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“Hummingbird Blessing”

December 1, 2005

On these dog day afternoons, as the sun is setting over the pawnshop and the Mexican restaurant across the road from our home, we are treated to an amazing air show.  As we enjoy our supper, we witness an incredible display of aerobatics.  Agile flying machines buzz our yard, staging mid-air combat maneuvers that would impress even Air Force top guns.  These aerial acrobatics are not preformed by ace pilots, but by petite creatures with tiny wings. This is the prime season for hummingbirds. 

Hummingbirds are always interesting to watch, but as the summer days grow shorter, their activity increases.  Their excited pace and almost perpetual motion are at once fascinating and wearying to the observer.  From late August through much of September, the tiny hummers become frantic in their feeding habits and combative toward all competitors.  Earlier in the spring and summer, two or three hummingbirds might share the same feeder, but now they become territorial and attack any intruder, even fellow hummers. Like feisty siblings quarreling over dessert, the petite birds quarrel with each other over which one will have the next turn at their sugar water treat.  Hovering, darting, and diving, in their heightened frenzy, they put on quite a show.  These muggy days are the most active time for Hummingbirds, as they prepare for their long migration to Central and South America.

A friend who welcomes hummingbirds to her garden with feeders and flowers wanted to put fresh flowers in an arrangement for a dinner party at her home.  She cut several late- blooming red gladioli from her English cottage garden.  As she did, what she thought was a large buzzing insect began to bother her.  The pest attacked from the rear, moving up her neck underneath the tresses of her new party hairdo.  The well-mannered lady ran, clutching gladioli tightly in one hand, swatting wildly with the other.  She stopped when the buzzing nuisance confronted her at eye-level.  It was a hummingbird, clearly annoyed that she had cut the flowers from which it had been feeding.  The woman held the red gladioli at arm’s length, as if making a peace offering.  The hummer moved from one blossom to the next in the handheld bouquet, drinking its fill, before flying off without further conflict.

A hummingbird in flight can be easily mistaken for a large stinging insect. The hummingbird’s tiny wings move so rapidly they make a buzzing sound.    This flight pattern, filmed in slow motion, reveals their remarkable ability to speed forward, to hover, and to reverse directions.    

Hummingbirds are attracted to a variety of blooms.  Fiery red salvias, cup-shaped hibiscus, and even the common trumpet vine provide nourishment to these tiny creatures, which are constantly in search of a meal.  Their frenetic activity demands a continual supply of sugary food.  They constantly sip nectar and can be enticed into view with feeders filled with fresh sugar water.  A mixture of one part sugar and four parts of water meets the dietary requirements of these small birds.  It is best for the health of hummers not to add the popular red food coloring.

Accounts of close encounters between human and hummers abound.  The tiny birds are frequently trapped in garages and on screened porches, usually drawn into these unfriendly confines by something bright red in color.  A red toolbox or a red fire extinguisher can lure a hummingbird into an open garage.  One was even seen attempting to extract nectar from a red plastic bicycle horn.

Several years ago, a ruby-throated hummingbird, attracted by an artificial flower arrangement, entered a large sunroom in a nursing facility.  The patients all suffered from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  Most of the patients were in the final stage of the illness, sometimes known as the living death.  The nursing staff was unaware of the hummingbird’s presence until they noticed something they rarely saw.  Several of the patients were smiling, some for the first time in months.  With the aid of a towel, a nurse was able to capture the tiny bird and release it outdoors.  The bird flew away but not before bestowing a gentle blessing on a room full of people who needed tender mercy.

            If you pay attention, a hummingbird may very well do the same for you.

-Kirk H. Neely 

© H-J Weekly, December 2005

 

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