“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”
~ Albert Einstein
We have a laundry room with a little window which looks out onto our front yard/walkway. Most of the time, I’m in and out of that room, staying in there just long enough to attend to the task at hand. But last year at this time in April, I spent hours at that window, intently observing a mother hummingbird tending to the two eggs, then hatchlings, in her nest. I was spellbound for weeks, watching from my laundry room window, as mama nurtured her little ones.
The nest was in the hibiscus tree just outside the window, in a relatively protected corner, visible to me by my leaning against the laundry room sink. I couldn’t tear myself away, and checked on the little feathered family day and night, often worrying about their wellbeing, especially during our occasionally inclement weather. It was an anxious time, as I’d hoped the birds would be safe, not only from the weather, but also from predators. I’ve witnessed the harsh realities of Nature in our yard before, helplessly watching crows attacking nests, or discovering the tiny bodies of chicks on our patio or in our small pond, having either fallen or been pushed from their nest.
We posted a “quiet please” sign on our front gate, cautioning visitors of the hummingbird nest’s proximity. Sometimes, if I hadn’t been able to see both chicks in the nest, I’d go outside, examining the ground beneath, hoping I wouldn’t find what I feared: a lifeless little body. One cold, rainy, windy night, I actually convinced my godsend of a husband to accompany me outside with an umbrella, to see if we could somehow securely position it to provide more protection for the nest without disturbing it. Ultimately, we determined it wasn’t possible, at least not right then, and I forced myself to go back inside, where I spent a restless night trying to assure myself that mama bird had chosen a good place for her nest, and that the overhanging leaves, as well as the structure of our house, did provide some modicum of shelter. Come the next morning, I went straight to the window at dawn, checking for signs that the family had either persevered or perished. Thankfully it was the former, and I was able to go about my day, after first shedding a few tears of relief.
The timing was haphazard, and whenever I happened upon a feeding, it was a stroke of luck. Thus, I made it a point to peek out the window as many times a day as possible, often forgoing or delaying other duties. I so loved to watch the fuzzy little heads popping up, eagerly awaiting attention. It was simultaneously thrilling and grueling to watch the drama unfold. I always checked the nest right before going to bed, to make sure mama was shielding her babies, and all seemed calm. On a couple occasions, I was distraught to not see her there, causing me great worry over the wellbeing of the chicks. Had mama bird abandoned her babies? Was she dead? Naturally, my concern led me to the Internet, where I extensively researched hummingbird behavior. I was somewhat relieved to learn that sometimes the mother bird will not spend all night on the nest, then very relieved when I’d finally see her again, and both chicks accounted for. To be on the safe side, I bookmarked the website of a local hummingbird rescue organization should the need arise. Yes, I was obsessed!
I truly felt the pangs of loss when the fledglings finally flew away. I was extremely fortunate to have caught the exact moment when the first of the chicks flew up and away. My heart ached a dozen ways. It was another few days before the other chick took off. Even though I’d witnessed their departure, I found myself returning to the window several times a day, wondering if I still might catch a glimpse of them. Perhaps they’d return to the familiar comfort of their nest for a while… I scrutinized the birds flitting about the yard, trying to see if I might identify any of them as the youngsters I’d watched mature. I do think I spotted a couple hummers who appeared a bit smaller than the others…
It took me weeks to wean myself from what had become my routine of frequently checking the nest for activity. I missed that little family so! At the same time, I was relieved that my self-assigned duty of watchfulness was successfully completed, my “charges” having moved on, my daily anxiety over their welfare quelled (or at least redirected). My husband accurately noted that I was suffering literally from “empty nest syndrome”! Having no children, I’d never experience the syndrome as it’s usually conceived.
We left the nest in place, as I’d heard that sometimes birds will return to use it again, and hoped that might be the case. It is also illegal to disturb hummingbird nests in the U.S., as they are protected by federal law through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Regardless of either of those facts, I would’ve left the nest in place for the sake of remembrance. It is still there today, as yet uninhabited, and looking a bit weathered, but intact, same as my hopes.