Friday, March 25, 2011

Once in Several Lifetimes or, Vecinos Silvestres (Wild Neighbors), Part 4

It was a marvel I could not expect to experience again, even were I to live several more lifetimes. A tiny hummingbird, its heart racing, the large, clear black eye staring into mine, snuggled in my hand.

The bird had exhausted itself as it frantically bumped into the ceiling and screened doors of the house after mistakenly flying in through an open doorway. I tried to help, but wasn't able to do much until the little bird dropped, exhausted, into a catch-all basket that sits high on a kitchen shelf.

I thought the bird was dead. It lay there on its side, eyes closed, feet curled and motionless amidst the miscellany of candles, bug dope and small parts that accumulate in this container. But the moment it felt the touch of my left hand, the tiny creature startled from its swoon and began to struggle.

The reddish-orange and green bird calmed as soon as I had closed my fingers around its nearly-weightless body and held it upright. The bird actually closed its eyes again, I suppose either from shock, fear or resignation. I picked up my camera and carried it and my charge to the back patio. In a matter of a minute or two, the bird had revived and began staring unblinkingly at me. I noticed a few lost feathers and a bit of white dust on its head, probably the result of bumping into the ceiling. Other than that, the tiny bird seemed OK, but I decided to hold onto it for a few more moments in order to give it time to regain strength. And to pose for a portrait.

Later I sent the photo to my blogging birder friend Bev, who helped with identification. This is a Cinnamon Hummingbird, Amazilia Rutila, one of the most common species of hummingbirds on the Yucatán Peninsula. It is the largest hummingbird native to the area. According to guidebooks, they usually are found in arid scrub, pastures and brushy forest edges. This species lives year-round in the gardens of my urban Mérida neighborhood, and is particularly attracted by the flowers of nopal cactus and yellow mandevilla in my yard.

Figuring on getting a full-length photo of my guest as it took off, I readied the camera and slowly opened my hand. I was not quick enough. Instantly the bird rocketed over the back wall, trailing behind only the sound of its voice, a rapidfire, scolding, "tsit-tsit, tsit-tsit" that persisted in the air for a moment after this tiny neighbor disappeared from view.

Read about another animal close encounter here.


  1. Beautiful. We have Anna's and the occasional Rufus hummingbirds here on the west coast of Canada but I've never heard of the Cinnamon Hummingbird. They are amazing creatures and it always feels like a special privilege to see one at rest, rather than buzzing around.

  2. what a beauty! love that first picture.

    teresa in lake stevens

  3. Amazing story backed up by a great photo. You've got the touch, Marc.

  4. Marc,
    Several years ago I built a small greenhouse out from my garage bay where the garage door would be. Each year I have to be alert, as hummers get in thru the door, which must remain cracked open as part of a ventilating scheme. I've rescued several, but sadly I've found a few tiny corpses. It really is amazing to see them up close, as you've illustrated.



  5. Thanks for such a great depiction! As a bird-lover, I treasure such moments, as rare as they may be. You are lucky for the experience. And we are lucky that you're such a good photographer.

    A dog of mine once caught a grackle ( Kau), and I screamed, "Drop it!" She did. I then picked up this (to me) treasure of Mérida, put it into a cage inside, and waited. The bird seemed to know that I wanted to help it! (I get the same feeling from your story.) After a bit, I poked a stick into the cage, and the bird used it to turn itself right-side-up. After a bit more, I took the cage outside, and he was free again.

    I am a very early riser, and as I listen to the morning sounds, I often tell my own bird (Cucurrucu, an African Grey), "We live in Birdy Heaven."

    And we do.

  6. Most of the neighbors here have hummingbird feeders for the ruby throats that are most common. Several years ago one got trapped in a greenhouse and survived the freezing winter and flew away in spring.
    Your account amazes me for my "bird in hand" experience was tragic. When I was forced to take gentle grasp of my 4 year old son't pet canary, the bird, I presume of shock, died in my hand! The "canary lady" charged me double for a "singer" as I had to replace the bird before Jr. woke from his nap!

  7. This is wonderful, Marc. I have twice held hummingbirds in my hand. It is like nothing I had ever experienced. I fed them a bit and sent them on their way.

    In the days after the second encounter, I noticed a hummingbird that seemed to be less wary of me outside near the feeder. I wonder if it was the same one.


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