The flight of the hummingbird

(with Johannes Brahms)

A Juneau Jazz and Classics concert in the chapel at the Shrine provided some extra entertainment, in addition to wonderful music. To the consternation of audience and musicians, a hummingbird flew in through the mistakenly open door and zoomed straight up to the high windows in front.

There it fluttered futilely against the glass for long minutes. The musicians stopped playing a Brahms string quartet to ask if anything could be done about this distraction. Nothing practicable was available, so the music went on, many more minutes, to the end of the piece.

The stage manager then found a hummingbird feeder full of sugar water and offered it to the hummer on a high window ledge, but we couldn’t tell if the bird drank. And the bird refused to leave the window to follow the feeder out the door. So the stubborn hummer just continued to try to fly out the closed window.

After much cajoling and pleading, the crowd finally left the room. Then, as a few remaining folks watched, the exhausted bird slid down the long wall to the floor. An observer crept up to it, trapped it in a shirt, and gently hand-carried it out the door. There it was greeted by a number of lingering music-lovers. As recommended by hummingbird researchers, its captor placed the bird’s bill in an opening of the feeder, in hopes that it might drink a little, but again we could not be sure it did.

The bird was too weary to struggle, and seemed to have gone into torpor (an energy-saving, inactive mode). It was placed under a leaf in a flower basket near the feeder, now restored to its usual place. After a minute or so, its little black eye peered over the edge of the basket, so there was hope that it would soon visit the adjacent feeder. And the second concert went on as scheduled.

The story wasn’t quite over, though. A member of the audience, who had left before the bird was captured, told a family member on the East Coast about the plight of the bird in the chapel. So the bird’s fame spread from coast to coast. Furthermore, I’ve been told that this male rufous hummingbird is now on Facebook, along with a young admirer.

A few days later, a hike in Sheep Creek Valley found the Parks and Rec group strolling between dense stands of still-leafless salmonberry canes. Spring is coming late this year, and we didn’t hear the usual pleasant cacophony of bird song in the valley. Robins were there; we found a nest and some broken egg shells, indicating that some eggs had hatched. Fox sparrows sang in the willows but remained inconspicuous. A few Wilson’s warblers and Pacific wrens sang in the distance. At lunch on the streambank, a female rufous hummer buzzed the colorful packs and jackets.

A friend found an immobile and apparently torpid hummer perched at a feeder. After several minutes, a crow came along, hopped and flew toward the feeder, and butted the hummer with its bill. The hummer dropped off the feeder, the crow disappeared, and the fate of both is unknown. Do crows eat hummers? I’ve seen Steller’s jays try to catch them, and maybe crows would do so too.

An unrelated item: a recent beach walk yielded one interesting observation. A raven flew by with a large brownish object in its bill. When it landed on the logs at the top of the beach, I could see that its prey was a big Dungeness crab, probably almost eight inches wide. The raven held the crab properly—from the back, so the formidable claws were safely pointed away from the bird’s head. Clever bird!

%d bloggers like this: