For the Birds Radio Program: Good news about one little hummingbird

Original Air Date: Aug. 11, 1995 Rerun Dates: Sept. 12, 1997

When a little hummingbird needed help, a Grand Marais couple came to its rescue, and now the hummingbird is returning the favor. 3:28 (I THINK this was repeated 1997-09-12)

Audio missing


(Date is verified)

I just got a phone call from a friend in Grand Marais with good news. Two years ago, she and her husband had raised a baby hummingbird with some sort of back or wing injury. They bathed it and took it outdoors to their flowers as well as providing food indoors, and her husband even worked out a system of physical therapy for the tiny creature, raising and lowering it on his finger so it would flap its wings to strengthen them. As real hummingbird mothers know, raising a baby hummer is labor intensive—they spent most of their waking hours for weeks tending to their tiny charge. Meanwhile, the mother hummer spent an inordinate amount of time at their window, peeking in to make sure these enormous giants weren’t hurting her baby. Think of it—a person who weighs a mere hundred pounds could balance over 32,000 baby Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. [actually 16,000] By summer’s end, the baby was flying fine, and they had to start refusing to let it in at night so it would learn how to survive on its own. It finally disappeared.

Most of the time when we release a wild bird that we’ve raised, we never learn how it fared in the big world. Over the years, I’ve had one Blue Jay, Pine Siskin, and flicker come back the following year, and was absolutely certain that they’d survived a round-trip migration and the harsh winter season on the skills I gave them. But I’ve never learned the fate of bazillions of other birds I raised. Whenever I see a Chestnut-sided Warbler, or a Lesser Scaup, or a myriad of other wild friends I’ve made over the years, a lingering question comes to mind and heart, and I hope against hope that my little one has made it.

My Grand Marais friends were lucky—their little hummer returned the following spring, and set up housekeeping right in their backyard. She’d found her way home all the way from Mexico or beyond. She raised babies of her own, but even with new romantic and domestic responsibilities, she didn’t forget her adoptive parents. And this year she’s back again. She flies right up to them like always, and sometimes even perches on their heads or shoulders, though never on their fingers. She visits their feeders and comes to their garden, sipping nectar, snatching insects, and keeping them company as they weed. She peeks in the window, seemingly just to say “hi,” and once when he was sleeping on a lawn chair, she woke him by flitting on his nose, gazing into his eyes with a wonderful mix of intelligence, curiosity, expectation, and affection.

A hummingbird is so tiny you’d think its brain could hold little more than instinct and coordination, and that its heart, racing at more than 1200 beats per minute, could do little else besides pump blood, but heart and soul can’t be measured with mere ruler and scale. A hummingbird is an intelligence worth reckoning with, its tiny heart more than capable of lasting love and abiding affection. The heat generated by these tiny metabolic wonders make the world a warmer, lovelier place to be.