As I sat at the computer mid-afternoon, I heard the muscular, loud reverberation of fast beating wings close to me in the house. (We have difficulty getting any cross ventilation going in this modern construction, and I am frequently guilty of leaving un-screened doors propped open in the hopes of coaxing a breeze into the house, which sometimes also entices bees, wasps, mosquitos, and my childrens’ howls of frustration inside.) I stood up immediately, my reptile brain alert and ready to confront an enormous stinging insect.
Instead, I was astonished to find that a hummingbird had trapped itself in our home, and was frantically levitating seven feet up, trying not to crash into yet another wall or ceiling. It seemed to me to be equally astonished to be so close to me.
I had never been so close to a hummingbird without a window between us. In such proximity, the exotic creature seemed even moreso, its stiletto of a beak even longer and thinner, the variegation on its wings even more sharply defined and gorgeous, the dark eyes so shiny.
As I stood up, the tiny thing crashed into both perpendicular walls of the near corner, then flopped onto the white melamine computer desk, where it remained, wings akimbo, possibly injured, certainly subdued by its own uncharacteristically unsuccessful navigation. We looked at each other in mutual uncertainty (or so it seemed to me).
Somewhat frantic to see if it was uninjured, I was not at all certain what to do. I started toward the phone to call a friend who used to write our local bird column: Damn, moved to Ohio for a plum job. What about Wildcare? Then, I caught myself up short. You can solve this, Mary. Aren’t you the woman whom friends have called upon over the years to get bats, squirrels, birds out of their apartments? What has become of your on-the-fly competencies, which you used to possess in abundance?? (Definitely a topic for a future blog entry.)
Regretting having bestowed the girls’ butterfly net on a young friend of a more appropriate butterfly-netting age, I cast about in my mind for another makeshift gentle-entrapment device. In short order, I arrived upon a threadbare lightweight cotton dishtowel, inherited from my grandmother. Tossing it lightly over the breathless bird on the desk, I scooped up my precious cargo, walked outside and carefully deposited it on the patio table. By now the tiny creature was shrieking, crying a shrill cry I didn’t know birds ever made.
In brilliant autumn sunlight, I lifted the upper portion of the worn towel, breathless to see if the bird could, would fly. It did, immediately, soaring into the bright blue in expanding circles, uninjured, free.