by their wild ride.
Later that same evening, I climbed our rickety wooden ladder, cell phone snugged to my ear so I could talk to my sister Sheryll while also snapping a few last pictures before nightfall. Quite the balancing act, I must say, but boy howdy, was it worth the effort!
They were playing a game of do-so-do on their cottony perch, when suddenly…well, see for yourself. The bigger hatchling hovered over its sibling for just a few seconds, propelled itself backward and then soared on tiny wings over the red tile roof that sheltered it, from egg to fledge, in Walela’s nest.
The next morning, our new fledgling had nestled into the birdbath beyond my kitchen window, about 15 feet from its former home. Sheryll called it Sunshine, and that seems fitting for this tiny bird with shimmery feathers. (I took this next sequence of pictures through my front window, so they’re a bit blurry. But oh, are you as happy to see him flourishing as I am?)
Walela’s nurturing her baby while it gets acclimated to life beyond the nest, as mamas are wont to do.
Over the next several days, she’ll show Sunshine how to forage for food and survive on its own in the wild.
Motherhood is hard work!
Hovercraft mama that she is, Walela also watches over the hatchling that remains in the nest, preening its pinfeathers and practicing flight maneuvers on its own.
Here’s what it looked like, the day after its sibling fledged. Lonely, you think?
Walela visits often. I took these snapshots yesterday morning.
We’ve since decided to call her Jennifer (“Jenny”), in memory of Reverend Jennifer Durant, who inspired many, living with ALS as she did–with a featherlight spirit and a heart filled with joy.
She still has a few pinfeathers tucked into her tail, but I suspect Jenny will be taking to the skies sometime today or tomorrow.
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for a bird to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. — C.S. Lewis
When they’re not snuggled side-by-side in the nest, waiting for Walela to bring them another meal, they’re flapping their wings and wriggling precipitously on its edge.
This video footage shows them for the survivors they are. It ends on a really sweet note, but given all their daredevil aerobatics, it’s not for the faint-of-heart.
They’ll fledge within a week, so while these flight simulations seem scary to us as bystanders, they are critical to the hummingbird babies’ ultimate survival.
Here’s a shorter, tamer video, for the good eggs among us who might’ve watched only a portion of the first video through splayed fingers. So funny, the way they poke Walela’s chest with their growing beaks, as if to say, “Mom, Mom, is it lunch time yet? Mom?” And see how she preens their pinfeathers at the end?
My heart was heavy when I positioned the stepladder beside the fuchsia plant in which Walela had built her nest. Why had one of the hatchlings died, I fretted, and why hadn’t the mama hummingbird removed it from the nest?
Her nest was steeped in shadow, so I decided I’d wait to take pictures until later in the day. One last look, I told myself when I reached the front door. But when I glanced over my shoulder, I did a double-take.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’ll check again later, I told myself. Wait and observe, as my friend Amy suggested. My knees were shaking when I climbed the ladder again a while later. Here, ensconced in a walnut-sized nest, the very essence of hope.
My hands trembled when I pressed the shutter. Could it be?