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Garden Journal

A royal birth: The arrival of a baby hummingbird

It’s the crack of dawn, and I have been enjoying my coffee in the wee morning hours listening to the song of the robins and the thrushes echoing from the treetops. I know I am about to witness one of nature’s spectacles that many have never seen.

A very handsome male hummingbird, resplendent in his iridescent green coat with a bright red ascot at his throat, has taken ownership of the hummingbird feeders that we hang every year. This individual is the same one that returns every summer, following me outside the house and dive-bombing me until I put those feeders up. I have named him Topper. I have the old-fashioned kind of feeders, the ones with the yellow bee-traps and tiny little barstools for hummingbirds to pull up and sit a spell. There are always at least three of these tiny birds that come by to visit us in the summer, and it is not always easy to read what they are up to.

Little did I know they had a surprise in store for me.

It was the arrival of a little baby humming bird. This may have been a royal celebration in the bird kingdom, for although I have been fostering hummingbirds for many years and once even found an empty nest in a magnolia tree; I never had the honor of observing the appearance of such a wondrous character.

The mother hummingbird lays only one or two tiny eggs the size of raisins and after about three weeks the eggs will hatch. The mother feeds the hungry nestling’s nectar and insects while the male keeps a lookout for predators – and he has no problem chasing away chipmunks or squirrels or other, much larger birds.

I first noticed the baby bird sitting on a branch, and it was as motionless as a child’s stuffed toy. It sat there for so long without moving that I thought the poor thing was frozen, but after a while it began to move, then left the branch and flew into the flowers below. It had been waiting for its chance at the large patch of bee-balm we planted just for the hummingbirds, and he was not at all interested in the red feeders. Its perch allowed it to watch the grown-ups chase one another away from the food source, and it knew it didn’t stand a chance against their sharp beaks.

Hummingbirds do not share food sources, even when they are abundant. Female hummers compete with one another and the adult male just wants to dominate the entire zone – how exhausting it must be for him, flying back and forth from the front to the back of the house all day. With aerial battles right out of Star Wars buzzing all around, the baby hummingbird sat on the branch, learning what to do.

It is a plump and alert baby, which is a good sign for the young of the world, and it did allow us to get some photographs, unlike its skittish elders, who zip off at the slightest movement from us bulky humans.

You would think I would have better things to do than sit around and watch hummingbirds, and most of the time this is true. However, on occasion, I do indulge in the pleasure of watching one of the most amazing creatures on the planet dine right next to where I am seated. Okay, it requires coffee and going to bed early and having the camera ready because most of this activity takes place at sunrise, but it is every bit as fun as cartoons in the morning.

Feed the birds

Want to attract your own hummingbirds? Make some nectar and keep your feeders fresh and filled, cleaning them once a week. To make nectar, mix 1 cup sugar with 4 cups of water in a pan. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and stir until all of the sugar is dissolved. This will kill mold and yeast spores that might be in the sugar that can be very harmful to the birds. Do not use honey or other sweeteners. There is no need for food dye. Cool completely before filling your feeders. I make extra and keep it in a covered jar in the fridge for up to two weeks. If you notice the nectar is becoming cloudy or has black spots growing in it, change it immediately. Place the feeder in the shade and it will last longer. You can purchase an ant guard to prevent ants from blocking the feeder tubes.

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