Like its subject, the hummingbird, “The Hummingbird’s Gift: Wonder, Beauty, and Renewal on Wings” is a little jewel of a book. Author Sy Montgomery is renowned for her books on animals. As an educator, I have valued her many quality nonfiction books on animals for children and used them in my classroom. This is one of her nonfiction books for adults, although children could certainly benefit from reading it. In fact, an earlier version of this book was a chapter in one of Montgomery’s books on birds.
Montgomery tells the story of Brenda Sherburn, a hummingbird rehabilitator, and two of the many, many hummingbirds that she saved. The rehabilitation of these two babies, saved almost miraculously from starvation in their nest, and then again by Sherburn, was witnessed by Montgomery firsthand. She had been invited by Sherburn to assist in the efforts, and her personal witness and narration of the events is thrilling.
When Zuni and Maya arrived at Sherburn’s home, they were the size of bumblebees. They were at death’s door, featherless and weak. Everything about them was delicate, and Montgomery describes their fragility in detail. Each was less than an inch and a half long, with, as one rehabilitator described it, “thread-like” feet.
They are fed two hundred fruit flies, “caught fresh, crushed with a mortar and pestle, then mixed with a special nectar supplemented with vitamins, enzymes, and oils.” The babies must be fed every twenty minutes from dawn to dusk—not a simple task. From 8:30 pm to 5:30 am, their caretaker must strictly adhere to the twenty-minute feeding schedule. It’s a formidable requirement.
We also learn that even if these hummingbirds live, there are many, many dangers that a hummingbird faces in the world, including not only the predators we might expect, like hawks, crows, and raccoons, but also surprising ones like the dragonfly and the praying mantis. Fire ants and wasps sting babies to death in their nest, they can be felled by unseasonable cold, and a huge danger comes from other hummingbirds trying to defend their territory, or more accurately, their food supply.
While wildlife rehabilitators usually don’t name their charges, Montgomery explains how she convinced Sherburn to make an exception in the case of these two hummers. We learn why the two were named Maya and Zuni, and how many cultures view these tiny warrior birds who fight desperately and fiercely to protect their own. We not only learn about the physical properties of these tiny birds, but also about their personalities as they must find their way in a world that can be frightening for two youngsters who don’t have a mother to teach and protect them. And when they are set free, we find we really care about their fate. We really want them to survive and be strong. Hummingbirds, as it turns out, are easy to love.
This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.