The Last Hummingbird
by Leah Rogin
They flock to the feeder that summer for my grandmother’s secret nectar recipe. It is her last gift to me: the relief of being still in the world. My husband makes the food every morning, fresh, with our coffee. I watch for hours as their needle beaks align, their tongues extend.
My grandmother was a birder, and it annoyed me. I wanted to frolic, to gallop, to cartwheel; she moved slowly, binoculars poised, silence and stealth required. But now I spend my days listening for her in the certain hum of the Broadtail as the wind reverberates through his feathers. Now I heed the time of day that a swallow sleeps and a bat emerges. I’m trying to cultivate a new way of being in a world that no longer holds her.
As it shifts to fall, more hummingbirds migrate through. The feisty red-headed Rufus, the tiny green Calliope, the Rubythroat, iridescent in the sunlight. One by one, they head for the long exodus: Texas, Mexico, Panama. They leave our feeder to fly across the Gulf; a 500-mile nonstop flight with only occasional oil rigs or fishing boats for rest stops, and yesterday’s sugar-water to sustain them.
Now there is one left, Anna’s, I think, the only hummingbird species that produces a song. I listen closely, I hear her tiny throat opening.
Most hummingbirds migrate individually, the fledglings unsure of where or why. I imagine it’s a feeling deep in their hollow teeny bones, the pull of the South--the warmth, the emerging insects, and flowers, and a desire for survival.
I watch her at the feeder, the last hummingbird, and as the nights grow cold, I worry about her, I warm up her food on the frozen mornings.
I buy a net.
“You can’t bring birds inside, Katy,” my husband tells me.
I retaliate by sending him videos of captive hummingbirds, the way their owners provide exercise by turning on their hairdryers, letting the birds hover against the warm current.
On the sharp fall morning when even the hardy hornets are finally dead, the last hummingbird is gone.
I remember the one time I caught a hummingbird when I was a kid, wrestled her away from my grandmother’s cat.
“You can never really save anything,” my grandmother told me. I’d brought her the tiny body, its tiny eyes already losing their sheen. How her feathered heartbeat ricocheted in my hands, then ceased. My thumbs as they pressed into her body, then released.