Deathwish

The ground bubbled beneath my sneakers as I squished past fallen branches and clumps of leaves. There was a bite to the air, but the wind had worn itself out, the rains were spent, and sunlight steamed the pavement. Lucy, my fat buckskin mare, hung her head over the paddock fence and nickered for breakfast.

I heard a faint pop high above my head, and something fell to the ground. I barely gave it a glance, expecting to see a leaf, or maybe a puffball from one of the oak trees. Instead I squelched to a stop and stared at a tuft of iridescent green lying motionless against the black.

Cringing, I bent down and picked up the baby hummingbird. He’d fallen from quite a height, and I expected he’d be dead. Instead he vibrated beneath my fingers, regarding me with what looked like curiosity.

His wings buzzed to life and he rocketed from my hand, cartwheeling through the air before picking up speed and smacking into the lawn.

“Cut it out!” I looked around, hoping to see another flash of green. If the fledgling’s parents were nearby, and if I put him in a safe place, they’d look after him.

I flicked him into my palm, afraid I might crush him without meaning to, and gingerly placed him on a nearby branch. He sprang to the air, wings whirring. This time the little monster managed to hit the dirt even harder.

I named him Deathwish.

Catching him was easy. He darn near leapt to my hands, then ping-ponged between my palms while I scanned the area for my neighbors’ cats. He was tinier than any fledgling I’d ever seen, not old enough to be on his own. I wondered if he’d been blown from his nest, bumped around by the wind, possibly injured. Maybe he was too young to fly.

“Are ya hurt?”

He perched on a finger and blinked.

I figured I might need to find him a cage until he recovered. But I hoped he was just tired and hungry. He’d probably been drenched and cold, and had gone many hours without food. He must be starving.

So I took him to the house and called to my husband. I knew Jim would be fascinated by the hummer. He was in awe of the tiny acrobats as they challenged each other to miniature dogfights outside our kitchen window. He’d watch spellbound as they hovered, flew backwards, darted and dived, competing for the best spots at the feeders and the most coveted flowers in the garden.

Jim came quickly. He knows my I-need-help voice, slightly more wobbly than the Breakfast-is-ready voice he’d probably hoped for. I dropped the bird into his warm and delighted hands.

My husband grew up in the city, and I doubt he’d imagined holding a baby hummingbird. He cradled the tiny jewel, cooed down at him, exclaimed over the shimmering wings and the ruby red throat. “It’s like a cotton ball!  It’s like holding nothing at all.”

“See if you can warm him up. You’re better than I am.” I looked at my perpetually chilly hands. They wouldn’t melt an ice cube.

While Jim held the little bird, I mixed up a batch of store-bought hummingbird food, bright red and syrupy sweet. I rummaged through drawers and finally found a tiny syringe, left over from feeding my elderly guinea pig. Once it was full, I wondered how the heck to get the syrup into that sharp little beak.

“Okay. Try to hold him where I can see his beak. Careful. There’s not much to him.”

Jim’s expression told me I was stating the obvious.

I pushed a few droplets from the syringe and let them cling to the corners of the beak, hoping he’d suck them inside. He ignored it. I tried, very gently, to pry the beak open. It was clamped shut, and I was afraid I might snap it if I tried again.

“Wait. Did you see that?”  A tongue so small it was almost invisible appeared at the pointy end of the beak.

My heart beat faster as I squeezed out another itty bitty droplet and held it against the sharp tip. The tongue flicked in and out, looking more like a snake than a bird, and the droplet shrunk away.

“Wanna try?”

Jim eagerly took over the feeding. “How many people,” he said, “ever have the chance to hold a baby hummingbird – to feed one?  This is amazing.”

I had to agree.

The wings began to vibrate, and the hummer lifted an inch off Jim’s hands, then settled back down for more food. Each time he tried to fly, he managed to hover a bit higher for a moment longer. Reluctantly Jim took him outside.

The bird rose a few inches, flew from one hand to the other, and rested. Then, his strength returning, he was off. He flew slowly and clumsily, like a green bumble bee carrying a bus.

We watched until we could no longer see him amid the pines at the edge of the lawn. Then, still giddy, we went inside to re-fill the hummingbird feeders. A few minutes later, the feeders had been re-hung, and we waited.

Hummingbirds came and went throughout the day. We hoped Deathwish was among them, but we had no way of knowing. As the afternoon wore on, and the sun sank low in the sky, I finished my barn chores and walked back to the house, worried for the tiny bird, and wondering if he’d survived.

And then, I saw him.

Hovering just a few feet in front of me was a fledgling hummingbird. He flew closer, so near I could feel the wind from his wings. With his head cocked to one side, he took a good, long look, and I swear he invited me to do the same.

It was as if he wanted me to know he was okay. I thanked him, blinked back a few silly tears and hoped no one was looking. I held out a hand and offered a finger perch, but Deathwish didn’t need me. His chatter sounded like laughter as he flew away.

7 thoughts on “Deathwish

  1. Hi Nancy,
    Just dropped by. I love hummingbirds. I usually have about 30 fighting over feeds on my back deck in the summer. Sometimes they run into the patio door and knock themselves a little silly…that’s when we get to pick them up and hold them. Eventually, they come to and fly away. I’ve never seen a baby one….that would be so exciting!

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