It’s been hot this afternoon. Eighty degrees at 8,000 feet above sea level in late June. I wake every morning to the sound of them introducing my first moments of the day with their unmistakable high-pitched whirring sounds:
My husband gets up, as I roll over and clutch my pillow, to hang the six feeders around the house. This morning we see no less than thirty of our fine-feathered friends perching on the six-per feeders, sucking down nectar after a cool Rocky Mountain evening. By nightfall, we’ll be up to 40 perched on the feeders like miniature drunkies at the bar sucking down last call, just before night fully claims the day. The importance of a last feed for a hummingbird is critical to the effort to sustain energy for the eight hours in between.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds return to our land religiously year after year. Check-in dates hover between April 26 and 29; Check-out between mid-to-late September. Their occupational pursuits lead them into avian pleasures on a constant basis, flying over our high meadow pasture, in and out of the willows, hovering over the waters of Boulder Creek, catching mosquitoes and other proteins. For the high level of territorial aggression exhibited around the feeders, aerobatic entertainment balances out the hostility found mostly among the competing males. They seem to genuinely enjoy their endless ascents a few dozen feet high into the clearest of blue skies, announcing their presence with a high-pitched descending trill. They repeat this ascent-descent rhythm frequently, breaking to replenish on our feeders before flying over to the waters above Boulder Creek to snatch mosquitoes.
Routinely, I love watching them while I read on the front porch.
Except this particular afternoon. I had writing in mind and was bounding up the stairs to my barn loft office when I walked into our three-story barn, realizing the young female was still there from this morning. I sigh, and watch her hovering underneath the floor joists just under the third floor, flying back-and-forth, back-and-forth, from one end to another. It’s been hours since I first saw her and opened the barn doors completely in the vain hope she’d find her way out. She was depleting precious resources. Nectar feeds their high-demand energetic lifestyle.
I climb onto the second floor rafters, grasping on to handholds of piping and two-by-four’s where I can find them, while my husband hovers below. Bird net in hand, I am hoping to catch her as she flies back-and-forth, back-and-forth between the floor joists. But I need a little enticement. Calling down to my husband who is watching the floor show above from the first one below, I have a new idea:
How about you bring a feeder over, I’ll hang it from the floor joist?
She flies away from where I reach a standing position. Right into another section of floor joists. I watch her disappear. Then I notice a new avian friend: Our resident mama Barn Swallow perched on wiring just below the floor joists, head turned in befuddlement. Her babies are taking virgin flights over the pasture to snatch their own mosquitoes, returning periodically to land by her side.
My husband leaves to retrieve the feeder. I glance up:
There’s my young female hummingbird friend, flying back-and-forth, back-and-forth, in between a new set of floor joists, still under the third floor. An hour flies by.
I feel hopeful and relieved when he returns with the feeder: Now I have a chance to lure and capture her. I climb along the second floor rafter, grasping a handhold of the pipe above my head. Managing to avoid the guano from the Barn Swallows, I accidentally brush off a heavy clump onto my poor, unsuspecting husband’s head.
I lean up, latching the feeder onto the pipe. Mama Barn Swallow watches from the wire across the way.
It doesn’t take any time at all before my friend flies straight over to the feeder. Standing still, I grip my net. I want her to replenish before I attempt a capture. She dashes her long, needle beak deep into the feeder, sucking down nectar. My hand creeps up behind her, hoping to disrupt her exit strategy.
Her head jerks back up and she’s aflutter again before I’ve gotten anywhere near that sweet little brownish-green body of hers. I watch as she returns to the space between the floor joists. It’s a lane of sorts, and for all the nectar in the bottle, she’s determined to stay just below the third floor, selecting lane of joists after lane of joists, exhausting herself each passing moment.
It’s going to be a while. I settle in, thinking about my new meditation practice, leaning my back against the massive vertical beam, perched precariously on the second floor rafter. Calling down to my husband, another idea rises;
Honey, can you go and get a spray water bottle out of the house?
It’s my aim to dissuade my friend, stopping her with a stream of water at the precise moment she’s exceeding my grasp and dashing back for her increasingly crazy-making, repetitive flights down floor joist lane. He disappears, and my innocent, exhausted and stubbornly instinctive little friend, grasping to the joist space under the third floor like a sugar addict to a donut, returns to the feeder. I creep up again, impatient and eager to sneak up behind her. She jabs her needle-beak in for nectar. And spotting my hand mid-assault with eyes in the back of that stubborn little head, jerks it back up, and flutters away.
Back to her favorite place: floor joist lane. I watch her as she flies, back-and-forth, back-and-forth. I lean back against the vertical beam, repositioning my feet. One wrong step or turn of the ankle and I’m going from a rescue attempt to an ambulance ride after the fall down the flight of stairs. I look up to see mama Barn Swallow staring back at me, head cocked for a better view.
It’s been a while since my husband has left in search of the water bottle. I’m feeling myself getting sloppy with my footing on the second floor rafter. I watch my young friend flying back-and-forth, back-and-forth, down floor joist lane.
I wonder if she’ll ever falter long enough for me to capture her.
Just then, she surprises me with a return visit to the feeder. I leap at the chance.
She jabs her beak in the feeder. But this time, I raise the bird net far from her back and way above. She turns to fly away – straight into my net. Swooping my arm down gently, I grasp and twist the net closed. She lies motionless, tiny little hummingbird wings spread, at the bottom. She turns her head in my direction.
Gotchya! Frank! I FINALLY GOT HER!
He comes running back from the house, water bottle in hand. I crouch down on the second floor rafter and climb down the ladder, netted hummingbird in hand. Do NOT let this net open until you’re very far from the barn, I jump down. He takes her from me and runs to the creek, far away from the barn and its open doors and floor joists three floors above, to a place where she can fly high up above the creek, snatching mosquitoes.
She flew right off, landed in the willows, he smiles.
My Rocky Mountain summers would feel incongruous without a plethora of hummingbirds hovering around our feeders daily. And my sweet husband rising at 5 a.m. daily to put out feeders wouldn’t know what to do with all that extra sleep nor how to spend his summers without their presence. But maybe this evening after all this extra effort to rescue our one young friend, we’ll both get to sleep a little earlier, so at least one of us can rise to hang the six feeders in the morning, greeting another summer day.