July 27, 2014

How to Raise a Hummingbird

How to Raise a Hummingbird

One hot afternoon in April I noticed a hummingbird hanging out on the neighbor's balcony. It was trying to get some nectar from the plants and the hummingbird feeder (which may have been empty) and seemed to be having a really difficult time. This is probably why I noticed in the first place. The flying was erratic and she kept bumping into the plants. Finally she just rested in the pot for a few minutes.

I kept an eye on her in case she flew to where I could see her better, and after a little bit she flew right into the Juniper bushes in front of our apartment. Well, flying isn't really accurate… she kind of collapsed. I went out to check on things and she was just laying there, delicately supported by the wispy juniper leaves, wings all spread and eyes closed. Hummingbirds have to constantly eat - their metabolisms are so fast that the mere act of surviving depends on their ability to eat non-stop (which is why they can hover - no time to stop and eat, gotta keep on the move, even if hovering uses a ridiculous amount of energy). 


I figured she'd be easy to catch in this state, so I reached out and cupped my hand around her body. She was so light and so imperceptible to the touch that I was practically squeezing her before I realized I actually had a her. She barely opened her eyes and didn't struggle at all - she was one tired bird.

Taking care of a hummingbird

I took her inside and The Boyfriend brought me a box to put her in. We got her set up in our room (where we could keep the dog and especially the cat out) with a box, a shirt draped over most of the top, some paper towels, and a bowl of water. We have a bunch of medication syringes from the vet, so I filled one with some cool water and sugar (in retrospect, I didn't do any measuring whatsoever with the sugar, which was probably not smart). She was not interested in the bowl of water and ended up sitting in it, so I got in there with the syringe. To my surprise she actually drank from it!

Hand feeding a hummingbird

In between feeding, I researched hummingbirds to figure out how much she needed to eat and when it might be safe to put her back outside (or if it was better to try and find an organization to take her). After the first syringe full of sugar water she perked up. Her eyes opened, I could see the ruby color on her throat feathers, and she flitted a bit and she didn't seem injured at all.

All of a sudden she jumped into the air and started zooming around the room! Of course she couldn't understand why she was trapped, why she couldn't flee out the window, and fortunately her itty bitty feet (talons? what are they called on a small bird?) were too small to grip on the ceiling fan. After a few minutes of flying she tired out enough that I could catch her again. Once she was back in the box I gave her another two syringes full of sugar water. Since she seemed OK and that she had maybe just gotten too hot and hadn't eaten, I put the box on our porch where she would be free to fly away. After a few minutes she hopped up onto the edge of the box and then took flight. 

I didn't see her after that - it was impossible to tell if any hummingbird I saw was the same one or not, and there are quite a few in the neighborhood. But it was cooler when she flew away and she was stocked up on sugar so I was sure she was fine, wherever she was. 

Hummingbird nest

A couple days later I was working from home and this hummingbird kept landing on a plant hook where we've strung lights. I just thought it was cool at first, and maybe it was the same bird back to say hey. But then it was seriously every 15-20 minutes - the bird would not leave the plant hook alone. At the end of the day I left to walk the dog, and when I came back I saw the bird fly away, and the reason she had been coming to that spot so frequently. She built a nest! Well, she started. The base of the nest was wrapped around the plant hook and was supported by the light plug wrapped around it. Over the next week or two she kept building until she had a nest of paper, twigs, and spider webs about the size of a golf ball and open at the top. 

Hummingbird nest

Soon enough the little bird was spending almost all of her time on the nest, leaving for food and to gather items for the finishing touches to the nest. I was (and still am, because why not?) convinced it was the same bird I fed, and I did some hummingbird research trying to figure out how long we'd have our little feathered guests. She was supposed to lay eggs a couple weeks after mating (which I assume was the time she spent building her nest), then they'd hatch about 3 weeks after that, then they'd be fed for another month or so until they were ready to fledge. 

Hummingbird eggs in a nest

The location of the nest was particularly lucky for us. Everything I read about hummingbirds said the nests were really difficult to spot, but the nest was directly in front of our kitchen window, so anytime we were in the kitchen or at the table we could watch her. I got the hang of her habits pretty quickly (a bird on eggs doesn't do that much), so when she suddenly started getting fidgety we knew the eggs must have hatched. It just so happened that her behavior changed on Mother's Day! How cute that our little bird friend became a mom on Mother's Day.

The Boyfriend and I decided that she needed a name. After the sugar water feedings, we kept referencing Men In Black, because the farmer, Edgar, wanted sugar water when the alien took over his body. So Edgar it was!

Newly hatched hummingbirds in a nest

Edgar became very fidgety indeed. Hummingbirds will scout for food every 15-20 minutes when they have mouths to feed, so now our little Edgar had two fast metabolisms to support in addition to her own. She would need help for this, so I bought a feeder and put it on one of the other plant hooks on the patio. She took a while to notice it, but once she did she used it as a quick source of energy to go and find real food for her babies.

Baby hummingbirds

After a week or so of knowing the eggs had hatched but seeing nothing, two tiny little beaks peaked out from the rim of the nest, gaped wide for food and calling very loudly. Edgar had a distinctive chirp she used to announce her presence, and The Boyfriend and I picked it up and mimicked it to each other. It was pretty cool that she announced herself like that, and gave us a second to try and get a shot. We also watched for when she left and got up on a chair to peek inside the nest, only it was built so close to the roof of the patio that we couldn't see in. She also got really mad when we made it obvious we were trying to get close. She bird yelled at us for taking pictures through the kitchen window!

Hummingbird feeding her babies

This kept up for a while, until we noticed one of the baby hummingbirds was big enough to be visible at all times out of the top of the nest. Unfortunately, this also meant that there was only one baby hummingbird… if one was big enough to fill the nest, the other must not have made it.

Baby hummingbird in a nest

It's really hard to see (I didn't notice until I got this on my larger computer screen), but the dead baby is still in the nest, to the left side. It's still very small, so it must have not even made it a week. The bright side is the baby that is alive is doing very well being the center of Edgar's attention.

Big baby hummingbird

Grow he did! Soon enough Edgar couldn't fit in the nest anymore. She would sit on the wire to feed her fat little baby or try to crouch between the top of the nest and the roof, but couldn't feed that way. She also became an absentee mother - she was gone more often than not, and although she still did a very good job making sure her only baby had plenty of food, she seemed to be kind of over the whole mom thing. But when your house is only big enough to hold one of you (and barely that), you got to go elsewhere. We also discovered one of her nearby hiding places between our apartment and our neighbors where there was a stick from the juniper bushes that was perfectly hummingbird sized. She watched us from there when we came and went - it became a game to us to see if we could get into our front door without disturbing her. 

It was also around this time we suddenly noticed the massive amounts of hummingbird poop everywhere. How a single bird of that size can make the mess he did is beyond me. Everywhere in a three foot radius was affected: our kitchen window was caked in it, the patio was littered with droppings, and it even got on the roof of the patio, inches from the nest (how that happened I'll never know - do they flick it like monkeys?). We finally saw him poop one day and discovered how they get the radius: they stand up, stick their butts out, and projectile shit. Bird poo also tends to be liquid and solid together, so it gets all over the place. So disgusting. We're going to need a pressure washer to clean the patio. And when we finally cleaned the kitchen window it was like we added skylight to the kitchen - it was that much brighter. And it was that gross.

Fledgeling baby hummingbird

One day we came home and found the baby sitting on the edge of the nest! He had been fidgety for a few days: flapping his wings super fast like hummingbirds do, readjusting a bunch, trying to preen, and generally trying to be a bird while still stuck in a nest. Seems like Edgar and her baby were over the whole thing. Baby bird sat there pretty much the entire day and most of the next day. Edgar still came to feed him, and sat next to him on the wire to do so.

Fledgeling hummingbird

The tuft of white hair under the tail feathers became a distinguishing feature. Now that mom and baby were the about the same size we looked for ways to tell them apart. First, the baby had all those fuzzy white hairs that Edgar didn't have. Second, the baby was noticeably fatter than Edgar. In fact, Edgar seemed to have gotten quite thin with all that flying around and dumping her energy into the baby.



Hummingbird about to leave the nest

Over the next day or so he became more adventurous, moving further and further down the wire. When we had our front door open we watched him, and we're pretty sure he watched us inside just as much.

Hummingbird by a hummingbird feeder

Eventually he made his way all the way across the wire on the patio to the bird feeder and decided to chill there. Edgar didn't seem too happy about this change. She flew back to the nest to feed him, always using her distinctive announcement chirp, and when he wasn't there she made what I can only assume are angry chirps telling him to get his ass back to the nest. 

Mom and baby hummingbird

 But he didn't, so she would relent, and a few feedings happened at the bird feeder. 


Mom feeding baby hummingbird

Feeding baby hummingbird

At least this appeared to be more of a comfortable position for Edgar. Hummingbird beaks are really long, and she had to get her own long beak inside his long beak to feed him, so the extra elevation was sure to be welcome. Plus, free food right there! Not that she used it to feed her baby, ever. Which is fine. Sugar water is basically the McDonalds of hummingbird food. There's so much more nutrition in actual nectar from flowers. 

Hummingbird in flight

And then one day it happened! Little baby hummingbird took flight. We were so lucky to be home when it happened - he'd been flapping his wings and walking the wire and getting his nerve up for a few days. Also, The Boyfriend happens to be an excellent photographer - who else can capture a baby hummingbird's first flight in such clarity? He looked right at the camera.

Baby hummingbird takes first flight

Baby bird flew along the patio between us and the neighbors, hugging the roof and even landing on  the stucco at one point. He also tried to land on the railing on the stairs, but his little feet were much too small (and the metal was too slippery), and he finally landed in some bushes to rest.

Cat watching birds from window

This was the day Chloe had been waiting for. Good thing she's an inside cat. (Not that she would know what to do with a bird if she caught one…) She had been getting on the counter to watch from the kitchen window (tell tale cat hairs everywhere, and she helped herself to munching on my succulents on the sill), being sly enough to only do it when we weren't home. But I can't blame her too much - she almost never gets to see birds.

It took the baby several more days to really get the hang of flying, and all the while Edgar was still bringing him food. Once he had his strength up and could maneuver around like his mom, they flew around the building together, checking out the other patios.

We thought that would be the end of our hummingbird experience. But the baby just kept on coming back! We knew it was him because of his white feathers and he was still quite fat (we'd taken to saying "fat fat fat" whenever he was around). We finally just decided to name him Fat. He figured out the hummingbird feeder one day, and that became a new activity. I swear he also likes to come back just to sit on the wire and peek inside the windows. He grew up seeing two humans and a dog, and hearing our sounds, every day. 

Hummingbird in garden

It's nice to see him doing so well. And extra nice that we have the opportunity to catch up with the baby as frequently as we do. We planted a small garden and I used sticks to prop up the tomato plants, and now he'll come just to sit on a stick and survey his little territory. 

We still have the task of cleaning off the patio (it's not as caked as it was, but I still don't walk barefoot near the nest), taking the nest down (the dead baby is still in there), and cleaning the poop off the plant hook and the stucco. But that is highly unpleasant. 

We also don't know if hummingbirds use their nests from year to year, or if Edgar will return here. She still comes around for the hummingbird feeder, though it's infrequent now that she's not tied to her baby anymore. We also don't know if her baby is a boy or a girl (we call him a boy for some reason), but if it's a girl maybe she'll nest here next year.

But that's how you raise a hummingbird. Rescue an adult around nesting time, provide a safe place, and she'll see that's the perfect spot to build a nest and allow you the opportunity to watch a hummingbird grow up. 

June 9, 2014

Sex and the City Saves Elephants

Actress Kristin Davis, co-star of the show Sex and the City, traveled to Kenya a few years ago for a safari. A ranger approached her vehicle and asked if they'd seen a baby elephant, so the whole truck stayed with the rangers for two days helping look for the baby. They finally found her among lava rocks, scared and angry, and had to cover her eyes and practically tackle her to get her safe. They gave her water, moistened her skin and transported her back to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where she'd be cared for.


The rangers who approached Kristin's truck did so not because they thought approaching a celebrity would help, but because they simply needed more eyes. In fact, they didn't know she was a celebrity. It took DSWT a few weeks to realize who she was. Kristin Davis adopted the baby elephant she helped find, who was named for the area they found her, for $50, getting her email updates as to the elephant's health.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust takes in orphaned elephants, most of whom are orphans because their mothers were slaughtered for their ivory tusks, and raises them to be released back into the wild. Some of the adult elephants actually come back to the reserve on occasion for a visit.

Oh, and Kristin Davis is also an advocate of women's rights. While her character in the TV series would get into the gritty details of her sex life, the actress laments that there are so few shows on TV that star women that each one still gets compared to Sex and the City, which ended 8 years ago. She does Broadway now, has adopted a baby girl, and has become the public face of the Wildlife Trust. She feels strongly about women's health issues and women's rights; she wants to raise her daughter to grow up in a world where there are not only elephants but complete freedom for women. Surely having played such a liberal, confident woman for so many years has helped shape her own beliefs and ideals (or did her beliefs and ideals shape the character?), but to have a show that starred and focused almost entirely on women be as popular as it was encouraged the teens and young women watching it to pursue their dreams.

Kristin Davis has done a lot to educate herself on the plight of elephants over the last few years and has compared buying ivory to buying blood diamonds, bringing something people widely regard as into the spotlight, using terms they recognize and understand. She's trying to bring attention to the severity of the problem (elephants could be gone in less than 10 years), describing the scenes she herself has witnessed (an elephant's head hacked off after it had been chained to a tree and left to die, with another not a half mile away).

"You want gritty details?" She asks, fully prepared to give journalists the shock they're looking for.

Oh yeah, and she's also passionate about women's issues and laments that there aren't enough shows about women. I don't think I could like a celebrity any more.

June 4, 2014

Humanity

Not feeling particularly confident about the state of humanity lately. 

San Diego's fire season started in May. We were supposed to be unhappily stuck in May Gray, but there wasn't been a cloud in the sky for days. Santa Ana winds - pretty uncommon this early in the year - removes what remaining moisture we had in the air. San Diego battled 9 separate fires. Again, in May. We've had bigger fires before, and worse fire conditions for sure, but I don't know that there's ever been this many fires burning at once. And the scarier part is all of these fires are in highly populated areas. These aren't out in the boonies fires, burning acres of brush and threatening a handful of homes and structures on the edges of civilization - these are threatening thousands of homes and dozens of communities. Schools are closed. People aren't driving.

Oh, and we don't have any water to fight all these fires because we're in an unprecedented, historical drought. So that's awesome.

Meanwhile, Colorado and other states still had snow. IN MAY. Hurricane season is practically lasting all year, tornadoes are getting more destructive, and we're seeing record breaking weather every single season in all parts of the world. Coastal communities are already having to deal with rising waters, scooting their structures back. New Jersey already has regulations in place for new construction due to the rising waters and frequent storms.

But somehow, SOMEHOW, there's still doubt as to whether climate change is real, whether our activities are having an effect on the world's climate. It's not just that the ice caps in the arctic circle are melting thousands of miles away, affecting some sorry polar bear and human populations we don't really care about. This is what climate change looks like. We're living it right now, yet we're sticking our heads in the sand, going "weeeeeelllll I don't know."

We're still mining the earth for coal (awful) and stones (stupid), and then are shocked at safety violations when mines collapse and kill dozens or hundreds. We're still bringing new oil pipelines across our lands after SO MANY of them have burst and destroyed the environments they inhabit, not to mention the people that live there. We're watching elephants disappear before our very eyes so we can sell their teeth and use the money to fund terrorist groups that kidnap thousands of school kids, selling them to slavery, turning them into prostitutes, or forcing them to become soldiers. We're auctioning off the opportunity for some rich fuck to kill an endangered rhino to "save the species" (how?) for not even much money - $300,000, not even half a million - and we have no idea that money will ever see a conservation group. 

Women around the world, including right here in the United States, fear for their lives every single day. Around the world, women get raped all the time and authority figures do nothing. That happens sometimes here, too - and women learn to stay quiet about assault and abuse because it only makes it worse to say anything. And the rest of us wonder if today will be the day some spurned boy decides to bring a gun into public because he's lonely. Or whether we're wearing anything too revealing (because that's asking for it), or if we'll be safe in a group  or safe walking home.

We're also putting kids in jail for having some weed, or for shoplifting (usually something minor), and then acting amazed when those kids get out and turn into adults who end right back up in jail. And kid jail isn't a rehabilitation facility - it's intense adult prison where the same rapes and same solitary confinement happens. To kids. Kids who may have been abused by their parents and acted out, or kids raised in deplorable conditions, or maybe even just kids who were shit heads. But kids who said goodbye to life before their teenage years were over.

Instead or actively working on solving any of these very important issues, we're talking about how some high profile newsroom editor (a woman, because this discussion doesn't exist for male editors) is "not very approachable." We're oggling celebrities who decide to not put on makeup to go to Starbucks. We're getting offended when a football rookie celebrates success with a kiss. We're listening to high profile bigots bitch about black people to black people (but we're not doing anything about it). We're closing abortion clinics because abortion is icky (except when we need one). We're arguing about whether marriage should be allowed for certain people. 

Seems like there are way more important things to worry about than the things we pay attention to. But we don't seem to care.

January 29, 2014

Fitting In


Sometimes we don't fit in. Movies and TV shows go out of their way trying to relate to audiences who didn't fit in during middle school or high school, and everyone has at least one period or instance of not quite fitting in somewhere or with some group. I was lucky to be pretty enough (and unassuming) to not get teased or picked on, at least not to my face (and if there was teasing going on behind my back I never got wise to it) and I was also lucky enough to find a very tight knit group of people that accepted me completely. High school was actually very pleasant for me. 

But sometimes we don't fit in with that one group of people we should always feel like we belong with - our families. That's when it gets rough.

Sometimes our families make us feel weird, unusual, or wrong for no reason. And not in horrible awful ways, but subtle ways. A little remark that lets you know you're the only one who believes in something, or that your clothes aren't quite right, or that you're into the wrong kinds of activities. And when we don't feel like we belong with our families we seek out anyone else who will accept us, or at least who will make us feel like we aren't the complete weirdos our families make us think we are.

I got lucky, again, that I found someone who doesn't make me feel like a complete weirdo. Actually, that's not exactly true… I found someone who really likes my weirdness, and participates in it with me. Someone who doesn't believe in the little things I sometimes hear from my family, who even likes the things my family doesn't seem to like about me. Having someone with the same values as I have makes me feel like I'm not totally alone, and it makes dealing with those snide little remarks a little bit easier. Knowing that I can create my own family how I want and that I'm far enough away from those related to me that I don't have to see them and hear their comments about my lifestyle, my beliefs, or my interests very often. 

January 20, 2014

In Which I'm Glad To Have Been Born When And Where I Was

I've been talking about race a lot lately. A lot more than normal, anyway.

Today The Boyfriend and I had the opportunity to see a morning movie (the best kind of movie - they're half price, usually not packed, and tend to have a less annoying crowd) and since 12 Years a Slave was still playing, likely thanks to its Oscar nomination, we figured that was the most appropriate choice for Martin Luther King, Jr Day. 12 Years a Slave is not an easy movie to sit through. They make it clear at the beginning and end that the movie is based on a true story - based off the first hand account as told in the book by the same name, written by the main character. 

[Spoilers] The main character, a black freeman named Solomon, a New York musician who appears to be well respected in his community, is kidnapped and sold into slavery with a name change and a very bruised spirit. Though he has two… colleagues, of sorts… with him, who together decide that keeping their heads down and not letting on that they're educated or - heaven forbid - are freemen, Solomon is soon alone to fend for himself. For years he's shuffled along from one slaver to another, some relatively decent (for slave owners) and some so horrible it was hard to keep looking at the screen at times, always looking for the opportunity to find his way back to his real life. He eventually finds it, in a sympathetic Canadian who takes a risk by contacting Solomon's former associates to send his free papers, and the end of the movie brought the whole theater to tears. Not even kidding, there was sniffling all around us. I had brought a few tissues because I'm still dealing with the after effects of the flu, but The Boyfriend and I ended up using them to dry our eyes before heading back out into daylight. It was rough. 

Martin Luther King Jr feels extra prevalent as an icon now than when I was a kid, and having the day off in remembrance of him makes me even more aware of this. Today MLK stands for more than just racial equality, he stands for all that is and should be right with humanity. He stands for racial equality, sexual equality, respect for animals, and respect for the earth. His words - spoken at a certain time and for a certain cause - are being attributed today to a whole slew of causes that are just as important as the one he campaigned and died for. 

I feel particularly lucky to have had the opportunity to be so reminded of what MLK stood for because I have a boss who, I imagine, feels particularly connected to the man's cause. Martin Luther King Jr Day is an important day for LGBT campaigns, and for a gay man (who gives his employees the day off, with pay) it seems appropriate that he wants us to recognize it. And I'm glad that today we saw 12 Years a Slave, and not The Wolf of Wall Street. 

A little over a week ago I was driving with my boss to a client meeting and we got on the subject of race and sexuality in San Diego. I told a story of how The Boyfriend and I were approached in Home Depot by one of their marketing team and asked if we were planning on a major renovation in the next few years (kitchen or bath remodel). The implication I got was that Home Depot was looking for a way to get some publicity; The Boyfriend was having none of it, thinking that it was a scam at worst or a ploy to get him to do more work on his condo than he wanted at best. I had thought the marketing guy was looking for a couple they'd be able to promote about the cool things we did with Home Depot supplies/labor, and finding an interracial couple was a relative gold mine for publicity. My boss agreed, adding that we're such a good looking couple (awww) that they'd probably have promoted any work we did with Home Depot like crazy, adding further that we could probably easily exploit our relationship if we wanted to. (He also added that if we had kids we'd be pretty much exactly the perfect "family of today," but I didn't mention that kids aren't part of the plan.) 

My boss brought up the fact that I probably don't see my boyfriend as someone different than me because there's a different in our skin color. Which is true. I might have grown up in a predominantly white town, but while I noticed differences in appearance it was like I was noticing hair color - some people just have different hair color than I do, and some people just have different skin color than I do. That never made a difference in a person's personality or abilities, and I never got the impression that others felt any differently (though as part of the racial majority I'm not exactly one to speak with any authority on that, and I was occasionally guilty of saying things that were taken in a totally different context than I meant them or would have even understood at the time). Having since moved to San Diego, where there's far greater racial diversity, and living in the time I am, it's almost unfathomable that race is that big a deal to some people. Which is why watching things like 12 Years a Slave is so difficult. The characters in the movie believed in slavery. They used the bible to not only justify keeping other human beings in slavery, but blamed the slaves for their own circumstances using the same bible verses. They didn't want to hear that their slaves were potentially freemen in other states. They didn't want to hear that they might have had other names, that there might have been wives and children and humanity somewhere else. Slaves were property, no different from horses or dogs, to do with as they pleased because god gave them to the slavers. They had not only the right to own these people, but the duty to judge and punish and kill them for the slightest disobedience, real or imagined.

Our conversation turned to my boss's experiences as a gay man, living with his husband in San Diego and other parts of the country. My boss was born and raised in a very, very small town in Louisiana that I still can't pronounce or spell properly. He eventually moved to New York, where he met his husband, and they moved to San Diego together, living in Colorado and one or two other states in between. He talked about their experiences walking down the sidewalk holding hands, how it's still not normal enough to not get odd looks (whereas The Boyfriend and I are almost entirely ignored because our relationship isn't unusual here), and how they are introduced to so many hairdressers because straight people only seem to have that one connection to gays (but bless them for trying!). There's still a disconnect between the LGBT community and everyone else, just like there was between whites and everyone else just 50 years ago.

I wonder how Martin Luther King Jr would have felt having lines from his speeches being borrowed for other causes. I have to believe he would be proud, because a man can't repeatedly preach about equality for all, talk about respect for women, gays, animals, and the environment and not imagine that his words would be used for something even greater than he meant at the time. And I'm glad that I was able to think so much about his legacy today. There will always be differences between men and women - women can't help that men can't have kids, and that will probably always contribute to our lower pay and limit our career choices. But there aren't differences between whites and any other race, or straights and gays, and I'd like to think that one day, hopefully while The Boyfriend and I are still alive, we'll be able to see these perceived differences disappear completely and whites and non-whites and straights and LGBTs are 100% equal in every way.