First thing in the morning as I stand yawning in the doorway of the house in the woods, a hummingbird comes buzzing over and hovers urgently, vertical like a seahorse, a short distance from the end of my nose. After six seconds, she fixes me with a stare, turns and whirs off into the forest. Initially I considered whether she might be saying ‘Come quickly! All the big birds are attacking us little birds, and we need your help’, but when I spotted her nest, I realised she was saying ‘You’ve seen nothing. Tell no-one, and keep away or you’ll get a jab where it hurts. Right?’
She is a long-billed hermit hummingbird, and she’s been building a conical nest suspended from a low palm frond a few feet from my door. She puts about four hours in a day, disappearing into the forest and returning a couple of minutes later with stuff trailing from her beak, leaf matter and straw-fine twigs, soft petals, and strands from spiders’ webs. She uses the strong strands to bind the nest to the leaf, flying in a tight spiral to wind each one around the nest and leaf bundle, and pressing them into place with her chest. Then she attends to the interior, sitting in it like a scoop in a cone and shuffling about to tamp down the surfaces. She has the afternoons off.
I once found an egg-cup style hummingbird’s nest lined with a finely-woven layer of gold. I’d cut George’s hair in the garden, and the bird had gathered it. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. This conical nest isn’t pretty, but it’s an ingenious design in a top location. Palm fronds are tough, corrugated and end in a point, and the harder it rains, the more they bow down to the ground, giving a steeper surface for the rain to run off. The hummingbird’s nest, tucked underneath in the arch of the leaf, always well-protected – and hidden, is almost completely enclosed in a deluge.
I saw her in the forest a couple of days ago, but generally now she is in the nest with only a white-tipped tail visible. She has probably laid a couple of eggs which should hatch in two or three weeks. It was a real privilege watching her build the nest, but now, in order to minimise the risk of her abandoning them, I’m going to stay well away.