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?
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.
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.