My body sighed, as if a sense of complete and utter relief had come across me. It was a funny feeling, and though unusual to me, I am sure it is an experience that many parents have had while raising their children.
I had spent the past 42 days watching an Anna’s Hummingbird nest. I began watching them before the two M&M-sized eggs hatched, up to the day the young fledged, and began their adult lives. It wasn’t until the day they left until I realized how attached and captivated I had become. I had been on edge during the entire time I spent watching them grow.
I began to personify the process of raising two miniscule, hungry hummingbirds. I empathisized with the would-be thoughts and woes of the poor mother, who spent literally every hour of her time caring for her young, sometimes feeding them every 10 minutes on a day-to-day basis. I had seen her tend to the babies relentlessly through all sorts of weather, chase off intruding birds (including a couple of crows), and demonstrate impressive maternal dedication. Seeing these two juvenile birds grow and leave their nest after weeks of being so delicate and helpless was what made me feel so relieved, and I think if their mom could express her hummingbird emotions, she would agree with me.
As much as these two babies seemed to be a huge workload, I saw a lot of interaction between the mother and the fledglings that could only be described as affection. I remember watching the nest on a rather sunny Seattle day in mid-April; the babies were huge (by hummingbird standards) and were on the brink of completely outgrowing their walnut-sized nest. Mom came in to feed them like usual, and their mouths were already open waiting for her special of regurgitated insects and nectar.
After feeding them both, she stayed a little longer than usual. She began to lick her young, perhaps cleaning off their messy beaks, and then seemed to stroke their heads with her own long beak, neatly preening their bed heads.
It was definitely a touching moment of a motherly love found within the natural world, but I was most amused by the seemingly annoyed reaction from the two babies when they grew tired of their mother’s excessive care giving.
In my head I imagined how they might have sounded, much like myself, complaining when my own mom was being “too” motherly. As a first year college student, my advice to those little hummingbirds is: cherish it while you can!
I walked out to the view the nest,just like any other day, but this time the nest was empty. I wasn’t surprised, just I was a little disappointed they couldn’t have waited for me to watch them fledge. I started to pack it up, but fortunately, I looked up and saw my two fledglings in a dying Oregon Grape shrub!
As I watched them for the next few hours, I witnessed a complete transformation and an incredible occurrence nonetheless. The two fledglings were on separate branches, each taking their attempts at flight. For the most part they were able hover and fly around, but it was clear they still had not yet mastered this ability as they moved around unsteadily and practiced landing on new perches. All the while their mother returned occasionally to feed them throughout their trials of flight and balance.
I cheered them on to boost their morale when they landed awkwardly on a branch. In almost an instantaneous moment, one fledgling had transformed, and then at a later moment its sibling did as well. Something suddenly happened to these awkward, unstable birds. In almost a singular moment they had lost their baby fluff (the kind that makes baby birds so cute looking) and seemed much more aerodynamic and slimmer. In that same moment their flight abilities had underwent a transformation that made them appear as if they had been flying all their lives. These two fledglings were now juveniles, and ready to leave on their own.
This was the moment I sighed in relief. I knew immediately that they were ready to leave and less vulnerable than ever before. Hummingbirds and their impressive design for aeronautical maneuverability and agility make them nearly invisible to all predators.
Seeing an instantaneous manifestation of these abilities in the two young Anna’s Hummingbirds gave me assurance that they would make it. I had spent 42 long days waiting to see them mature, yet hoping I could watch them for much longer than that. It was an amazing experience to witness, but more so it was amazing realizing how similar these life processes in the natural world are to our own lives.
I am a student at Seattle University, Environmental Studies Major. I have been pursuing photography since the beginning of my freshman year. I am at a loss as to what to do now that the hummingbirds have fled the nest…hmmm, maybe start photographing people? Naw……..I think there are some Sharp Shinned Hawks nearby!