Magic is real.
Let me repeat that: Magic is real, it can be seen, touched and even held in your hand.
I see one particular brand of magic every day, taking sips of super-saturated sugar water from the feeder hanging on a low branch of the tree right outside my window. Fiercely territorial, completely fearless, shimmering with unexpected splashes of color in the sunlight, these tiny bits of “humming” magic are so small and fast that they appear to live in a different, more intense and infinitely more zippy parallel universe.
I have had many personal encounters with these tiny denizens of the air over the years. Most of the time a determined critter will mistakenly dash into the house like he has foolishly accepted a dare from his little feathered friends – fly around like crazy for a couple of seconds (hours in the Hummer’s ‘verse) and find someplace to perch to get his bearings. His little chest is heaving and, probably for the first time, he has decided that perhaps he made a mistake of gargantuan proportions.
If I can catch him before his panic becomes full blown, I can scoop him up oh, so gently and carefully carry him outside. If, however he is in full panic-mode, he will focus on the terrible monster he sees coming at him and will fly as fast as he can to another perch, and another and another. At this point, I generally try to let him calm down a little. I do not want to induce a hummingbird cardiac arrest!
Eventually, however, I do win and can set him free – which is what he wants anyway.
(This actually happened at an open house I was holding some years ago, and the people who watched me catch and release the scared tiny bird were all freaked out – freaked out!!! – that I had touched the icky thing. My assertion that it was only a hummingbird didn’t make any difference – neither did washing my hands in the sink while they watched, their eyes wide with horror. They left right away, looking shocked, probably making scathing comments about the weird dirty Realtor who touches Unclean Birds in front of potential clients! Eh. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate the wonder of hummers would have been a problematic client anyway. So there!)
One time however, one magical time, it happened another way.
About twenty five years ago I lived in a house in Newbury Park, CA and had two lovely Golden Retrievers, Aislinn and Kensington. Aislinn was very red, very loving and a very sweet girl. Kensington, on the other hand, was a beautiful dog with classic light golden long hair, but he was just about the dumbest Golden I have ever seen. He got distracted by every (SQUIRREL!) thing, a trait that I could not train out of him, and somehow always managed to amuse with his crazy antics.
But I digress.
One spring afternoon, my roommate was outside in the backyard talking with a friend and Kensington was, as usual, romping around them. Suddenly Kensington stopped prancing and got very interested in something on the ground, his tail wagging like mad. This was not unusual, it could have very well turned out to be a bug or a leaf or a piece of an old torn-up toy or excrement – he wasn’t too particular: if it smelled, it was the Most Incredibly Fascinating and Amazing Thing in the Entire Universe.
What was different this time was that I was called outside to “see this”.
While the two men debated only half-jokingly whether or not to just let Kenser “have it”, I saw what had so interested all three juvenile witless males.
A tiny hummingbird was hunkered down in the grass, one of its wings held slightly outstretched as if injured. I shooed all the mean boys away and carefully approached the bird. He fluttered a bit as I gently cupped my hands around him, but he did not attempt to fly away.
As I gingerly stood up, a tiny piece of magic in my hands, I could feel the barest of weight and the gentle scrabbling of tiny claws against my palm, indications of panic that quickly subsided into that very strange calm acceptance of fate I have noticed before in young wild creatures.
Upon entering the house, I looked for someplace to keep him that I could arrange with just my elbow, so a dishtowel was dragged into a clean sink and I carefully opened my hand to let him roll/flutter out.
He crouched down in the folds of the towel and looked up at me with bright eyes, his wing still partially extended. He did not attempt to flutter or hop, he just sat there.
This worried me a little, but, in my determination to save this tiny flying creature, I instantly transformed into Susan: Super Savior to All Creatures Great and Small, complete with costume (no tights!) and placed a cutting board over the sink should he find that his wings actually DID work and so that Kensington, who was eagerly watching my every move with his typical Golden Smile and his ears so far forward with interest that they must ache, would not take advantage of that and do what Goldens do: retrieve birds with their mouths – which would absolutely, give my poor little injured hummingbird a major heart attack!
I mixed up some sugar water for him and placed a shallow dish in the sink with him, put the cutting board back on and gave him a chance to calm down a little in privacy.
My youngest kids, Mallory and Adam, who were about 8 and 10 at the time, were also terribly interested in the proceedings and, despite my exhortations against doing so, I kept catching them lifting up the board to take a look at the little miracle all afternoon.
They, of course, wanted to name him Flit, after the feisty hummingbird in Pocahontas. Seemed like a good name. My little guy didn’t have the red slash across his throat, his throat feathers were kind of sparse and gold, but something about him suggested that he was a little on the young side.
I knew I had to find a better place for him than the kitchen sink if he survived the night.
In the morning, he was still alive, still holding his wing out and still looking up at me with wild interest. No fear, just a wild acceptance of his fate. I pondered his home as I went about my early morning routine and finally remembered an old octagonal fish tank and wood stand I had buried somewhere in the garage. It would be the perfect terrarium/cage for little Flit!
Finding the tank pretty much where I thought it was in the garage, I spent some time cleaning and prepping it for occupancy. Sand poured on top of flat paper towels, check – no paper towel shred for tiny little Flit – he would get lost!!
I went outside to our “orchard” of about a dozen fruit trees, searched for and found a good twig with lots of perching possibilities and brought it inside, bending it to fit inside the tank (now cage) to fit snugly against the side and under the top lip of the tank. A couple of smaller twigs were braced across the main branch and scattered on the bottom, as was a rock (found and proudly donated by my son for the cause) for visual interest. The same shallow dish with fresh sugar water was placed at the bottom.
When I was ready, I pulled the board off the sink and, talking soothingly, picked Flit up. He struggled to maintain his balance for a moment, but did not panic. I gently placed him at the bottom of the cage, which was harder than it looks… I was up on my tippy tippy toes to reach up and over that high edge with both hands carefully clasped together, straight-arming a tiny bird into the very bottom. Yeesh. Good thing no one had a camera!
Flit fluttered a bit and I carefully backed out of the room to give him some time to acclimate.
I tried to care for him with as little intervention as possible. And though I reminded my kids time and again to leave him alone, I now know that they often tip toed in there to watch the little physical manifestation of the cartoon bird that could not fly off and had to endure their stares and giggles.
A few days later, I found Flit perched on one of the lower branches! I had changed the sugar water – the levels were definitely going down – several times and finally brought in one of the feeders from outside, figuring that it would be more “natural” to sip sugar water through the painted plastic flower in the bottom of a glass fish tank… yeah, I know, but at least the shape of the “flower” feed hole was right for his long beak.
This went on for a few weeks. Flit would perch on one of the lower branches and stay perfectly, watchfully still when anyone walked into the room, but he was eating and changed branch perches once in a while. He still held that one wing slight off his body, which was a little worrisome, but other than that he looked healthy.
After a while, I thought it was time to see if he was ready to fly.
I carefully reached into the cage and plucked him off his branch and took him outside, making sure that the dogs were locked in one of the bedrooms and the kids were in school. Walking out into the grass, I mentally prepared myself to “lose” little Flit as he took wing and zipped away without a backward glance, the ungrateful little wretch.
But that’s not what actually happened…
To any of you who are old enough to remember Mork & Mindy on TV, you may recall that scene that they put into the opening montage where Mork tries to set the egg free… and Mork’s look of incredulous horror when the egg did NOT fly and just fell and smashed on the counter.
Well, out on the grass, I held out my hands, opened them slowly. Flit looked all excited and bravely fluttered, his neck now shimmering with deep red jeweled tones in the sunlight, stepped off of my hand with a happy hop and immediately tumbled straight down onto the grass.
I “eeeeked”, horrified, and hastily knelt down, scooping the slightly dazed bird out of the long blades of grass and, cupping him gently, hurried back into the house, apologizing profusely and promising never ever to hurt him again!
Guilt. Huge masses of it. What had I done? *sob* Did he hurt his wing even more in the fall? Did I scare him as he tumbled out of my hand, or when I picked him up again; did he just HATE the monster who turned gravity on HIGH? Would he ever, ever fly again?
Now this all happened before “self-esteem” was a thing but, projecting backwards, what if I irreparably damaged his self esteem and he would never be able to fly and spent his remaining short life telling a therapist all about the huge grinning evil Giant who hurled him to the ground when he was obviously still hurt?
I cradled him in my hand and with tiny little gentle as humanly possible movements, carefully, ever so carefully stretched out his injured wing. I could see nothing wrong with it, outside and underneath. It looked perfect in every way, miniature feathers, fine bones straight, but Flit could not, would not hold it flat against his body.
He did not flutter or make a sound during this exam, so I can only hope that my clumsy ministrations did not hurt him.
Another week or so went by.
The dogs started to lose interest, and the kids pretty much left him alone. He was settling in and we were all getting used to each other.
I was still very concerned. I spoke with several people who had kept various types of birds and even called one of the sanctuaries I found in the phone book and no one, NO ONE had ever heard of a hummingbird surviving in captivity. As a matter of fact, most of the people I spoke to expressed varying degrees of disbelief in my story.
I took Flit outside a couple of times during the next week and opened my hand and the sunlight again kissed his feathers with sparkling lights, but he looked up at me incredulously as if to say, “Are you NUTS? After what happened LAST TIME?”
With a heavy heart and knowing that would never be able to train him to fly on my own, I called a local vet who cared for rescued wild creatures and told the receptionist my story. She, too, expressed the opinion that hummingbirds did not survive in captivity so I arranged to bring him in to have the vet look at his wing.
In the end, I simply could not take him to the vet myself and handed a shoebox with my miracle inside to my rommate who drove away with him on the front seat.
I never saw Flit again.
When my rommate returned with an empty box, my eyes welled up. He told me that Dr. Kind, the vet, examined the wing and said he could see nothing wrong with it, but it was obvious that Flit would never fly. Dr. Kind recommended that we leave the bird and he would call a sanctuary, which was Flit’s best hope of long term survival.
After a few days of mourning, I called the vet back and asked if there was any way to have the bird returned as he seemed to have been happy with us in his glass home. They said no, he was at the sanctuary, and retrieval would be impossible.
Right then and there I swore that if I got another chance to rescue a bird, I would consider ALL of the ramifications before allowing it out of my sight.
How many people have been lucky enough to say that they have been able to rescue, rehabilitate and release not just one, but TWO wild birds in an age when cynicism, materialism and a near fanatic obsession with gadgets blinds so many to the gorgeous wonder of nature around us?
Even here in the deceptively barren high desert, I am joined in my life’s journey with all kinds of critters right in my own back yard. Frogs, forever-puppies, Killer Kittens, dragonflies, Henry the squirrel who lives under the shed, nesting doves, sparrows, mockingbirds, hummingbirds, black birds, robins and so many other flying critters (including bats!) who have all enriched my life.
So, I try to take time to enjoy my visitors every day… and watch the antics of the hummingbirds flitting around the feeder with a particularly foolish grin on my face.
P.S. This was WAAAAAAAAAY before digital cameras, otherwise I would have thousands of photos of Flit, other than these few. At the time, I didn’t want to over-frigthen the little thing, and so didn;t want to use my flash.