Hummingbird Happy End

The little hummingbird nest in our lemon tree with the mother, then eggs, and finally a little chick have been a part of our lives for the last four weeks. We got up and the first look was out of the window and into the tree, to see what was happening.

And that’s what it was like on Friday, March 11th as well – after seeing the baby hummer lazily lounging in the nest, waiting for the next round of exquisite food delivery by the ever-busy mother, I went for a walk with Toni. While I was out Shuwen texted me, saying that there was some cute thing happening with mother and chick – but neither of us really got what it meant.

After breakfast I wanted to check, and quickly steal another photo of the chick in the nest with my phone. So I sneak around the house and slowly approach the tree, look at the nest, and – it’s empty! Oh no!

At first we thought that the chick had fledged. Then Mike Spinak told me that, based on the video that I posted earlier, the chick looks a little too young to already fledge. However, we didn’t keep track of time exactly, and their nesting time is between 18 and 23 days. Putting it all together, it could have been that it simply fledged, and we missed it. Oh well.

But then there were three crows in our backyard, and I feared for the worst. Had the chick become a crow snack, after weeks and weeks that the hummingbird mother worked on building the nest, incubating the eggs, feeding the baby bird? It’s not easy to just accept the possibility of a “cruel” nature when you become attached to something. After all, it’s our human compassion that sets us apart from the sheer survival of the fittest rule of nature.

I kept checking the nest, but no bird would appear. I went outside to have a closer look at the nest again in the afternoon: originally, two eggs (Instagram photo) were in it. The other egg never hatched – but now it wasn’t in the nest anymore either. Why would the second egg be gone?! The crows must have eaten it. Oh no! And we spun all kinds of hopeful theories, but the possibility that the crows robbed the nest remained. My friend Michael supported me with optimistic theories, and both Rachel and Carolyn on Twitter were very supportive and compassionate in these dark, dark hours. ;-)

Then on Friday evening, Shuwen spotted a bird on the nest – but it was late afternoon and it had just started to rain. Was it the mother, returning to the robbed nest out of an instinct to protect it, when it started to rain? Oh no, how sad! Or was it the chick that had fledged, seeking shelter from the weather? It was too dark and windy to see, or even make a photo. Sadness overshadowed our Friday and Saturday – we spent four weeks watching it all, and then we didn’t get any closure, and feared the chick did not make it.

And then this morning Shuwen looks out of the kitchen window and yells that I should come and take a look at that “different bird” – and there it sits. I run and grab the camera, quickly change to the telephoto lens, adjust the settings*, return to the kitchen – and the little bird is still there. I manage to make four hand-held photos before it takes off. I look online and compare, and indeed, it’s a juvenile Anna’s hummingbird!

Now, we will never know for sure of course… but after we found the nest in our lemon tree empty late Friday morning, we were more than just bummed – and then today this little fellow sits there. Shuwen and I want to think that it is “our” hummingbird chick. No, we don’t just want to think that – we know it is! And it came back to present itself and say “See, you guys, I’m doing all right!”

And here’s the little rascal. And we accept this as closure, and are much relieved. Godspeed, you little hummingbird!

Juvenila Anna's Hummingbird, Rancho Bernardo, California. March 2016.
Juvenila Anna’s Hummingbird, Rancho Bernardo, California. March 2016.

*) those are the moments when it pays off to know your gear inside out: turn the VR on, switch to manual exposure, set 1/500s and f/8 (because that’s where the lens is sharp at 300mm), turn on auto ISO and turn off exposure delay mode – and avoid bumping into any doors or walls in the house while doing all that! ;-)

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