Essay: Encounter With a Hummingbird

First posted in June, 2003

This evening, as I do every evening, I fed my humming birds. They are impatient little creatures, and like so many other nights before they buzzed by quite closely, waiting for the feeder to be ready. I was at the front of the house, on a ladder, third rung, balancing carefully, filling one of the feeders. Less than six inches from my head hung a second feeder, and it still contained food from earlier in the day. Suddenly, one of the birds zoomed in and perched on the feeder, less than a foot from my face, looked me right in the eye, then ignored me and began to feed.

I was rather shocked, so I just stood there, balancing on the rung, another feeder still in hand. I took in the intricate details of the bird's plumage: the spots on its neck, the sleek iridescent green of its back and the fluffy white down of its belly. I saw how its tiny feet grasped the perch. I watched its chest rise and fall with each quick heartbeat, watched its beak open and close ever so slightly with each drink, then, when it lifted its head for a breath, I watched as its tiny tongue licked the water from the end of its beak.

So close to me. It was amazing. I was transfixed.

A second bird came in, and then a third, all hovering so near that I closed my eyes for fear they'd bump into them and I'd be too startled to keep my place on the ladder. Then, a fight broke out among the three of them, each wanting all six perches for themself. Just as quickly as they'd arrived, all three were gone. Alone again, I took the opportunity to hang the feeder I'd been holding so awkwardly. Then, out of curiosity, I placed my hand against the frame of the nearby window for support and waited.

Within thirty seconds they were back. More of them this time. Eventually, I had seven birds within two feet of my eyes, the pulsing of their wings so close that I could feel the breeze on my cheek. As they came closer, I closed my eyes and they swarmed about me, ruffling my hair in their wake, but never touching me. When the buzzing faded, I cautiously opened my eyes again, which fortunately didn't seem to startle them: three were perched mere inches from my nose, and they all turned to look into my eyes. I smiled softly and watched these tiny wild creatures, marveled at their form, and thought of how they fly all the way to Mexico for the winter.

It was like a dream.