Fixing, Helping, Interfering: Tough Call

Three years ago, a hummingbird built her nest in my fig tree. To my great delight, she laid two eggs that hatched right on time. Being a fan of Phoebe Allen, the videocam trained on California hummingbirds, I knew what to expect. One of the windows gave a perfect vantage point on the nest.


The hummingbird eggs are the size of a Tic-Tac.

About a week after hatching, the mother didn’t come home one night. There had been a Grackle tussle at the front yard hummingbird feeder earlier that evening, and I feared the worst. Grackles raid nests of other birds, eating the young.

The mother hadn’t returned by 4 a.m., and not at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. Sixteen hours is a long time in the life of a small bird, so I got a ladder, filled a pipette with hummingbird food, and fed the two little ones. They were thirsty. I knew they needed protein, which I could not provide. At 8 a.m., I had found a wildlife re-hab volunteer, cut the branch off above the nest and delivered the babies, complete with nest for rescue. I felt virtuous and caring.

When I got home, I found a hysterical hummingbird flying around the cut branch where the nest had been. Whether it was the mother or simply another angry hummingbird is above my pay grade. But I now felt like a meddling fool.

The hummingbird taking refuge and panting on the front porch.

The hummingbird taking refuge and panting on the front porch.

The consensus of many naturalists was that I should have left the nest alone. Birds, coyotes, rabbits and other animals I share the desert with are professional wildlife. My good intentions are less “helping” and a lot more “interference.”

I no longer feed quail ( the coyotes figured out when feeding time was, and then made quail feeding time their feeding time.) Training wildlife that humans feed them habituates the wildlife to trusting behaviors that does no one any good.

Our urge is to fix and rescue. As a coach, it is wiser to be the naturalist of the spirit, and trust that people will thrash their own way through their problems. Clients need support and encouragement, accountability and room to explore. Not every struggle will work out, but that, too, provides growth and learning.

The tendency on Facebook and blogs today is to present solutions that worked for you and expect they will work for others, too. They may. They may not. But if they don’t, you have habituated a human to being provided answers, and you will be blamed if things don’t go as hoped for. 

It’s hard being a friend and not micromanaging events you’ve experienced and know just how to handle. But if you think it was heartbreaking to see a hysterical hummingbird, watch a friend who followed your advice and failed.

-Quinn McDonald is a naturalist and certified creativity coach. Which, she notices, have a lot in common.