Whenever I hear that sound outside, it makes me happy. It means there's a hummingbird nearby.
For a period of a few months earlier this year, that sound greeted me every morning just outside my window. It seems that a hummingbird has found a home, or at least a favored perching spot, in a tree just outside my room.
My little neighbor, judging from its reddish crown and emerald green body, was a male Anna's Hummingbird. Of the seven hummingbird species found in California, the Anna's is the most common found in Southern California. Generally non-migratory and very territorial in nature, they are native to the west coast of North America, from Baja California to British Columbia.
In this urban, seemingly over-paved environment, hummingbirds are an indicator species -- their presence marks the availability of trees to perch or nest in, and flowering plants for them to not just feed nectar off, but to report for work, as their primary vocation is that of a pollinator. In other words, despite the human-dominated environs, it's a rather decent ecosystem. I was very proud to call that hummingbird my neighbor.
I only became appreciative of hummingbirds relatively recently, coinciding with the start of my California native plant interest. For many native plant gardeners, attracting hummingbirds is not only a reward, but a sign of a functioning native garden, and many native gardeners plant certain varieties specifically to attract hummingbirds and other pollinators. The little critters are attracted to the nectar of reddish flowers like that of the California Fuchsia or the obviously-named Hummingbird Sage.
I've seen random hummingbirds fly and hover since I was a kid, but it was only within the past couple years that I became more acquainted with them in the auditory sense. While tending to a row of plants that included a couple older orange trees and some native sages that I had planted just a few months previous, one hummingbird zoomed in toward those plants, poking its bill into the flowers.
I was in awe of that little thing, to see and hear one that closely. It was also a seemingly paradoxical experience, to encounter something as natural as a hummingbird, yet sound so mechanical. The humming sound was reminiscent of the sound of a motor or even a light saber from the "Star Wars" films. The ticking noise also sounded somewhat synthetic, as if it was an electronic percussion sound, much like one would hear in the rhythms of a Kraftwerk song. The humming, of course was the rapid flapping of its wings -- the bird's namesake. But that ticking sound, I soon realized during my close encounter, was, in actuality, the bird's chirp, extremely high in pitch due to the animal's minuscule size. It was from that moment on that I began to recognize -- and appreciate -- a hummingbird's presence just by its sound.
Hummingbirds are native to North and South America. When Columbus brought the first Europeans to the New World, they were reportedly fascinated by these flying "part-bird, part-insect" creatures. The Native Americans revered them enough to give them a role in their folklore. Some tribes told stories of hummingbirds poking holes in the sky to create the stars at night.
But a few modern-day cityfolk are afraid of just that. Some of them bear (rather unfounded) fears of being impaled or poked in the eyes by their needle-like bills. In reality, hummingbirds don't really care for approaching humans directly (unless they're solid red colored and are covered in nectar). And when hummingbirds do approach flowers, the farthest extremity is not the sharp point of the bill but the bird's extended tongue protruding from it, allowing it to drink nectar. A person stands a greater chance of being devoured by a Great White in the midst of a sharknado than getting poked in the eye by a hummingbird. If anything needs to fear a hummingbird, it's probably flying insects; the onmivorous hovering birds snack on them for protein.
It seems that urban humankind's ignorance or misinformation towards wildlife stems from an overall lack of education and awareness of them. Even those not as fearful of hummingbirds would still assume all of them were one in the same.
A couple miles west of me, nestled in a stretch of Fountain Avenue in Hollywood surrounded by houses, apartments, small mom and pop stores, and a television and film studio complex, is a mural entitled "Birds Of Hollywood," done by local artist Elkpen, which depicts 14 species of birds that can be found in the immediate neighborhood. The Anna's Hummingbird as well as the Rufous Hummingbird are featured here in a public art piece that aims to educate and inform. I've learned a thing or two by poring over the mural, and so have countless others who walk and bike through this stretch of Fountain. If only we had more opportunities to learn about the wildlife living among us.
The ticking sound from my little winged neighbor ceased by late spring. Maybe he found another tree to perch. Maybe he went to go find a girlfriend. I wonder whether the native flora I planted around that area led him here. I've seen (and heard) a number of other hummingbirds since then, but I miss hearing that little dude chirp away.
A few weeks ago, while walking to my local farmer's market, I happened upon a hover of about five hummingbirds flying towards a neighbor's tree. I had never seen them fly in a group before. Though my tiny chirping neighbor has since moved on, the hummingbirds in my neighborhood surely aren't going away. And that makes me even happier.