Participating With Wild Abandon in a Bird Ritual Strictly for Educational Purposes
“Hummingbird Study” (first draft)
By Meredith Taylor
I rode my bike from my Isle Vista apartment to Butterfly Ridge in Montecito. I named the area Butterfly Ridge because it’s directly over Butterfly Beach. It was formerly Channel Drive but the Beanie Baby guy (Note: Google his name) has taken away the Drive and made a pedestrian/biker pathway bordered by a colossus of flowers of all colors, and then the flowers simply meld with the stunning view beyond (of the Channel Islands and the blue Pacific Ocean). There is no more beautiful place on earth. It’s a haven for butterflies and hummingbirds and I, Meredith, a grad student at UC Santa Barbara, am studying hummingbirds and planning a scientific life. My back was turned to the Beanie Baby guy’s Moorish mansion (still not completed after years of construction) (Note: Google to see if it is actually Moorish architecture). I was watching two hummingbirds in some sort of game or dance. I wondered if anyone had ever seen it before, like maybe the DuPont guy who did those photographs (Google that guy).
I almost reached for my backpack but I didn’t want to take my eyes away from whatever was going on, maybe a fight. No time for the digital camera. I would have to just watch and not look away then record it all in my journal when I got home.
They looked like they were trying to kill each other.
I saw two hummingbirds. Colors that I recall were navy blue, possibly dark gray or black, red, purple, green, shimmering feathers like new car colors ever changing with the light, long beaks, tiny birds, beady eyes. They hovered about two feet apart, five feet from the tops of the flowers. Then they flew toward each other aggressively and bumped each other with great force. I could hear the collision. I was standing only six feet from them. Then they went back to the original hovering positions and twice more repeated their fierce flying into each other and the same loudness at contact. After this they were about two feet from each other and they flew in unison, parallel to the other, high into the sky, maybe twenty to twenty-five feet high and when they reached that height, they circled and swooped down and landed among the flowers.
I now know after researching hummingbirds at the library last evening that I witnessed a mating dance. I think it is amazing with that speed and force that the male can connect with the right place on the female and that the female is ready to accept the male. The female participation seems to be equal to the male. She hits him as hard as he hits her. As a scientist I was impressed. As a woman, I remember thinking, Awesome!
The next day I biked back to Butterfly Ridge hoping to see another mating dance. I parked my yellow bike about the same place and slowly walked up the bike path to search for hummingbirds. This time I had my digital camera ready.
I spotted a hummer sitting like a statue on a green cactus spine. I took its picture. The hummer did not fly away. It simply moved its head so I took another shot. The hummer looked up, looked down, adjusted its feathers, preened, picked at its chest, and looked at me. I was snapping pictures like crazy. Maybe I could publish a book like the DuPont guy (Note: still haven’t Googled him). I started to walk away when a voice said, “Did you like what you saw yesterday?”
I looked around and saw no one. “What?” I said to the air.
“Look at me,” the voice said. It sounded very close. The hummer’s beak was moving.
“Are you speaking to me?” I asked the hummingbird.
“We’re the only ones present,” it said. “I’m interested in what you wrote about what you saw yesterday. I’m Hubert, if you don’t mind my being personal.”
“And I’m Meredith. Yes, I wrote about it.”
“I’d like to hear it,” Hubert said.
I took my journal out of my tan backpack, found my notes and began to read. “Two hummingbirds hover above the pink, yellow, orange and white flowers fluttering their wings like tiny helicopters and then zoom toward…”
Hubert started making weird throaty sounds.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
His head was whirling around and his eyes looked filmy. “I’m aroused,” he said.
“I’m not reading this to arouse you. This is a scientific notation,” I said in the best school teacher voice I could muster.
“Oh please,” Hubert injected. “You’re feeling it too.” He twisted around on his little perch and winked one of his eyes.
“What!” I exclaimed, throwing my hands up in disgust and dropping the journal into a spider web.
“Read on,” he urged.
I wiped the spider web on my white culottes then cleared my throat and slowly read as if being forced, “…they fly toward each other in a deliberate fashion and bang into each other’s bodies like two Elizabethan knights in armor trying to knock each other off their steeds.”
”WHOA!” Hubert exclaimed. “I am all hot and bothered.”
I retrieved my camera from the pocket in my red tee shirt and snapped his picture which I planned on captioning in my sure-to-be bestseller book, ONE HUMMINGBIRD WITH MORE ON HIS MIND THAN “WHERE DO I GET MY NEXT MEAL.”
I tossed the camera into my bike’s basket. I stared at Hubert, the hummer.
“Why read on?” I asked. I took a rubber band out of my pocket and twisted my unmanageable curly brown mass into a pony tail. “You puny little avian!” I called. I shook my shoulders. “What do you think of that?” I challenged.
“I’m loving it,” Hubert said.
“Okay tough guy, what do you got?”
He flew off the cactus spine and began to hover. I hovered a few inches off the ground. My engine was purring. We stared at each other. And then together sensing it was time, we ran/flew toward each other and our bodies slammed together.
“Wait,” I called. “You hit too high. That’s not the place.”
Hubert hovered and nodded. “Oh yeah, baby, that’s the place.”
“No it’s not,” I chided, shaking my butt like a dog coming out of the ocean.
But then we couldn’t waste any more time arguing because we were madly racing toward each other again and slamming our bodies together as powerful as a Tyson punch.
I was puffing and yet still hovering a few inches above the bike path.
“Still not the right place,” I called, quite out of breath.
“It’s the place,” Hubert assured me.
“That’s my belly button you doofus,” I hollered.
“Well, you certainly hit the right place,” he commented in a very complimentary tone.
“Oh momma,” he sighed.
So we hovered again. I yelled, “Let’s make it good this time, Hubert! Sock it to me!” And oh did he. We rammed like Scottish kings storming a fortressed castle.
Then Hubert flew up and up and up and circled and then flew down and perched on a magenta bougainvillea. “I wish you could have flown up tall with me, my Meredith.”
“I was flying, Hubert, you just couldn’t see me.”
It wasn’t long before I was up on Butterfly Ridge again and Hubert was building what could only be termed a humongous hummingbird nest. I knew from my research that the females build the nest and that in fact the males don’t help at all but Hubert said he’d take care of it. Hummingbird nests are about the size of ping-pong balls. This nest was the size of a child’s rubber swimming pool. Hubert built it of lichen and mosses and leaves. He wove it all together with spider silk. I’m not fond of spiders so I hoped he didn’t think I was going to get in the nest.
When the time came I lifted up my blue tee shirt and lowered my yellow shorts an inch and out of my belly button and into the nest popped two white jelly beans. Well, they looked like jelly beans, but they were hummingbird eggs.
At first only Hubert sat on the eggs. But soon I felt so warm toward the little beans that I forgot about spiders and I climbed into the nest and lay down on my baby beans. Hubert and I took turns even though Hubert informed me the male of the species does not hatch the eggs. But he knew I had to sleep and also attend classes so he was a dear and helped out. But whenever I could in those fifteen days, I was there for my teeny tiny sweet lil boopity bootiful eggs. I worried about them. I felt so protective. I loved them! Suddenly I knew what motherhood was all about—keeping the eggs warm but not overcooking.
I wept the day they hatched. Those precious little beaky feathery messes scrambled out of the broken eggshells and toddled about and screeched for food. Hubert and I ran/flew all over the hillside gathering spiders and insects and putting our beak/mouth into their tiny beaks and stuffing creatures into them.
Our hummingbird babies, Katherine and Kelly, had a short childhood. Hubert and I raised them for twenty-one days and then they flew off on their own. We spot them now and then but I’m not sure they know us anymore.
Hubert still likes me to take his picture with my digital camera. He doesn’t mention mating again and sometimes I think I see him eyeing a rufous hussy who has been making fly-bys and blinking her sexy eyes as she does somersaults and other fancy showoff tricks. (Note: Google: do hummingbirds mate for life?)
All rights reserved to Phyllis Green.