The Hummingbirds’ Gift Reviews

By Sy Montgomery
Atria Books (May 4, 2021), 1982176083

So wonderful to see this in a book form with photographs. It was splendid in Birdology and now has a new life. Sy Montgomery gives us all wings!
— Brenda Peterson, author, Build Me an Ark: A Life with Animals

“We have The Hummingbirds’ Gift to widen us with wonder at the seeming impossibility of these fragile, fierce marvels of nature — and to render us wondersmitten with the hope that if individual humans are capable of bring individual hummingbirds back to life from the brink of death, then perhaps our entire species is capable of rehabilitating an entire planet; perhaps we are capable of a great deal more care and tenderness than we realize toward the myriad marvelous creatures with whom we share the ultimate cosmic miracle of life, this staggering improbability that is — somehow, somehow — possible.”
— Maria Popova, Brainpickings

Hummingbird rehabilitator Brenda Sherburn Labelle and two tiny orphans, Maya and Zuni, first appeared in passionate, prolific, and beloved naturalist Montgomery’s world-circling avian chronicle, Birdology (2010).  Here she tells the entire tale of the hummers’ rescue and thriving, thanks to rigorous human attention involving feedings with a syringe every 20 minutes, nerve wracking treatments for a mite infestation, and clever ways to help them learn to fly.

Montgomery shares an array of astounding facts about hummingbirds, from their proportionately enormous heart to how each day these little beings sup from 1,500 flowers and eat approximately 700 insects; how their wings beat 60 times per second; how they can hover, a unique ability; and how very combative and strong these little feathered marvels are, enduring long migrations year after year. Montgomery describes Maya and Zuni’s “remarkably expressive” little faces and different rates of development, and describes the fear and joy attendant upon their release into a world in which pollinators are severely imperiled.

Montgomery’s bright, richly illustrated chronicle stirs renewed appreciation for human empathy, skill, and wonder and a miraculous winged species.

In each of her books, Sy Montgomery has introduced adults and children to the complicated, intelligent spirits of our fellow creatures in the natural world, be it an octopus, a good, good pig, pink dolphins, or golden moon bears. This tale of an intervention to save the lives of two orphaned, nearly microscopic hummingbird babies is a rumination on fragility and interdependence, and an extraordinary close-up on the wonder that is a hummingbird. “Hummingbirds are less flesh than fairies … little more than bubbles fringed with iridescent feathers — air wrapped in light.”
— Barnes and Noble’s Most Anticipated New Book Releases of May 2021.

Author and naturalist Montgomery (The Soul of an Octopus) visited the Marin County, CA, sculptor and bird rehabilitator Brenda Sherburn to observe and tell the fascinating and fraught story of Sherburn’s rehabilitation of two orphaned newborn Allen’s hummingbirds. She traces Sherburn’s weeks-long laborious process of nursing the bumblebee-sized hatchlings, until they can fly free; meanwhile, she gives readers an eloquent primer on hummingbirds in myth and natural science, and the history of people learning about birds. Though the book is slim, Montgomery’s thoughtful narrative successfully presents, in detail, the heartwarming story of reviving two fragile hummingbirds. The book includes a list of resources for readers who want more information about hummingbirds and the efforts to preserve and protect them. Montgomery also explains how to maintain a yard or garden that will attract and protect hummingbirds. The book is illustrated with drawings and photographs of hummingbirds that are an added bonus.
VERDICT Montgomery has written another engaging work of popular science, similar to her previous books. This latest volume will draw in readers who are new to birding, as well as experienced birders looking to supplement their knowledge.
— Library Journal

 Sy Montgomery has written a nail-biter of a survival story about two baby hummingbirds the size of bumblebees struggling to live after their mother disappeared. The heroine is Brenda Sherburn La Belle, of Fairfax, California, who has raised more than 80 hummingbirds in the face of daunting odds. … Montgomery’s writing is poetic and full of regard for the 240 species of hummingbirds, all of which live in the Western Hemisphere. “We were tending to tiny creatures as delicate as froth. In fact they are bubbles: hummingbirds are made of air… Everyone has their favorite birds, of course, but this short book is crammed with reasons to love and worry over endangered hummingbirds.”
— Rae Padilla Francoeur, North Shore Book Notes

As slight and zippy as its titular bird, “The Hummingbirds’ Gift: Wonder, Beauty and Renewal on Wings” is a fine way to spend an hour or so this spring. Sy Montgomery fans may have already read it as a chapter in “Birdology” (2010), but if you’re coming to it cold, the rescue and rehabilitation of Maya and Zuni will warm your heart while making you into an armchair ornithologist.

The true story takes place in the summer of 2008, when Montgomery travels from Manchester, New Hampshire, to San Francisco to meet the tale’s hero, Brenda Sherburn. “A 5-foot-3 powerhouse in dark bangs and a pageboy,” Sherburn dedicated part of her life to hummingbird rehabilitation. That’s right — those tiny, buzzing birds, the smallest of which weighs just a gram and the largest, classified as an Andean “giant,” measures only 8 inches long — are the most vulnerable birds in the sky and there are people like Brenda who take in abandoned or injured babies in an attempt to nurture them back into the wild.

As Montgomery relates her adventures with Brenda and the hummingbirds, she shares dozens of fun facts about the birds Aztecs believed were reincarnated warriors and the Portuguese call “flower kissers.” Did you know there are at least 240 different species, they’re the only birds that can hover and fly backward, and their forked tongues are so long they extend to the rear of the skull and lie on top of the bone when they’re not being used to lap nectar?

It’s all quite fascinating … While readers will cheer for the two babies as they overcome various obstacles on their way to rejoining nature, Montgomery sees in the process of caring for them a parable of sorts. If we can care enough about the “most gossamer of birds,” she writes, then perhaps we can “heal our sweet, green, broken world.”
Associated Press

Montgomery’s warm and intimate delivery makes listeners care about each development and setback. And her descriptions of these tiny marvels will almost certainly inspire you to step outside and observe the natural world with a new appreciation. (Audio book.)

“Ah, to be able to fly far, far away. The hummingbird — an inspiring creature — can do that and more. It’s the lightest bird in the sky, able to fly backward and beat its wings more than 60 times a second. This slim book, centered on two abandoned hummingbirds who are nurtured back to health, is ideal for garden reading.”  
The Washington Post, Feel Good Books to Brighten Your Summer.