When Will i Ever Learn? The Hummingbird Incident

Well, you see i was anticipating a relatively calm Saturday.

From experience, i knew it would not go exactly as planned as it never does, but i was anticipating getting quite a few urgent tasks completed. i try to go to the places i want to go during the non-commute hours in the week and stay at home doing those tasks on the weekend. i play my golf during the week to a) keep away from crowded courses and slow play — i may not be very good but i play fast — b) i don’t want to clog up military courses and give active duty personnel more opportunity to play on the weekends, the only time they can get to the courses; and c) it is considerably more expensive to play on the weekends.

So Saturday was relatively free for my home work.

Then, as i was working on some computer stuff, Maureen comes into my home office. i smelled trouble. We previously had a discussion about the new hummingbird’s nest in the Phoenix roebelenii in the courtyard’s center planter. We had not seen the mother for quite some time. At breakfast, we agreed it just might be timing and we had  missed the mother feeding her babies. Or, as we considered, they might have matured enough to leave the nest. i said something to the effect we should leave the nest there until the frond died, then we would be sure they were gone (Of course, that is the way i remember the conversation: i’m damn sure Maureen has a different version).

Then as i walked into my office with my last cup of coffee, i spied Maureen talking on her phone to her good friend Karen. She was on her new mobile phone (another story) in the courtyard. i noticed she was on her tiptoes trying to peer into the nest. i was a bit concerned but dismissed my thoughts. Apparently, she went a bit further and pulled the frond down enough to see into the nest.

Trouble. My trouble.

When she came into my office, she spoke in that tentative, little girl voice, which means i have no choice but to do her bidding.

“I hate to ask you this,” she began (uh ho) almost in tears, “But i looked into the hummingbird nest, and the little babies are dead.”

“Oh no!” i said following the script rather than muttering some asshole comment, which i have been known to do if i thought it was funny.

“With no regard for my pity,” she continued, “Would you please take down the nest and throw it away? I can’t stand to see them, much less handle them.”

i’ll bet you know my reply. It sure as hell wasn’t “No.”

Relieved as if she didn’t know she had control of me, she then instructed, “Be sure because the nests are known to have lots of mites and things with infectious diseases.”

“Yes, dear.” i mean what the hell was i supposed to say?

i went out to the courtyard and it dawned on me i didn’t have to handle the nest or the dead birds. i would simply take my bush shears and cut off the frond, then throw it into the yard waste bin for pickup.

Good plan.

Good plans can get screwed up.

i cut off the frond at the trunk. It fell onto the courtyard concrete. There was only one problem: the baby hummingbirds weren’t dead.

When i looked down in the frond, the two baby birds had tumbled out of their nest and were moving their wings and beaks.

Now, this is a guy who has shot guns, big guns. This is a man who hunted submarines. This is a man who was in charge of nuclear weapons. This is a man who was damn near close to blubbering because there were these two little hatchlings out of about a gazillion that would suffer from nature’s call of the wild and that food chain thing who were fluttering on the concrete.

i puzzled as to what to do. First, i decided to put them back in their nest. Now in case you haven’t seen me in a while, i have fat fingers, not to mention several other areas i’m not proud up. This makes picking up a hummingbird hatchling about the size of a pea back into a nest about the size of a large thimble quite difficult, no, impossible.

i tried.

No success.

So i succumbed to what i knew would be another saga, opened the door and called for Maureen. i explained my dilemma. Did she understand? Was she sympathetic? Did she want to help?

Hell, no. She got pissed because i told her those two birds were alive, not dead.

“Why did you have to tell me?”

i was speechless for a few seconds and then blurted, “i need you to put them back in the nest.”

She of the tiniest, most graceful fingers in the world even with gloves, put the two tiny creatures back into their thimble.

i took the frond and carefully wedged it between a couple of other fronds near where it was originally located in the Phoenix roebelenii.

We went inside and went immediately to, where else? the computer and the genius of genius google search. We read all of the things we should do, and patted ourselves on the back because we had done pretty much what we should have except, of course, thinking they were dead and cutting down the frond.

We read what we should do next. In case, the mother did not return, we learned how to make fake nectar, sugar water. We were prepared.

Then we learned we should monitor the nest to see if the mother returned. This is fairly tricky. Hummingbird mothers apparently are not dumb. Once the hatchlings have feathers, she stays away from the nest to not draw predators attention. She returns for literally seconds to feed them before taking off again. Her time away varies from about ten minutes to about ninety minutes.

Have you any idea of how boring it is to monitor a hummingbird’s nest for a mother’s return? If you look away for a minute, you could miss her, and then have to wait again.

Maureen, of course, had to go to her yoga class. Guess who got to monitor? Guess who was not very damn good at it? She came home. i had not seen the mother. i thought we should just let fate take its course. i thought she agreed. This is yet another in a long line of thinking incorrectly. As i walked by the window, i caught her on the ladder with twine around the base of the cut frond.

“What the hell are you doing?” i asked in my best tough old Navy guy voice.

“I want to make sure it doesn’t fall down, but i can’t tie the knot,” she replied.

“It won’t fall down; i wedged it between the other fronds; oh, don’t worry; i’ll tie it off.”

Sound like a man who is trying to ensure domestic tranquility?

Now if you don’t live in the Southwest corner, you may not know the traits of a Phoenix roebelinii, you should learn in case you are ever out here. A Phoenix roebelinii is like a dwarf palm. But the fronds have many, many needles about two inches long, that can hurt, draw blood. i know. After all, i have been assigned hummingbird nest monitoring and Phoenix roebelinii adjustment for hummingbird duty.

This task wielded about two dozen sharp pricks of two-inch thorns into my hands and arms.

The frond is now secure.

We then worried and continued to watch intermittently for activity around the nest.

It was cleaning day. Our two ladies, including one who has become as much a friend as a cleaning lady, Marde de Jesus, were in the family room. i was in the office. Maureen peered out the family room window and shouted.

“The mother’s back and feeding them.”

When i got out and indeed saw mom hummingbird taking care of business, the two cleaning ladies and Maureen were jumping up and down in glee with smiles across their faces.

Now, i’m not gonna tell you i wasn’t smiling or glad the reprieve of two small hatchlings had come about. i was just as happy as those three women. It was a glorious moment, a triumph. i was convinced throughout the entire episode, those two hatchlings would be dead, sooner or later, even if they weren’t as immediately. But we, including mom hummingbird somehow had done the right thing.

As i headed out for errands, Maureen was commenting to the ladies about the miracle and how wonderful hummingbirds were.

i, returning to curmudgeon status, added, “And they are awfully good at playing dead.”

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