Every year I put a hummingbird feeder on a hook attached to our deck. Usually I am organized enough to have the feeder up before the birds arrive but this year I missed the mark. I happened to be outside when I heard an old familiar humming emanating from behind a hanging basket. “Hello! I’m back, where’s the grub?”
Fred and I get a lot of pleasure out of watching hummingbirds. According to Professor Google the hummingbird is the smallest of all animals that have a backbone. Their wings beat 60 to 80 times per second and they have a heart rate that can reach up to 1,200 beats per minute. A hummingbird has no sense of smell but they can rotate their wings in a circle therefore they are the only bird that can fly forwards, backwards, up, down, sideways and hover in midair. During migration many ruby-throats, which is what we have at our feeder, make a 2,000 mile journey between Canada and Panama including a 500 mile non-stop trek over the Gulf of Mexico. Busy, busy.
During their four to five month visit to our area they spend a lot of time at our feeder. The thing about hummingbirds is they are quite territorial. And mean. In the mornings I sit under the canopy of our deck and watch the show unfold. Two or three hummingbirds will hover in our crepe myrtle tree and wait for their first victim. As soon as another hummer comes to partake of the rich nectar they buzz in at an alarming speed and proceed to dive bomb their intended target. Needless to say said bird takes off like a bat out of hell. Once their mission is accomplished they turn on each other. There is much wailing and gnashing of beaks as they bump, push and otherwise bully each other in midair. They make quite a bit of noise for such tiny birds. Many a time they have brought their brawl under the canopy and dangerously close to my head. I have visions of Fred coming home in the evening to find me still on the deck, in shock with tiny beak holes peppering my forehead.
I feel sorriest for the male hummers. One no sooner appears and the females lose control of their faculties and kick his sorry butt to the curb. No wonder hummingbirds don’t mate for life.
Sometimes they are much braver and simply perch on the hook that holds the feeder and wait for someone, anyone, to fly in and try and get a drink. They fluff out their feathers to make themselves look bigger but in reality it makes them look fat, out of shape and in dire need of a good grooming.
Watching the hummingbird equivalent of an epic world war in my back yard this summer left me more than a little surprised when I witnessed something different. A female hummer was perched on the hook when another approached. Expecting the same kick-ass approach that had been so prevalent all summer I was shocked to see the second hummer perch next to the first one. Holding my breath for what was sure to be a fight to the death I was slowly calmed by what I observed. These two females who had been hurling bird-like obscenities at each other all season were suddenly in synch. They quietly sat together, rubbed beaks gently and watched the world go by. It suddenly seemed so normal, so much more normal than the near constant fighting.
This change in behavior threw me off a bit. How could such harmony coincide with so much animosity? Perhaps I was wrong in my thinking. What I saw as animosity was really survival. What I saw as harmony was actually the way it was supposed to be when they weren’t fighting for the food they needed. Everything really was the way it was meant to be by nature.
Mother Nature is a beautifully complex, intricate system with a remarkably simple outcome. Animals fight for what they need in order to survive but they also rely on each other for the same purpose. Strength in numbers and all that. It’s survival and companionship melded together. It is the ebb and flow of nature, the yin and yang, the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s the way things are supposed to be.
I’ll miss my little hummers when they fly south for the winter but what remains is a certain insight. That in the midst of chaos there can be found harmony. I have to work (and it is work) to cultivate the things that bring harmony to my life and weed out that which does not. We are not built to be in overdrive all the time, our wings beating 80 times per second, flying in circles up, down, forward and backwards. Nature is our built in quiet time, our time to nurture ourselves so that we have the strength to fight for what we need and the balance to foster our relationships. It is, I believe, the way things are meant to be.