He Found Strength Through Hummingbirds

This documentary filmmaker found a world of inspiration in the tiniest package.

Posted in , Sep 19, 2018

Close-up of a white-necked jacobin drinking nectar from a flower. This species is also known as great jacobin or collared hummingbird.

“Hummingbirds are some of the smallest birds in the world, I understand, averaging between three and five inches long?” I held the phone with one hand and scribbled notes with the other.

“That’s right,” the expert I was interviewing said. “Remember, these birds can fly thirty to sixty miles an hour. They can move around so quickly because they have a unique muscular system, very large hearts and special shoulder joints. They were designed perfectly.”

I was a filmmaker specializing in nature documentaries, and I took my research seriously. To me, nature was God’s canvas; science and faith went hand in hand.

I was excited about my afternoon hummingbird shoot, and was doing everything I could to prepare by talking to an expert in the field. It was a relief to be lost in a project. It was 2012 and, just like the hummingbird sometimes did, the economy had taken a sharp, dramatic nosedive all too recently.

I was 62, my wife was a schoolteacher, and we were getting apprehensive about our retirement. As careful as we’d been over the years, I worried whether we would have enough savings to get by. What if one of us had to stop working early? What if our golden years were rife with illness, or if we had to help provide for another family member in need? The what-ifs seemed to be endless.

“Here’s some more amazing facts for you,” my bird expert said on the line. “A hummingbird’s wings beat up to seventy flaps per second, and the little guy takes around two-hundred and fifty breaths per minute.”

I whistled in astonishment. “Thanks for your help. I’m hoping to observe some of this today!”

I drove to the San Diego Botanic Gardens and unloaded my equipment. After getting everything set up, I waited.

Filming wildlife normally requires enormous patience, and I could sometimes wait hours or days for my subject to show up. Today I just had time to double-check my light meter when a male ruby-throated hummingbird appeared.

I panned my camera quickly in pursuit of the flying acrobat, but it was like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Finally I locked in on him hovering just a few feet from my lens, dipping his needle-like beak deep into a flower to lap up the nectar with his long, extruding tongue.

I had set my camera to film in slow motion—eight times slower than normal speed. For the next three hours my diminutive star came back for another close-up and continued to feed. A crowd of people gathered around me to watch the playback. “Magic with wings!” somebody said. It was what we were all thinking.

Once I was sure I’d gotten enough footage to work with, I sat down on a bench to eat a granola bar. I thought back to Jesus’ words: “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly father feeds them.”

Only weighing a few ounces, hummingbirds were hardy enough to migrate across the Gulf of Mexico before finding sustenance when they reached land again. Could I also trust that God would provide for me during retirement, just like he provided for the hummingbird?

The expert had explained that the hummingbird’s strength and endurance came from its perfect design. God had also designed me perfectly to handle whatever lay ahead.

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