The thrill of seeing the first hummingbird in my garden has never left me - the
sight of this unbelievably tiny creature with striking feathers flitting boldly
from flower to flower. To attract other birds, I began growing their favourite
plants. Soon, more hummingbirds began visiting my garden from May through late
September, before departing for countries with warmer climates. In 1998, the
last one left on October 3 - or so I thought.
On October 21, I went outdoors
for my early morning chores. Suddenly, I saw a young male hummingbird. I
couldn't believe my eyes as I thought these birds should have migrated by then.
I quickly looked around the garden as hummingbirds usually need to feed once
every ten to fifteen minutes and my garden was bare. This bird would have
nothing to eat so I hung out a feeder containing liquid nectar. However, the
bird didn't seem to know what to do with it and kept circling a particular spot.
Finally, I placed a trail of plants leading to my conservatory, a special room
where I grew my flowers. When the hummingbird came inside, I closed the door
behind him to keep him safe and then set up another feeder. The bird went from
flower to flower before he discovered the feeder. He liked the nectar and fed on
it for the rest of the day.
Although I loved the idea of a hummingbird spending the winter in my
conservatory, I hesitated to take away his freedom. But I also didn't want him
to die. So I called an ornithologist, an expert on birds, for advice. He warned
me that this bird was probably not going to live and gave me three choices: I
could keep the bird all winter, or I could fatten him up and let him go after a
few days, or I could find someone to release him down south where it was warmer.
I reasoned that if the bird had nothing outside to eat that day, the next day
wouldn't be any better. And sending him south was not practical. However, I
could provide suitable living conditions to keep him warm in my conservatory. I
named him Squeak because of his constant squeaky chirping.
Offering Squeak a balanced diet now became my main concern. Besides nectar,
hummingbirds need protein from insects. The ornithologist then suggested Nektar-Plus.
I kept two feeders of this complete diet going at all times. As hummingbirds
love to bathe, I also bought a small plastic bird bath for Squeak. But he had
different plans as bath time was always a game to him. He would rather slide
around on the wet leaves and get his entire body soaked. After bathing, he would
fly around the room to dry himself. Once when he became sick, I had to nurse him
back to health.
As winter turned to spring, we had strengthened our friendship. Hoping that
he would make my garden his territory, I gave him a special treat. I filled a
feeder with a particularly sweet solution and held it in my hand. After just one
taste, Squeak loved it. He began watching for me and waiting eagerly by the door
handle for this treat. By then, he would even allow me to stroke him. I began to
spend more time with him.
In early May, the other hummingbirds returned and when Squeak spotted them
outside, he became excited, chattering and flying rapidly to and fro. One day, I
saw him and another hummingbird hovering beak to beak with the window between
them and I knew then what had to be done. As much as I loved having Squeak, I
realised that I had to let him go. That morning, as usual, Squeak had a shower
after which I opened the door in the conservatory. I then coaxed him with a
treat in my hand. He came over for a sip, then flew back inside. He did it again
and again. Each time I moved farther away and after much coaxing, he finally
came all the way out to where I was. He took a drink, then inspected a plant
hanging on the porch. Suddenly he lifted up, flew over the roof of the house -
and was gone. My eyes filled with tears. I was sorry for releasing him - yet I
also knew it was for the best.