Lessons from a Hummingbird
The persistent chirping arrested my attention. A hummingbird in distress. The last time I heard such frantic chirping, a little owl had been perched on a branch of the avocado tree, thoughtfully watching me hang up laundry. The hummingbird had hovered around the owl, then dove at it, trying to convince it to move.
I scanned the tree. Where was the hummingbird? Unable to spot it, I poked a hanger into the last damp dress and hung it on the line. As I bent to straighten the flip flops and sandals that always cluttered the porch, I sucked in my breath. There was the hummingbird.
Flower boxes lined my porch railing, overflowing with flowers and foliage. Nestled in a trailing purple heart was a tiny nest, decorated with lichens and mosses, and on it, a hummingbird. A mere foot away, freshly washed dresses waved in the breeze. No wonder the hummingbird scolded.
I stopped and worshiped. How had God created such beauty and perfection? And why had he gifted it to me, right here where I spent time every day caring for my family? The hummingbird spooked and flew off the nest, revealing two tiny white eggs, no bigger than peas.
I pulled Davy’s bird book off the shelf. “My” hummingbird was a rufous-tailed hummingbird. I shared pictures of it with some bird-loving friends, and they expressed surprise that a hummingbird would build its nest in a busy location. The nests are usually hard to find.
My bird book said the incubation period for hummingbird eggs is 15-17 days. Apparently, the nest had escaped my notice for several days, because one week later, I noticed something was happening. One egg had hatched. A naked baby bird the size of my fingernail lay in the bottom of the nest. I kept checking the nest, and several hours later, the second egg hatched.
The mother hummingbird continued to sit on the nest, but she added gathering food for her babies to her daily routine. While she was gone, I kept my ear tuned for her chirping. She always made quite a fuss when returning, and the babies obligingly opened their beaks, heads bobbing on wobbly necks, to receive her offering.
At some point, one of the babies died. Only one scrawny bird remained. We watched him grow until he filled the nest. The purple heart, unaccustomed to such a load, sank lower and lower, and the nest tipped at a crazy angle. I feared the baby bird would fall out, especially when a storm blew in, and the wind lashed the vines.
One day the baby bird was not sitting in the nest as usual. He was perched on the edge, looking all grown up and handsome. My children and I watched eagerly throughout the morning. Was today flight day? We were all on the porch when he flexed his wings and swooped off. He flew into the avocado tree and sat on a branch as his mother fussed over him, telling him about life in the real world. After several hours, he joined his mother, flitting from one red hibiscus flower to the next, and then we lost track of our little hummingbird.
Every time I looked at those hummingbirds, they reminded me that God loves me. He cares enough about me to send a little bird to build a nest where I could watch it and be delighted over and over again. Was it coincidence that they chose such a colorful spot, a purple vine with splashes of magenta bougainvillea in the background, or had a Master Artist whispered to them to build the nest there for our further delight?
The birds also reminded me to take joy in small things. My children and I spent hours marveling over the tiny nest, the perfect eggs. We watched the little bird grow and loved to see the mother come to feed her baby.
And last, the birds reminded me that my human children will be here only for a short time. One day they too will flex their wings and leave the nest. I will no longer need to feed and care for them. I need to enjoy them today.
My children wanted to take the nest down once it was empty, but I asked them to leave it there. Something tells me (past experience, perhaps?) that I will need the reminder of what that nest taught me again. And again.