The Sad, Short Tale of the Central Park Hummingbird

What do you do when you find yourself in New York? Go birding, of course. I mean, what else would you do? Shopping?

Ugh. Don’t even talk about that.

So, a few Saturdays ago, I donned my hat, charged my camera, and dragged my cousin to Central Park for a walk with Birding Bob.

I was excited out of my mind. America, let’s face it, is a heck of a long way from the rest of the world and a heck of a longer way from Singapore. The birdlife could not be any more different than if I’d landed on Mars. Except there were birds, of course.

That was a joke, in case anyone understood.

First of all, bluejays, y’all! And– best of all– they were common. I could actually see them. This, in itself, was more of an achievement than anything, because, truth be told, the most colorful birds in Singapore tend to stick to the inside. (Read: never seen at all.) And cardinals– and woodpeckers– and possibly, possibly, owls– and best of all, the hummingbird.

Being me, I had done extensive research on the birds of New York beforehand and as usual, had got a number of preconceived ideas about birds that we would see that we wouldn’t. (We saw a total of three bluejays the whole time we were though. Though the ones we did see got pretty close and we really weren’t looking for them. Also, a mere one male adult cardinal. Forget owls. Don’t even talk about them.) But on his website, ‘Birding Bob’, or Dr. Robert DeCandido had guaranteed seeing a female Ruby-throated hummingbird and its nest.

Let me repeat: a hummingbird and its nest. In. Central. Park.

In case you didn’t get the significance of that, there has never– never— been a recorded hummingbird nest in Central Park. While Bob explained later that early birders in the 1900s had tended to focus on migratory species and that this perhaps had led to the oversight of residents, by all accounts, this remained an absolute first.

Plus, I had never seen a hummingbird before. Jus’ sayin’. (And I was sick and tired of people calling sunbirds hummingbirds. Whole different continent, everyone!)So, as you can see, I arrived ecstatic. My greatest sorrow was that I wouldn’t be in New York for long enough to track the progress of nest– to come every day and see the hummingbird incubate the eggs– and to watch the baby hummers’ first steps into the world. Unfortunately, nature refused to cooperate. The moment we arrived at the location of the nest, we were greeted by a footlong lens– which, I suppose, was to be expected, seeing as it was the first ever recorded nest and all– and, more importantly, a mood of despair. As the owner of the lens clicked through his photos from a mere 25 minutes before, we saw a Baltimore Oriole swoop down on the nest, and withdraw two eggs, which both promptly disappeared down its gullet. There was a 1% chance there was another egg in the nest. 99% chance there wasn’t. As we watched the hummingbird come to its nest, the feeling, for me, was bittersweet. IMG_6611It was a beautiful bird, as you can see, though tinier than I had expected. Watching it, though, flit around the nest, acting as though there were still eggs in it, still life to protect, when there wasn’t, not really– well.So, moral of the story: nature has its own ways. The hummingbird’s abandoned the nest now. The Baltimore Oriole got a good meal. Birders New York-wide are disappointed.Nature never goes how you want it to. Never have any expectations of what to expect, because in the end, it’s a bird-eat-bird world.(The rest of the walk was fantastic, though, and will be covered in greater depth in a future post.)

 

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