Operation Baby Hummingbird Rescue
So yesterday I was out walking my dogs minding my own business - yeah that sort of sounds like how every other story starts right? I assure you this is not like every other story. While on our midday walk my dogs stopped to explore the smells around an olive tree in the neighborhood. They think they are going to a Vegas buffet when they are on their walk - trying to eat just about every thing that smells good to them. I never know what kind of harmful things they dig up from the grass so I yank them away from the tree as they appear to be scrounging. When I looked down at the grass in the area they were sniffing I noticed a dark object moving in a sea of green grass. It caught my attention enough to bend down and investigate.
It didn't take me long to realize that I was staring at a featherless newborn bird squirming between blades of grass longer than its own body. Normally this is where I would have to fend off my dogs from sticking their noses in the new smell of a bird but they had moved on to something else. With two leashes pulling on one hand I picked up the tiny chick - no bigger than the size of a quarter - in my other hand. It was alive as it squirmed in the palm of my hand.
So what does a photographer like me do? Whip out my iphone and start taking pictures of course. Priorities...
I looked up in the tree above me and immediately saw a nest. It was a Hummingbird's nest. I had found an infant Hummingbird.
Knowing that Hummingbirds almost always have two chicks I began searching the grass beneath my feet for a second chick and sure enough I found another one. But this sibling was not as fortunate and did not survive the traumatic event of venturing outside the nest before fledging.
It was a mildly windy day so my uneducated theory was that the wind was the culprit.
I was in rescue mode so I did not spend too much time mourning the dead chick. It was brainstorming time. How could I return the chick to the nest? It was definitely out of my 5'6 reach and there was no way I was climbing the frail tree with two dogs in one hand and the chick in the other. My only solution was to return to my house for a ladder.
When I looked down at the chick in my palm it craned its neck up at me mouth open wide.
That was a moment of childlike awe and subtle heartbreak all at once. If I wasn't motivated before I was now.
Off we went, dogs in tow and Hummingbird chick in hand. My dogs were wondering why I was in such a hurry as they made sure to resist me leading them home and cutting our walk short.
I know this little chick was less than 9 days old because its eyes were still not open. Flightless and featherless this young chick needed warmth and food. I huddled my hand around the chick to keep it warm as we b-lined for home.
I corralled the dogs back in the house, grabbed my 10 foot aluminum ladder with one hand and hastily walked back to the tree, having to stop and switch hands a couple of times. I finally made it and kicked open the ladder with my leg and one hand and positioned it right beneath the nest. I mounted the ladder and up I went with one hand cupped around the chick.
A moment of defeat washed over me as it became clear that even on the top step of the ladder I was going to be a foot or so too short of the nest. I dismounted and kicked the brain into high gear. What were my other options? There was no way I was throwing in the towel on this little chick.
A taller ladder. I had to get a taller ladder. I looked around for neighbors but no one was there watching my clumsy attempt at a bird rescue. Maybe the local maintenance crew had a taller ladder? Now the task was to find where they were at in my neighborhood.
As I took one step away from the tree the low rumble of a diesel engine caught my ear. There was a large truck (at least that's what it sounded like) around the corner. My initial thought was either a utility truck or a fire engine. And just like that my premonition had come true - a utility truck! An SCE truck with a "cherry picker" lift to be exact!
Parked beneath a light pole, I approached the driver with my plea. "This might sound a little strange but I found this baby bird that fell out of its nest right here." I pointed back towards the tree. "The nest is just out of my reach, do you think I could ask for your help with getting it back in the nest?" I made sure to stare deep into his soul.
"Sure." He replied. "I just need to do this first."
Hope was restored.
A short few minutes after he attended to his lighting issue he pulled up and parked on the curb next to the tree. Before he gave me his disclaimer that it looked like a stretch to reach it with his lift I came to the same conclusion. I handed the chick over to his gloved hand and he climbed in the lift basket.
As he attempted to put the chick back in the nest we noticed that the nest was barely hanging on to the branch at a 45 degree angle - probably the reason the chicks were on the ground below. I climbed the tree desperate for a fix. As I got an arms length away I watched as he took out a roll of electrical tape and began to jimmy the nest up to the branch.
He finished securing the nest with the electrical tape, made a last check on the chick confirming it was alive, and descended back to the truck. Mission accomplished! Operation Hummingbird Rescue was complete. My only concern now was if mama would come back to the nest.
Feeling elated I asked what the worker's name was. "Brian." He replied.
Excitedly I said, "Mine too!" And we shared a laugh.
I shook Brian's hand and thanked him repeatedly. I gave the nest one last glance and then headed home to the sound of an adult Hummingbird buzzing over head.