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The Plight of the Hummingbird

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As I came up to the living room I heard the sound. No mistaking the "hum" of a hummingbird's wings, though in this case there was a flapping added to the hum: the little bird had somehow entered the house, and now it was flapping up at the peak of the ceiling, well out of reach, against the large west-facing windows that range from about 8 feet to about 16 feet above the floor.

The little fellow seemed desperate to find its way back outside. I was pretty eager for him to make that safe escape myself. I regard hummingbirds as special creatures, and though my bird-loving wife was out of town, I knew that a hummingbird dying in our house would grieve her.

I took a screen out of the nearest window, which I opened wide, and I propped open a screen door to provide another exit. Maybe the darting little bird would catch of whiff of the great outdoors and head for the open space. I moved a hummingbird feeder to a spot on the railing visible through the open door, in the hope that whatever attracts those intense and voracious feeders to the feeders the red color, and/or the smell of sweetness--would lure him outside.

But my trapped petite feathered friend apparently only had eyes for the bright sky he could see through the glass. Soon I figured that so long as daylight lasted, there would be no solution to his problem (and mine). I went about my business, hoping that he'd at least not hurt himself against the windows as we awaited nightfall.

When it came time for me to go to bed, I listened and looked for a sign of the hummingbird. Hearing nothing, and seeing nothing, I felt hopeful that, while I was not looking, he'd found his way out into the night.

I woke up in the middle of the night about 4 AM--as I often do, and, being unable to get back to sleep, went downstairs to the living room to check again for the hummingbird. I'd about given up when I saw something where usually there's nothing. Indeed, there's hardly room for there to be anything. It was in a little hook screwed into the ceiling. Originally, this hook was looped by a link in a small chain that carried a wire out to a hanging lamp that now is mercifully gone from the house. The hook remains for no good reason, but on this night it was serving a purpose.

The hook swoops down an inch and then back up about three-quarters of an inch, creating a kind of "U' whose two upward arms are little more than a quarter of an inch apart at the bottom. Not room enough for me to stick a finger through. But evidently room enough for my weary prisoner to perch for the night. I knew these birds are tiny, but this packing job was amazing.

Evidently, in accordance with the age-old custom of his kind, when darkness came, this bird had evidently looked around for a branch on which to ensconce himself for the night. And in this hook, the entrapped hummingbird had found the only "branch" around.

Finally, asleep there on his itsy-bitsy perch, his head hunched downward and to the left on his breast and his long pointy beak the only visible break out of the lump he'd made of himself, he was both still and potentially within my reach.
To get to him, I had to climb up on a half wall that separates the kitchen from the spiral staircase, and from there had to reach up almost to the full extension of my arm. I had in my hand a soft cloth the better to protect the bird, and I gently curved my fingers around his diminutive frame. Getting his perch-holding feet off the hook took a bit of doing, and as I removed him from the hook I hoped that he was not as fragile as he was minuscule.

His body was wrapped in the cloth, but his little head with its delicate long beak was sticking out, like a little camper in a sleeping bag. But he wasn't sleeping any more.

Instead, he was making the most pathetic, plaintive sounds, like a piccolo that could be played with exquisitely expressive feeling. As I made my way with all deliberate haste to the door I'd opened again in advance of my capturing maneuver, the hummingbird beseeched me continuously with his piteous piping plea.

Had there been subtitles to the scene, this is how I believe they'd have translated his cries:


"Please, kind sir, have mercy on me. I want to live. I am a small but lovely being and it would be such a shame for you to destroy me. Oh, God, protect me. And you, good sir, have mercy."



I felt so eager for my fearful prisoner to understand that I sought only his liberation and his well-being. I wanted him to think of me as his tender rescuer.

As soon as I stepped outside, I laid the cloth with its palpitating contents on the railing board, a vast six inches across, and swiftly but gently opened up the envelope. Within a second or two the little bird's whole body was disentangled, and I used the cloth to propel him into the air.

With a brief flutter and hum, he darted straight into the saucer magnolia that embraces our entryway, and perched on a little branch. Probably a good place to spend the remaining hours of darkness, a spot where, unlike inside the little dip in the hook, a fellow like him could actually, if he wished, stretch his wings.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
 

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