A crisp breeze is sending a low moan across the top of our chimney. Outside, it is raining leaves. Most of the fall colors came down in a thick cascade last week, but these breezy days still keep our back deck coated in yellow, reds, and browns. Yesterday was a leaf day: Get ’em off the roof, off the decks, into the chicken yard, and mulched into the front lawn. Scoop ’em off the pond, and out of the dogs’ water bucket. Feed a few to the rabbits, and use them to cover the bunny poop pile.
The trees are heading for their stark season, and will soon stand like gray skeletons along the skyline. I have many friends who are not looking forward to winter. For me, this late fall means that we have sun in the huge east windows of our house for the first time since last May, when the forest canopy webbed a leafy umbrella over the house that hid away daylight and moonlight until just this week. It is the first time we don’t need lights on in the daytime. And I’m liking it!
Upstairs in the spare bedroom, two visitors have been delayed on their winter migration, and will be spending the winter in Indiana. Buzz and Flipper are my two hummingbird residents, both with wing injuries, who are watching the trees go bare right along with me. These jewels—this season’s babies—came to WildCare going on two months ago. I decided to take them home and give them more one-on-one care than they would get at the center during winter hours. Both seemed to need it, as neither was particularly good at being able to stay on a perch. I would find them on their backs like spent cicadas, putting all their meager energy into trying to turn over. Not good, so home they came. I spent a long time on Google, searching for information on how to rehabilitate hummingbirds, and can tell you there is none.
Thank heavens for the wildlife rehab email list, where I found Connie Sale, who knows all about caring for hummers. She sent me her care sheets, answered my ceaseless questions, and gave me encouragement every step of the way. Now Buzz, the little boy, and Flipper, the little girl, are sturdy on their perches, and eating like small cows. Flipper loves her morning warm mist baths, opening her mouth to swallow the warm drops, and shaking her little tushie like a happy puppy. Buzz hates bath time, and helicopters away about a quarter inch off the ground, bitching righteously.
I’ve taken over as team leader of hummingbirds now, and these two grounded youngsters are teaching me so much, each day. Like every other wild animal, each hummer has its unique personality. Flipper is relaxed and quiet, Buzz noisy and rambunctious. Each like to look out the window, so they both favor the perches closest to the view. Both are territorial and will defend their feeder of the moment, until they swap places, and defend the other one.
From my previous wildlife rehab days (back in time of the dinosaurs…), I remembered that hummers amazed me with their bravery. Then and now, they seem fearless, confidently lifting their beaks upward when I bring in the Nektar feeders each morning and night. Sometimes when I am looking them over with my huge magnifying glass, Flipper will decide she’s been without food long enough, and start searching between my fingers for some liquid refreshment. The first knuckle of my thumb is about as large as she is. How is it that she knows no fear?
Years ago, I wrote that when you are so tiny living in a world of giant, dangerous things, perhaps there is no point in fear. I’ve always been anxious and fearful about life, and my winter guests are fine examples to me of the pointlessness of fear. I think they approach the world with heart rather than anxiety. Surely, a hummer’s heart is a huge thing. I see evidence of this each day.
Early on, I took Buzz to the vet for a look at his beak and tongue. His tongue sticks out a lot (not from a fungal infection, it seems), and his beak is streaked with white. The vet called me late in the afternoon after keep Buzz for the day with sad news. Doctor Koch said the white streaks on Buzz’s slender beak are signs of atrophy, and that his beak has gone necrotic, probably owing to some earlier injury. He told me Buzz had very little chance of survival. I asked the doctor if Buzz should be euthanized, and he said, “Oh, heaven’s no. I couldn’t do that. He has far too much life.” Dr. Koch told me to keep Buzz going as long as possible. “Hummingbirds don’t have many reserves. When he starts to go down hill, he will go quickly and painlessly. Enjoy him for as long as you have him.”
So Buzz has his days where his tongue hangs out like a limp noodle, and his days where his tongue is back where it belongs. Nothing seems to keep him from his feeder, and nothing has yet dampened his zest for life. Perhaps he will pull off a miracle. Why not? Hummingbirds already seem like miracles to me. Maybe he has a few more in him.