The Hummingbird

One of my most well-behaved plants enjoys a place of honor on the balconette. It’s a Gasteria acinacifolia with a six foot inflorescence that has two to three-foot branches growing off the central stalk. Hanging straight down off the branches are dozens of tubular one-inch blossoms in red shading to cream shading to green at the open tip. Sort of like Italian flags hung vertically with the red on top.

This afternoon I was standing innocently in the doorway to the balconette admiring the garden view when a pair of hummingbirds were simultaneously attracted by the Gasteria blossoms and swooped down upon it. The larger bird immediately assessed the situation and, determining that there was clearly not enough to share, chased the other away.

Then, at his leisure, he commenced to dine while I stood there three feet away, transfixed. He was brown, with a bit of greenish iridescence at the throat, and as the branches swayed in the breeze, he hovered beneath the open blossoms, thrusting his bill vigorously up into them as he simultaneously compensated for the movement of the branch. I wish I could do that.

Having finished dining, he alit on one of the branches two feet from my face and daintily cleaned his bill by rubbing all sides of it on the branch. That done, he rather less daintily used his bill to root away in his nether portions. And finally, he held onto the branch with one foot, fluffed himself up, and, with no daintiness at all, used the other foot to scratch himself enthusiastically everywhere he hadn’t reached with his bill.

Toilette complete, he shot a dirty look at me for having ogled him so during what should have been a more private moment and was about to leave when he noticed that he had not fed at the branch closest to my face, literally a foot from my eyes. So one by one, he visited every blossom while I stood there holding my breath lest he find it offensive.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so in tune with one of Nature’s creatures, and I considered inviting him in for dinner, but realized, just before he flew away, that there wouldn’t be any white meat on him.

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