Proceed with caution when wee-winged warrior is present

CRITTER TAIL /// The hummingbird


 

 

One night by the dull glow of my patio light I noticed a mess of something caught in a forking branch of an old potted abutilon. It was not a bunch of fallen oak leaves. Nor was it a cocoon of a moth or butterfly—too early in the year for that.

The light was too faint to make out much detail. It was a soft, mesh-like blob that clung stubbornly as I poked it with my finger.

Gardener’s intuition suggested it was home to some type of lethal larva that was going to emerge one day to rapaciously devour the abutilon’s white, bell-shaped blooms. So I yanked and scraped to get that mysterious blob off my precious plant then crushed it beneath the heel of my shoe.

By daylight I noticed small shreds of the blob still clinging to the forking branch. Before I could scrape these off there came an Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna) revving in high gear over my right shoulder, close enough to have rendered a free ear piercing with its jabbing stiletto bill.

Immediately I granted the hummingbird the right of way. It was a female, less showy than the male with just a small patch of red on her throat. She alighted on the forking branch of the abutilon, then looked from the remaining shreds to me.

My mind flashed back to the meshy quality of that blob, its softness, its tightly woven, wheat-colored materials. Hummingbird nests are examples of sublime craftsmanship. I’d never before seen one in the raw, nascent stages of construction.

The dread realization set in that I had committed a sin against nature. I had destroyed the sanctuary where a wild creature was to have raised her young.

There’d been a lot of hummingbird romance in the air lately around my rural Agoura property. Colorful males were doing their spectacular aerial stunt work to impress the ladies or employing their long bills and ability to fly backward to parry with rivals like dueling swordsmen.

I thought nothing could ease the sting of my terrible mistake. In my guilt and grief I collected the misshapen blob I’d flung to the ground. Its texture was so pliable that it had sprung back to its original form, sustaining only minor damage despite my rough handling. I draped this back on the forking branch.

The next morning I nearly collided with the female hummingbird on my patio. She held a wisp of something in her bill as she returned to the forking branch. In short order she’d rebuilt the nest I’d violated to the point where she could settle atop it.

Has she made a poor choice? The abutilon stands only 5 feet tall, with flimsy branches and sparse leaf cover. It is in a rugged backyard teeming with nest-raiding predators.

All I know is that she’s already proven her mettle to me.

Glasser is a writer fascinated by all manner of natural phenomena surrounding her home in the Santa Monica Mountains. Reach her at ranchomulholla@gmail.com.


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