Saturday, December 28, 2013

Each year during the holiday season, I write a nature essay and this year it's about birds and migration. essay below The photo is one of my husband Bob's and let me tell you, it's not easy to find a still hummingbird. CS 

New Year & the Hummingbird

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul. So wrote Emily Dickinson.
Perhaps no feathered creature represents hope more than the magical hummingbird. Seeing one makes a person believe in nature’s magic and orthinologists still work to understand the mysteries of this tiny bird. They believe that hummers evolved from a tropical species to their present form after the Ice Age, expanding their range in search of new food sources. What is known is that each hummingbird generally migrates alone, flying fast and far toward a warm future. In truth, all migrating birds are puzzles of nature. No one knows for certain how they know where to go or how to get there. Those who study such things speculate that hummingbirds fly south at low altitudes looking for flowers in blossom or still lively insects. This contrasts to other migratory birds that travel high using the position of the sun or those that look down for large landmarks below: lakes, desert edges, mountain highs. Or birds that fly through the lofty darkness with the night sky their map and the stars their compass. But only each bird knows for sure. For us, winters would seem longer without the birds that don’t migrate. Even when temperatures drop like apples from Newton’s tree, many resident birds stay on to brave the Nebraska winters. Sometimes our robins migrate and sometimes don’t, but they always indulge in autumn hackberry feeding orgies alongside the house. This year the berries turned from green to red, but no robins arrived. Bob and I worried about the missing winged clientele, until finally in mid-October, wings and more wings of robins cut through the air to thrash about the hackberry tree. We didn’t know what bird appointments had detained them, only that they’d arrived. That day, they devoured half the berries, then disappeared. Not until mid-November did they dive bomb the tree again and again, snapping up ripe berries in a rush. When I looked out later, the crop was gone as the first snowflakes of winter floated down. If the robins planned to migrate this year, they’d arrived for their departure meal in the nick of time. If they planned to stick around, they’d feasted in preparation for the cold months ahead. I’m certain none of it was accidental, but rather some inner birdly sense of seasons and weather.  Remembering Emily Dickinson, when dreary winter days drift down from heaven, I wait for wings to bring us hope of sunny times ahead. With downy woodpeckers, scarlet cardinals, snow birds, and blue jays feathering the frigid air with color and call, I wish you a similar hope, coupled with the mystique of feathered friends filling your souls