The Hummingbird Chronicles

Some recent more or less daily meditations on the hummingbirds who visit our urban balcony.

June 15, 2013 or thereabouts- after five years of living in an apartment on the 11th floor of a downtown condominium dwelling, my husband and I decided to get some patio furniture and try to create a garden for hummingbirds. On the north side of our building, we overlook the distinctly urban core of downtown LA. So where did this ludicrous  idea come from?

We have friends in the building who lived on the south or garden/pool side of our building on the 6th floor, their balcony surrounded by the tall trees that frame the back of the building and shade at least the first seven floors of the building.  They purchased a hanging metal bracket and a small feeder, which they filled with their homemade nectar of four cups water to one cup sugar boiled and then cooled before pouring it into the feeder. When we visited them, we watched as two or more hummingbirds cavorted at the feeder, eagerly sipping from the gaudy plastic flowers on the feeder. My husband and I were rapt by their tiny frantic beating of the wings, their tail feathers  fanning as they screeched into the feeder. It became a case of pure jealousy and greed- greed for the idea that we too might have visitors of such exquisite size and comportment right outside our living room on the 11th floor on the opposite side of the building.

All of our building’s balconies are large by urban apartment standards, opened onto by two sliding glass doors- one from our son’s room, which opens onto a stretch about two feet from glass to balcony wall, and one from the living room, to a more ample space abut five feet by 12 feet in length.

After returning one evening from Marcus and Suzy’s hummingbird kingdom, we began to discuss seriously to create such an area on our balcony. We discussed getting patio furniture that was high enough to see over the 30″ high solid wall that is topped with a 6″ diameter green metal railing. I measured the area we had available for the furniture and began scouring the Internet for cafe tables and chairs and found a lovely dark metal set with a glass table and comfortable looking seat cushions. I ordered it to be delivered from Home Despot and then we waited for it to arrive. That is one of the wonderful advantages to living in a downtown building with full time security. You can trundle off to work in the morning (on the bus) and come home to pick up your packages that have arrived in your absence.

So, several days later, our furniture arrived and I began to put it together, the reviews on line said that it took about two hours to assemble, and I thought I was better equipped than the average bear. I had borrowed an electric drill with a key attachment so that I would not have to manually tighten the screws. Even with my superior skill set (ha) and tools, it took me over two hours to assemble, but unlike most of my home improvement projects, I didn’t end up with extra pieces when I was done, and didn’t resort to using band aids so I figured I was ahead of the curve.

My husband Jimmie and I ate out the next three nights, enjoying the summer evenings outside on our balcony and waiting for the Saturday to arrive to put our Hbird plan into action.

Saturday arrived and I went to the closest Home Depot where I perused the feeder options. I was going to try the homemade nectar as well and figured I would find a classy, glass feeder with a metal base rather than the big red plastic variety which, frankly, to my eye, looked tacky.

I also had researched possible attractive plants for hbirds, and bought a large fuschia plant in a white pot and a plastic saucer to put underneath. The plant was about three feet tall, and was heavily laden with the purple and red bells-the plant is sometimes called the “earring plant” because of the pretty dangling flowers.

Fushia plant

I got some metal straps to attach the metal hook to the balcony upright to the far right end of the balcony area. I boiled the syrup per the instructions I found on the Internet, and waited impatiently for the juice to cool, filled up the feeder, and placed it on the hook. We sat there like kids on Christmas morning, waiting to see the splendor of our new pets. And we waited and we waited.

Nothing. So, I went back to the computer and researched what other type of plants I could get for the patio. I enlisted my Facebook friends with the challenge of luring hummingbirds to the 11th floor and was instantly gratified by their recommendations.

Back to HD and I succumbed to the lurid plastic red feeder. Life is short and I wanted some action on the balcony.

I had, by now, spent $650. On the furniture, the pole, the plant and the feeder. I couldn’t help it. Over that first weekend, I sat reveling in the birds’ very sporadic visits and amortizing the cost of each bird visit – oh, that was the $650.00 visit. Here comes the $325.00 visit, etc. by the end of Sunday, we had $35.00 birds coming. But they refused to drink from the feeder. They loved the fuschia plant and would come and sip at each flower, staying for abut 10-15 seconds each visit. We were in heaven.

I began to read more about the hummingbirds. I saddened when the evening gloam arrived, and leapt out of bed in the morning at 6:30 to see what the new day would bring. When I went off reluctantly to work, I made Jimmie promise that he would give me the bird report when I got home after work, and he did. It varied from day to day, and our moods mirrored the success of our balcony to draw the birds or not. Our couch sits perpendicular to the sliding glass doors and my spot is closer to the window, and I developed a kink in my neck from looking to the right so much to check the feeder.

We noted that a particularly busy time of the day was the time between 6:00 and 7:30PM. The balcony gets the morning sun, and infrequent sightings. In the evening, we could dine at the dining room table and see the visitors as they came and went.

We had scheduled our summer vacation to Cape Cod for July 5-25,with a five day visit to Williamstown included in the time. I was worried that the fuschia plant, which seemed extremely thirsty, would die within days of our departure and so fretted about our little friends not having the necessary sustenance to keep coming.

I hoped they they would resort to the feeder, and right before we set off, I changed the juice- yes, by now I had gone to the luridly red bottled “perky pet” brand from Home Depot. I bought some glass globes which are used to water your plants while you are away, and put all four of them in the dirt around the stem of the fuschia plant, with the hopes that the plant would be kept alive.

The almost three weeks we were away was magical, and only occasionally did I worry that the birds would go away while we were gone. At the end of this first week, our son was due to come back to our apartment for a few days and I urged him to water the plants and change the juice in the feeder, which he did. Alas, the fuschia was almost completely dead when we returned on the 25th. It’s crumbled leaf carcasses were strewn about the balcony floor and what remained of the fuschia bush was a bedraggled specter of its former self. In addition to the death of the bush (and presumably our opportunities to view the hummingbirds until it had been replaced) our TV had also sizzled itself into the hereafter; reports of its passing chronicled to us via cell phone during our week in Williamstown, by our son, Chris, who had returned from the Cape to spend some time in the apartment before heading back north to San Francisco where he works as a salmon fisherman and lives on the Autumn Gale, my brother’s 40′ fishing boat which is docked at Fisherman’s wharf. While we were staying in Williamstown, I sent a panoramic video shot of our fairly lavish hotel suite to Chris and said we were having a great time. He sent back a brief, deafeningly loud video surveillance of his current boat’s hold, which included the legs and torso of his captain, Goat, and the ceaseless din of the boat’s motor. I appreciated the importance of a few days in our urban aerie and its restorative value, and so the news of the death of the TV was made more poignant because it impacted Chris’ comfort.

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