As life and work has commanded most of my attention for the last few months, it’s been a while since I had a chance to write. But the other day, I saw the most astounding thing that made me marvel at the limits of our human perception. Or, maybe I should revise that generalizing blanket statement to encompass only my own pre-concieved, discriminating ideas of the world around me. This lesson, I simply have to share…
A couple of weeks ago, temperatures dropped far below the usual, and big, fluffy snow flakes quickly covered the ground. In usual Portland fashion when we get a little snow, everything came to a standstill – schools closed, workers were released early, businesses shut their doors, and the roads were quickly littered with the remnants of driving mishaps and abandoned cars. Anyone who has ever lived in areas where wintry conditions are the norm this time of year, will no doubt snicker condescendingly at this, but it is true. Portlanders just aren’t generally prepared for this sort of thing, and adventurous gardeners venturing out of their climate zone are even less so. Although I vainly tried to cover up my most tender darlings in anticipation of the Arctic Blast we experienced in early December, I’m pretty sure I lost a few of them despite my smothering efforts. So this time around I resigned to the fact, and instead focused on keeping the bird feeders stocked with seeds and suet cakes, and the hummingbird feeders full. Because it was so cold, and the sugar water kept freezing, I alternated my two feeders, so that one was always thawing while they were feeding out of the other.
By the following morning, the snow had been covered by a layer of ice, and everything in the garden was pressed to the ground under the weight. The bamboo was practically folded double. Crouching down under it evoked the experience of a standing under a weeping willow.
By mid-day, as the temperatures rose, the air filled with the sounds of melting snow, dripping water and crashing ice. There was a sense of relief – a sense that was amplified by the chirping and chattering of birds that suddenly seemed to have re-emerged. When it was at its coldest, it was awfully quiet out there… I was outside surveying the storm damage, when I suddenly saw it by the hummingbird feeder. A small bird – definitely not the humming kind – kept swooping down to the feeder, trying to flap its wings to keep itself still in the air so it could drink from the yellow plastic flowers. Invariably, it managed to stay level with the flower for a second or two, before it was pulled below by its own weight. Not one to give up, it kept trying, again and again. Such perseverance! Fascinated, I stood still and just watched. My thoughts went to the Olympic athletes, whose gritty determination, indomitable spirit, and steely perseverance have been keeping me spellbound and averted any cabin fever during the storm. Then I went inside to get my camera. The little bird was gone when I came back, and for a while I lamented that nobody would ever believe me when I retold what I’d seen. But it had apparently just taken a break, as soon afterwards it reappeared. The photos I got weren’t great, but you get the idea. According to my Birds of Oregon Field Guide the closest look-alike I found indicates that this tiny little overachiever might be a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, but I’m not sure. If you can identify this bird despite the mediocrity of the photos, please let me know what it is – I would love to know!
I’m humbled by this little bird, which keeps trying so hard to become a hummingbird. I also feel very arrogant for assuming that only humans try to better themselves and achieve a greater purpose. Well, today I got my own ignorance shoved down my throat, and I think I’m better for it. Go figure…
You have to admire his determination and perseverance. I hope it earned him enough sustenance to make the effort worthwhile. Who knows – maybe he’ll pass his genes along to his progeny and someday all his kind will be equipped to manage in a world flipped on its ear by climate change.
Yes, I hope so too… I wish I had half of his stamina… I think that’s the kind of ingenuity and perseverance it will take to weather what’s to come. Spirit like that is certainly worthy of success, I think!
What a delightful and plucky little bird! I am always thrilled to see one of the really little ones in my garden; the added feeding change is a bonus for yours. Do you think he could sense the warmth from the unfrozen feeder contents?
You know, Jane – I didn’t think of that… Maybe he did sense the temperature difference? That’s a good thought, and I wonder if he is still out there. Hope to be out there a little today! 🙂
I never tire of wildlife stories…or of the gymnastics critters go through to get at provisions. The comparison to Olympic athletes is appropriate.
Fascinating, isn’t it? I need to figure out a way to help him out…
They make a hummingbird swing-y perch thingy (kind of looks like a birdie trapeze) that you could hang next to it. My feeders are close enough to my house that I am able to rig up feeder heaters out of either a gooseneck lamp or aluminum pie plates with Christmas lights poked through them. Then the little fellers sit on the edge of the plate or lamp and warm up.
Aww – cute! Love both those ideas!
I live in Southern Oregon and we experienced many of the same conditions in December. We have a little fatty yellow bird who has developed a taste for hummingbird nectar. We make it easy because our feeders have perches. He lands and swings wildly, spilling nectar everywhere.
You know – I think I’m going to have to build him a little perch. I would love for him to stay! 🙂
Wow, I’m so jealous of all the green things in your yard in the middle of winter!
Yeah, but it has been so cold, Greg… Much worse than normal. There is a lot of crispy brown devastation as well – I just didn’t photograph it. Mind you – at some point I will probably appreciate all the new space for new plants. 🙂 You will just have to plan a summer trip out here to see for yourself!
Wow, Anna…this is so cool. That little bird…nature is amazing. He kind of reminds me of a bushtit but not quite….such a cutie! Looks like a lot of wildlife around here was looking for nectar this past snowstorm!
Adorable, isn’t he? I think I need to rig up some kind of perch for him! 🙂
Loved your story. My birding skills are very rusty, but I’m sure it is a ruby-crowned kinglet, Anna – thin bill, prominant white eye ring (broken above and below) and white wing bars. Good job!
Thanks Julie! I put a little stick for it to perch on, but have not seen it again. Mind you, I haven’t had time to be out there much. Hopefully it gets my gesture… 🙂