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Hummingbird Stories

Patience the Hummingbird

A hummingbird, who I've named Patience for reasons that would be obvious if you saw the effort she is spending, has built a nest in my small city back yard.

The drama in my back yard gets more intense as the hatching of Patience's eggs gets closer.

It's very hot here in San Francisco right now. Temps hit 93F/35C yesterday and 90+ so far today, something that only happens once or twice a year when a mass of high pressure air presses down hard on the west coast. (And oh! do we San Franciscans suffer! This is a town that calls 75F/23C a heat wave!)

The critters feel the heat too. Otto (my dog) mopes about as if his destiny is a barbecue spit and refuses to walk more than a block. Birds of all kinds flock to my yard to get water from the old planter saucer I keep filled for them. Otto and I are spending a lot of time outside because my apartment is too hot: it has huge windows, which are wonderful most of the time but on hot days turns the place into a microwave oven.

So we're out back, Otto and I, and I watch Patience the hummingbird get off her nest periodically to cool herself and probably her eggs, since optimum temperature for hummingbird eggs is 96F/36C and she doesn't have to use much body heat to get there right now. The eggs are due to hatch any time, though they're still eggs and not chicks as of this writing: I peeked when she took her last break.

Patience's alert level has definitely moved up a notch to orange; she's become very picky about who is allowed in the yard and who isn't. To my continuing amazement, Otto and I pass muster. I think she gives Otto a pass because he often runs off the other birds who linger too long around the water dish which is very much to her liking (more on that in a moment). That he doesn't seem to even be aware of her - she moves too fast, has no scent to sniff, never goes down to his level - probably helps.

And me? Well, this will doubtless draw charges of anthropomorphizing or being off my meds or just plain old-fashioned California kookiness, but it is my strong sense that she considers me a sort of ally in her efforts. She won't leave her nest for long and never leaves sight of it - unless I'm sitting in the red chair a few feet away. Seriously: I just returned outside after an absence of a few hours and I no sooner sat down than she zoomed off into the next yard, first letting me know she's going as she always does by hovering above me for a few seconds and making her little clicks.

She was gone about five minutes this time (that's when I did the egg check), again hovered where I could hear her and then made the five-point maneuver around the tree and into her nest she does every time she returns. If I'm somewhere else in the yard or going in and out her behavior's different: she doesn't come near me and she doesn't leave sight of the nest.

Yesterday Otto and I watched transfixed as she chased a dove out of the yard - thus the picture and the title of this post. She was very aggressive about it, chasing the dove to the roof of our four story building. The pair of doves have been around much longer than Patience, but she doesn't care: she just wants them gone. She repeated her chase later in the afternoon with both of the pair and again succeeded. I'm surprised by this. I knew she distrusted the starlings - she gets very agitated when they dig for bugs below her tree. (Otto runs the starlings out of the yard which may be why she gives him a pass.) But doves? It's hard to see doves as a threat, but what do I know about life's dangers from a hummingbird's perspective (cats excepted)?

So we all, critters and me, await the Event. This "wild kingdom" saga transpiring in my small back yard in one of the densest neighborhoods of San Francisco is a thrill to watch. And to be a part of, whether I really am or not.







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