I have a hummingbird feeder hanging in the patio that I keep filled with fresh sugar water all year round. The other morning I was having one of my dark moments, feeling isolated, unconnected, lonely…just generally down. I ate some breakfast so I could take my anti-anxiety pills, which have to be taken with food, then wandered into the living room and walked over to the sliding glass door that looks out on the patio and backyard.
When I looked out, the first hummingbird I’d seen that year was perched on the feeder. I watched as it sucked, and sucked…and sucked…and sucked. And sucked some more. It just wouldn’t stop sucking. As I watched I became more and more amazed. Then I became alarmed, afraid it would pass out or explode or something. Finally it stopped sucking. Then it sat there for several minutes completely motionless, as if sleeping. But when it became active again just several moments later I knew it hadn’t been asleep. When hummingbirds sleep their metabolism slows down so dramatically it can sometimes take 20 minutes to wake back up. This little hummer woke up much faster than that.
I stared at it for a while. I was stuck in my mental funk, having an anxiety episode that even my mighty medication couldn’t ward off. Mental patterns established way, way back have become deeply embedded in my mind. My father was mentally ill before I was born, in a schizophrenic world of his own. When he was 48 he committed suicide, ending our relationship of occasional visits over my 21 years. My brother was a heroin addict. I have fuzzy memories of being close to him when we were toddlers but I can’t really remember anything back that far. When he hit his teens he frequently disappeared, often for a year or more during which he would be in jail or drifting in a drug haze. I missed him and worried about him in silence. My mother never talked about him to me. Not even once. In later years she and I became estranged.
I long for connection. My one remaining family connection is my half-sister and her daughter and family. I treasure her, and them, and make the long drive as often as I can.
Back to the bird. My dark mood began to lift as I watched it. Either that or my medication had kicked in. The hummer had been clearly ravenously hungry and utterly exhausted. I began to wonder about it. It took my mind off myself. I’d be starving and exhausted too, if I had gone through what my little guest might have survived to get to my feeder. For many hummers, their annual migration is an incredible journey. How could something three inches long, weighing about a tenth of an ounce, survive the arduous journeys these birds undertake? I’m not sure where the hummer on my feeder came from. I’m not very scientific or methodical about studying and identifying the hummers who visit my yard. I just enjoy them. But, incredibly, some of them migrate all the way from Panama in Central America. Let’s assume the little beauty resting on my feeder came from there. Here’s what its journey might have been like.
My wild guest would have covered more than 3,000 miles to reach my yard and perch on my feeder. It lives alone. It also migrates alone because it knows with ancient wisdom that in a flock, it and its kin will be dangerously visible. Tiny and defenseless, they could be eaten en masse by predator birds. It departs yearly from Central America on a schedule mysteriously coordinated with its fellow hummingbirds, so that they stagger their departures over a three-month period. This way the entire population won’t be wiped out by a single catastrophic weather event.
My little visitor didn’t fly very high off the ground, probably around treetop level so it could keep an eye out for feeding opportunities on the way. It flew through wind and cold and other harsh weather conditions, over cities, mountain ranges, deserts, lakes and inlets. It may have flown 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico—nonstop, because there is no place to land. This flight lasted about 22 hours, straight into 20 mile per hour headwinds. After it cleared the Gulf and landed in North America anywhere from southern Florida to Texas, it flew 20 miles a day to get to my little Perky Pet feeder in Fremont, California. A deep respect welled up in me as I watched it rest in perfect stillness. I was blessed and highly favored that it had chosen my yard over all others. It very possibly came to this same feeder every year, my feeder, always following the same route. Realizing that, I felt loved and worthy.
The nectar I supply is not its primary food. It is used as fuel for hunting its survival diet of insects and spiders. That dainty, sweet-looking little jewel is a ruthless carnivore. Its trip from Central America to my backyard was so strenuous it had likely lost half its body weight and it needed protein. Suddenly I no longer felt unconnected. Rather, I felt deeply connected to the entire universe to think that I had helped this brave, resolute, delicate bird survive just by keeping fresh nectar out. I helped sustain it on its courageous journey. I matter. I have important work. The hummer resting on my feeder and others to come would need nutrients, especially in the fall, to build up energy for the arduous journey back to their winter homes.
And so, I quite possibly have a direct connection with Central America. And with other hummingbirds besides this one, seen and unseen, from different regions. All those I have helped, as well as those I will help in the future, are widespread over the earth and they are a crucial part of a vast and complex ecosystem. They are food to many other species—cats (not mine I hope), snakes, praying mantises, other birds such as blue jays, hawks and crows, and sometimes even bees, wasps and spiders, all of whom in turn are food to other species, up to the top of the animal food chain. Hummers are also important pollinators of our earth’s flowers, shrubs and trees. I am a partner in a mega-connection with the entire universe.
Added to that, my personal story has become a lot more cheerful. With a lot of psychotherapy, some good friends, my sister and her family, my husband, and lately the support of members of the church that, to my amazement, I recently joined, I’ve managed okay. And then there’s my writers group, my counselor, my pharmacist, my interests like reading and writing…and let’s not forget shopping. How can I possibly think that I don’t have connections? The fairy-like, delicate being in my patio had made me realize that just by mixing sugar and water, pouring it into a container, and hanging it in my yard I am connected with a vast cosmos beyond my personal world. I’m never alone.
If you want to expand your connection to the cosmos and feed hummers, go to hummingbirdsociety.org/feeding-hummingbirds/