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The Glitter in the Green
In Search of Hummingbirds
By Jon Dunn
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Hummingbirds are a glittering, sparkling collective of over three hundred wildly variable species. For centuries, they have been revered by indigenous Americans, coveted by European collectors, and admired worldwide for their unsurpassed metallic plumage and immense character. Yet they exist on a knife-edge, fighting for survival in boreal woodlands, dripping cloud forests, and subpolar islands. They are, perhaps, the ultimate embodiment of evolution's power to carve a niche for a delicate creature in even the harshest of places.
Traveling the full length of the hummingbirds' range, from the cusp of the Arctic Circle to near-Antarctic islands, acclaimed nature writer Jon Dunn encounters birders, scientists, and storytellers in his quest to find these beguiling creatures, immersing us in the world of one of Earth's most charismatic bird families.
USA, Alaska. 60° N
ALASKA IS BURNING. A WHITE SHEEN OF SMOKE RENDERS A glassy, still blue sea and snow-marbled glaciated mountainsides opaque. It’s like viewing the world through an apocalyptic cataract. Almost one hundred thousand acres of pristine Alaskan wilderness have been consumed in the past month by the Swan Lake wildfire and, when I arrive in Anchorage, it continues to rage silently over the horizon, undamped by any rain during this longest, hottest Alaskan summer on record.
Riding a train that slowly traverses the length of the Turnagain Arm, a long, tidal finger of the Cook Inlet that reaches deep inland from the Gulf of Alaska, it occurs to me that the fire—appearing to have started by natural causes, a lightning strike somewhere in the vicinity of Swan Lake—is not really the point. Climate change is acting like a bored child with a magnifying glass on a long, hot summer’s day, wreaking havoc where it ought not to be. A wildfire that covers an area a quarter the size of London, on the doorstep of the Arctic Circle? As I leave Anchorage and head towards the port of Whittier to catch a ferry to the remote small township of Cordova, with the faint and deceptively pleasant tang of wood smoke in the air, I am aware that this is far from normal.
My journey had begun, but already I was not making it easy for myself. I could see a Rufous Hummingbird easily in the lower United States—but if I wanted to see the most northerly hummingbirds in the world, I would need to see my Rufous Hummingbirds in Alaska. This is why I came to find myself on a train out of Anchorage bound for Whittier, heading to catch a ferry that would carry me, for seven hours, through Prince William Sound to Cordova, officially a city but with a resident population only twice that of Whalsay, the small Shetland island on which I have lived for the past twenty or so years. Some 2,500 people call Cordova home, but it was one person in particular I was heading to Cordova to meet—Kate McLaughlin is a hummingbird researcher and champion, who, on June 28, 2010, caught a Rufous Hummingbird in Alaska that, some five months earlier, had been caught and ringed by another hummingbird researcher in Tallahassee, Florida, some 3,500 miles away and, to this day, represents the longest known migration ever recorded by a hummingbird.
I was looking forward to meeting Kate and, as the Aurora pulled away from Whittier, I sat on the upper deck in the unseasonably hot sunshine, daydreaming about Rufous Hummingbirds, and worrying that I might not be fortunate enough to see one in the short time I had in Cordova. Kate had written to me the previous week, warning me that the male birds had already departed, and that their mates and offspring were on the move too. Early July marks the end of the breeding season for these tenacious birds, and I would perhaps miss them altogether.
The first hummingbirds to return to Alaska from their wintering grounds are the males, who arrive at a time when there are limited sources of nectar to sustain them. All hummingbirds live on a precarious nutritional knife-edge, needing to take on board sufficient nectar daily to sustain their fast metabolisms. A hungry hummingbird is, in a very short period of time indeed, a moribund hummingbird. The male Rufous Hummingbirds, back on their breeding grounds early to stake a good territory before the female birds arrive, must find sustenance in a landscape that is only just feeling winter’s hold loosening, ever so slightly—a landscape that has yet to bloom. These pioneering male birds must resort to subterfuge and outright larceny if they are to survive. To do so, they must find the local sapsuckers.
Sapsuckers are small woodpeckers and, as their name suggests, they extract the sap from trees as their primary food source. Each bird drills rows of small holes in a tree’s bark, creating small wells that will, in time, begin to ooze and fill with sap. The sapsucker returns, time and again, to harvest the fruits of its labours. The male Rufous Hummingbirds have learned to be opportunistic sneak thieves, darting into the sapsucker’s larder, hovering in front of those carefully excavated wells, and feeding from them as if they were nectar-bearing flowers. Rufous Hummingbirds are nothing if not fearless, particularly if they are hungry.
While I was lost in my thoughts, keeping half an eye on the sea around me, hoping for a sighting of Pacific seabirds during our passage to Cordova, a young man in his early thirties approached me where I sat in one corner of the upper deck. I had my camera beside me, ready to seize the moment if it presented itself.
“Hey. That’s a big camera.”
I looked up, realising for the first time that I had company. Daniel, a Yup’ik man from Hooper Bay with a pleasant, crooked smile, was travelling with a small party of other Yup’ik to Cordova to work for the next few weeks in the salmon-processing factories that handled the salmon catch upon which the town’s fishermen and their families depended. Wearing an arresting acid pink T-shirt, ripped jeans, and a pair of Crocs the same cerulean blue as the glassy sea we were crossing, Daniel cut a striking figure amongst the other passengers on deck. Perhaps I did too—I was the only one with a camera and a pair of binoculars. We chatted for a while about Cordova and the work that awaited Daniel and his fellow Yup’ik. He laughed, “Yeah, the others, they think they’re going to be out fishing. I think they’re in for a surprise. Me, I know what to expect. I’ll earn good money and, when it’s over, the company will buy me a ticket back to Hooper Bay. My wife, she’s there now with our kids. She looks after the money.”
He asked me what I was heading to Cordova for. I explained about the Rufous Hummingbirds, and how I wanted to see them at the most northerly outpost in which hummingbirds bred. Daniel became more animated.
“Yeah, I know them! They’re cool. They’re the only birds in the world that can fly backwards, right? Like helicopters?”
I was pleased to see his enthusiastic reaction. To meet an Alaskan Native, in his thirties, from one of the most remote towns in Alaska, and to find that hummingbirds elicited such an engaged and interested response was encouraging to say the least. I had wondered, before setting off on this quest, if it was just me and a cadre of birders that found these birds so compelling.
Daniel asked me where I’d come from, so I told him about my home in Shetland.
“I live on an island in Shetland. There’s about one hundred islands up there, at 60° north, the same latitude as here, but less than a dozen have people living on them. I live on Whalsay—there’s around a thousand people on there. It’s pretty far north, but in some ways it’s not like here. We don’t have many trees there, for starters. And no glaciers, either.”
We were passing by the gnarled snout of the Billings Glacier, nosing down on our left-hand side towards Prince William Sound. Behind us, Whittier was dwindling in the distance, smudges of trees visible darkly around it. Daniel looked thoughtful.
“No trees? Huh. That’s like Hooper Bay. It’s mostly, what would you call it, tundra there?”
We were finding common ground. Daniel continued, “And only a thousand people on the island you live on? Yeah. That’s like, the same as back home…”
He paused. “You got bears on your island?”
The question caught me slightly off guard, and my amused denial of any bear presence in Shetland made Daniel grow more serious.
“We’ve got bears here,” he told me gravely. “Where you’re going, there’s bears. You’ve not seen a bear before? You need to take care, man. They’re big. And fast too. Yeah. Watch out for bears if you’re hiking in the woods looking for birds.”
One of Daniel’s friends, David, a younger Yup’ik man in his early twenties, had joined us, and he nodded gravely in agreement. “Yeah, you gotta watch out for bears. My dad, he was a hunter. Had a team of dogs, he used to mush the hell out of them. He always told us to watch out for bears. You’re best carrying a gun. I don’t suppose you’ve got a gun? No? Get yourself some bear spray, man.”
David told me more about his family’s former life as hunters. On his way to spend a few short weeks processing salmon, he sounded wistful for a lost way of life. Our conversation was, in time, interrupted by the ferry’s PA system announcing a pod of Killer Whales seen from the side of the boat. My new Yup’ik friends were unmoved by the news.
“They’re really bad news, my dad always said,” David told me. “He didn’t like them at all. You can’t trust them.”
I said goodbye to Daniel and David for now, and made my way to join the small crowd of passengers looking east towards the distant shore. Every now and again the Killer Whales’ black dorsal fins broke the surface as they passed us quickly by, heading in the opposite direction to the Aurora. It felt a little like being at home—in the summer, Shetland is visited by Killer Whales too.
The parallels between this area of Alaska and Shetland ran deeper, however, than a shared line of latitude or cetaceans. Both maritime communities had, in the recent past, been touched, in the worst way possible, by the vicissitudes of fate and the oil industry. On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground on the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, spilling almost eleven million gallons of crude oil into the pristine marine environment upon which so many Alaskan communities depended for their livelihood. The resulting environmental catastrophe was unimaginable. Just a handful of years later, on January 5, 1993, a similar horror was unleashed upon Shetland when the Braer ran aground at Garths Ness, spilling twenty-five million gallons of oil into the sea.
Both communities had, in time, recovered—and it was their shared history that was to provide me with a home in Cordova while I met Kate McLaughlin and looked for a Rufous Hummingbird of my own. A Shetland friend, Dr. Jonathan Wills, a reporter in Shetland at the time of the Braer disaster, had subsequently investigated the causes of the tragedy that unfolded on our shores. As a result of this he had met David Lynn Grimes, his counterpart in Alaska. Jonathan had affectionately described David to me as “crazy like a horse,” and spoke warmly of him. He told me, “He’s an ornithologist, wildlife guide, singer-songwriter, and troubadour, famous for his barefoot glacier excursions and Copper River raft adventures. Back in 1990 he was involved in the Oil Pollution Act campaign with Rick Steiner, then the marine conservation professor at the University of Alaska—they swam the Potomac to board a vessel where an oil company PR event was being held, having been refused admission shore-side. He’s one of the best guys around.”
Jonathan had put us in touch with one another, and David had immediately offered me a place to stay at the Eyak Lake Compound, a little way outside of Cordova itself. It was David who met me off the ferry when we arrived in Cordova late in the evening, our arrival heralded by swirling clouds of clamorous Glaucous-winged Gulls that rose frothily from the still water of the harbour. David had told me to look out for a big, sand-coloured van and, in the empty car park at the quayside, the vehicle was readily found. I was unprepared for what I discovered inside the van, for here David’s artistic spirit had run, gloriously, amok in an interior that looked like the lovechild of an old canal boat and a hippy camper van. Lined with varnished wood, the walls and even the ceiling sported artwork, while strings of feathers swayed around us. A carved and painted American Kestrel stood proudly on the dashboard alongside a jam jar of fireweed and other wildflowers.
David immediately proved an affable and friendly host, conversation spilling from him as varied as the seashells that formed some of the van’s internal decoration. Within five minutes he’d spoken of the universe, fate, karma, and had described us all as mere “human molecules,” an echo of theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, who described himself as both a universe of atoms and an atom in the universe as a whole. I liked him immediately. As we drove through the few streets of Cordova and along the shore of Lake Eyak, it was hard to pay attention to my surroundings whilst I concentrated on the first of many hummingbird stories he had to share.
“Forty years ago, me and some other young naturalists first came to Cordova, and a remarkable birder, Pete Isleib, took us under his wing. Roger Tory Peterson thought Pete the best birder on the Pacific Coast of North America—he described him as ‘peerless and indefatigable’.”
If Roger Tory Peterson, arguably the father of birding in the twentieth-century United States, had thought highly of Pete Isleib, I knew he would have been an extraordinary ornithologist. Meanwhile, I privately wondered what had brought David to Alaska in the 1970s. Perhaps it had, unwittingly, been another oil spill that was the genesis of the journey that brought him there. The Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 fouled the Californian coast with some one hundred thousand barrels of crude oil, and it was witnessing this that led Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson to found the first Earth Day. It was a time when the Vietnam War still raged far overseas, and students nationwide overwhelmingly opposed it. Inspired by the student antiwar movement, Nelson hoped that the fledgling public awareness of air and water pollution could be channelled with similar vigour, and force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.
On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, some twenty million Americans took to the streets across the United States in the first national act of solidarity that unified disparate voices with environmental concerns. By the end of 1970, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been formed, and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts had made significant progress. Nelson recalled, “It was a gamble, but it worked.”
Earth Day also sparked a back-to-the-land movement that saw many young, disaffected men and women heading for the countryside and the promise of a better, cleaner, and simpler life. For some that meant hippy communes in California, but others cast their eyes to the north where, in Alaska, the federal government continued to offer free land in a state renowned for encouraging a pioneer spirit.
I was travelling light to Alaska with just my camera bag and what little I could squeeze in around my camera gear itself but, beside toiletries and a waterproof, I carried with me a copy of T. C. Boyle’s Drop City, a fictionalized account of a group of idealistic hippies who had travelled from California to Alaska to form a community in the wilds there. Their new life disintegrated spectacularly, but for others in the real world the move to Alaska offered genuine opportunity and moments of quiet revelation.
David continued, “It was Pete who introduced me and friends to commercial salmon and herring fishing in Prince William Sound and the Copper River Delta, and helped stoke our interest in the local flora and fauna. In the early eighties a number of us were having dinner at Pete’s, and afterwards he asked us if any of us had seen a hummingbird up close, and held out his hand with a docile little beastie motionless within.
“Now, over the subsequent years I’ve rescued the odd hummer from cobwebs up in the rafters of houses, and of course held them when assisting Kate McLaughlin with her captures.”
In another happy moment of serendipity, it transpired that David and Kate were firm friends.
“But at the time, in answer to Pete’s question, we all answered no. He then carefully placed the utterly calm bird onto my palm, and I felt a trembling sense of wonder at the miracle of it all.
“A week later, I finally thought to ask Pete just how he captured the bird—with Pete, one might have believed he had simply thrust his hand in the air and snagged one in flight. Pete waited a moment, and then, with a little twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘A little alcohol in the sugar water slows them down for a while…’”
We arrived at the Eyak Lake Compound, a large and magnificent wooden cabin built overlooking the lake itself. A hummingbird feeder, filled with sugar water, was hanging over the lakeside veranda. I assumed it probably did not contain any alcohol, and I would need to rely on sharp eyes and good fortune rather than a slyly administered sedative to see my first Alaskan Rufous Hummingbird. Meanwhile, David casually told me that the cabin, some years ago, had almost been swept away by a winter avalanche that stopped mere feet from it.
“It blew all the windows out, and tore apart everything else between us and the mountain,” he confided. “You can see the path of it up there on the mountainside.”
Sure enough, looming above us was the mountain. While on a warm summer evening it was hard to imagine the land covered in deep snow, the absence of trees in a wide swathe of the mountainside leading directly towards the Eyak Lake Compound spoke eloquently of the risks inherent in living there. While I was instinctively drawn to the wild, I wondered if I would be able to live somewhere with such an omnipotent, looming risk for a neighbour.
As he showed me around, David encouraged me to try the salmonberries that grew prolifically all around the cabin.
“They’re delicious right now,” he said. “Better still if you can find a blueberry to pop inside one.”
Salmonberries, I discovered, were like multicoloured raspberries, available in everything from citrine yellow to garnet red. Many were bright orange, and all, as David had promised, were delicious.
“Bears love them too,” he confided, and then looked thoughtful. “If you’re thinking of hiking in the woods, you should get some bear spray. This time of year, when the moose calves are getting too fast for the bears to catch, they’re eating salmonberries until the salmon start to run up the rivers.”
I had seen a mother moose and her calf running across a meadow, spooked by the train that had carried me from Anchorage to Whittier. They had been moving extremely quickly, and were now a chastening reminder of just how fast a hungry bear might be able to move if it put its mind to it.
The following morning I went to meet Kate McLaughlin. When she’s not studying hummingbirds, Kate works in the offices of the Chugach National Forest. If she was surprised to see me—and, having exchanged some emails in the preceding weeks, I got the impression Kate did not quite believe I would travel all the way to Alaska to see Rufous Hummingbirds—she hid it well, and welcomed me warmly to Cordova. Her enthusiasm for the hummingbirds she had devoted years to studying was infectious.
“I’m one of just a handful of certified hummingbird master class banders in the USA,” she proudly told me, going on to share the full story of the epic recovery of H82779, the female Rufous Hummingbird who bore the tiny metal ring on her leg that Florida hummingbird ringer Fred Dietrich placed upon her in Tallahassee on January 13, 2010. Five months later, on June 28, H82779 found herself in the careful hands of Kate in Chenega Bay, Alaska, some 3,500 miles from where human eyes had last set sight of her. By any avian standards, a 3,500-mile migration is an epic undertaking—but for a bird that weighs at best 3.5 grams, less than a penny coin, it’s nothing short of miraculous.
Birds have migrated for millennia, swapping clement winter quarters for seasonally suitable homes in which to breed in the months of summer. It is only in the past century that we have been able to chart these immense journeys with any sort of precision, and it is bird ringers who have provided a window into the private lives of these nomadic creatures. On May 6, 1911 John Masefield, a sixty-one-year-old solicitor living in Cheshire in northwest England, ringed a swallow chick in her nest in the porch of his Cheadle home. Her light aluminium ring bore the engraved number B830—and it was this ring that identified the swallow when she was discovered on December 23, 1912 by farmer J. Mayer, trapped inside a barn on his farm near Utrecht in the former province of Natal, South Africa. She was some 6,000 miles from her birthplace, revealing an unthinkable act of migration to the ornithologists of the day—nobody knew that birds travelled so far. Ringing has subsequently revealed the longest migration of all bird species—Arctic Terns travel annually between the Arctic and Antarctic, swapping one summer for that of another a hemisphere away.
Yet these are all tough birds. Swallows and terns are powerful fliers, masters of the skies and oceans. A hummingbird, on the other hand, is a mite largely dependant on sugar for fuel. To a hummingbird, 3,500 miles must feel at least as long as the journeys those swallows and terns make. Longer, even.
If I was to see one of the local Rufous Hummingbirds for myself, I would need to cover some miles too. I had hoped to see Kate ringing hummingbirds, but she told me that the ringing season was over.
“The birds are out migrating now. The hummingbird season was very poor this year, and the males have already pulled out. That said, find the right blooming lilac bush, fresh-filled feeder or a patch of columbine by a stream, and you may see females or young birds.”
Kate recommended some local trails that might prove fruitful, but seasoned her advice with a now familiar warning.
“Watch out for bears. They’re pretty cranky right now—the salmon has only just started to come into the creeks to spawn, so the bears have been eating berries, and they’re hungry. You’ve got some bear spray, right?”
I didn’t want to look like a greenhorn in front of Kate.
“Oh yes. I’ve got bear spray.”
Having seen a woman picking salmonberries at the side of the road into Cordova earlier in the morning, wearing a handgun on her belt, I began to appreciate the respect the locals afforded their ursine neighbours. As soon as I left Kate’s office, I resolved to buy some bear spray before I set off to spend the remainder of the day hiking the length of the Heney Ridge Trail.
Cordova is a small town, so it was just a short walk to the general store. I asked a store assistant for bear spray, and she led me to a shelf laden with insect repellent. Perhaps it was my English accent that was causing the confusion. I repeated myself, with a little mime thrown in for good measure.
“Bear spray? Grr!”
I raised my hands above my head in an approximation of the angry, hungry bear I had no wish to meet. Understanding dawned on the young assistant’s face.
“Oh, you mean bear spray? No, we don’t stock that. You need the Whiskey Ridge cycle store for bear spray.”
While a cycle shop was not perhaps the most obvious place in which to buy bear deterrent, nor did I expect to find it stocked with quite such an extensive range of hunting paraphernalia. Rifles hung from the wall behind the counter, while boxes of ammunition lined the shelves beneath. Cycling was, apparently, as fraught with danger as berry picking. I asked the friendly, bearded man behind the counter for bear spray, and he pointed me towards a display of large blue and yellow canisters on the end of the counter. I blanched slightly at the price—$50—and had one last moment of indecision about whether I really needed bear spray.
“Have you had much bother with bears lately?” I asked. His reply settled the matter once and for all.
“Yeah, when they’re hungry they come into the town and get in folks’ yards and make trouble. We shot twenty right here in town last summer.”
My purchase made, he showed me how to use my bear spray should the occasion arise.
“You wear it on your belt. Make sure the safety catch is pulled out before you try to use it. And make sure you point it at the bear, and not your face. You don’t want to blind yourself when you’ve got a pissed bear charging at you.”
I could think of little worse than spraying concentrated chilli pepper extract into my eyes before being mauled by a bear I could no longer see. I paid close attention to his advice and, suitably equipped, drove out of town to the head of the Heney Ridge Trail. By now it was early afternoon and the temperature was rising. I had not expected Alaska to be so hot. The deep shade of the trees that overhung the trail as it followed the contours at the side of Hartney Bay and the shimmering creek that fed into it was welcome. I grazed on the abundant salmonberries that lined the lower reaches of the path I was following, and self-consciously followed the other bear-related advice I had been given—clapping my hands periodically, particularly at blind summits and corners. While this might warn a bear of my approach, allowing it time to amble away, I also felt certain I would not see many birds of any kind. I was used to moving as unobtrusively as possible through the landscape, so this noisy behaviour felt deeply counterintuitive.
My musings were interrupted by a large pile of dung at my feet in the middle of the path. It was larger than a football and packed with small berry seeds, so I had my suspicions what sort of animal was responsible for it. I looked nervously around me, and clapped my hands some more for good measure. Nothing moved in the moss-festooned trees that shrouded the narrow trail. I knelt to take a photo of the pile with my phone and, as I moved nearer to it, I could feel the heat radiating from the droppings. They were fresh.
It was at this point that I became aware of splashing sounds coming from the creek below me. My heart began racing as I tried to see through the veil of trees to the water. There, hanging in the clear creek, were the dark-grey torpedoes of salmon facing upstream. Periodically one would break the surface and thrash the water loudly. At the very moment I told myself that this was what I had heard, the distinctive sound of something large wading in the water filtered through the trees. Silhouetted by hemlock branches, the obscured but unmistakeable dark form of a bear was making its way across the creek away from me.
I froze. The bear melted from sight as quickly as it had come, leaving me pulsing with adrenaline in its wake. I had not expected to come this close to a bear, let alone this quickly. I began questioning whether it was entirely prudent to continue along the trail looking for hummingbirds. Eventually I concluded that I was equally likely to encounter another bear on my way back to my car as I was continuing out of the woods and into the boggy muskeg areas beyond, and resolved to continue, more cautiously—and loudly—than hitherto.
I saw no more signs of bears, but neither could I find any hummingbirds, despite finding abundant stands of orange-flowered columbines, a favoured wild nectar source. Biologists studying the many species of columbine, or Aquilegia, native to North America have discovered that red- and orange-flowered species are mainly pollinated by hummingbirds, while the white- and yellow-flowered species are generally pollinated by hawkmoths.
- “Fantastically informative… The Glitter in the Green braids the cultural history and daunting needs and feats of these wondrous birds with vivid accounts of the author’s sometimes hazardous, far-flung mountain, forest and island expeditions… Exceedingly well-researched and packed with fascinating lore, it should appeal to avid birders and general readers alike.”—Wall Street Journal
- “Dunn combines an intense emotional response to the radiant appearance of each transfixing bird… [He] fuses vivid metaphor and close observation.”—New York Review of Books
- “Natural history writer, photographer and hummingbird obsessive (within the first hundred pages he crosses both a bear and a puma in pursuit of this tiny, glimmering bird) Jon Dunn has written a book that is both an ode to hummingbirds and a remarkable piece of travel literature.”—BookPage
- “Hummingbirds must be among the most beautiful organisms on Earth. Yet for anyone who has never seen one in the flesh, it is difficult to convey the psychological effects of a first encounter… A good place to begin to understand the birds’ dramatic pleasures is with this entertaining book. One of Jon Dunn’s real achievements is his ability to conjure the plastic form and astonishing chromatic architecture of many hummingbird species.”—The Spectator
- “Full of natural history, quotes from early explorers, local history, and adventure, Dunn’s chronicle of his hummingbird quests will make readers just as obsessed with these small, quick birds dipped in rainbows.”—Booklist
- “The Glitter In The Green contains astonishing photographs and stories about these rare and beautiful birds.”—The Herald (Scotland)
- “At times a thriller, the history of hummingbirds in art, religion, and superstition—past and present—is fascinating, enlightening, and entertainingly informative to those of us who are smitten with them.”—Bird Watcher’s Digest
- “Natural history writer Dunn takes readers on a wondrous globe-trotting pilgrimage to seek out hummingbirds as their populations are threatened... Dunn’s vivid prose, balanced with just the right amount of detail, will captivate birders and non-birders alike.”—Publishers Weekly
- “Dunn chronicles his travels from his home in the Shetland Islands to the Americas in search of this alluring bird.... A mesmerizing, wonder-filled nature study that also serves as a cautionary tale about wildlife conservation.”—Kirkus
- “An engaging history of the species… This inviting narrative describes the author’s search for the rare Mangrove Hummingbird in Costa Rica, as well as others threatened with habitat loss in Cuba and Mexico… Notably, the author takes care to consider the place of hummingbirds in the history, literature, and cultures of their locales. Dunn writes passionately…”—Library Journal
- “Jon Dunn’s book is an adventure-filled, continent-spanning travelogue. It is also meticulously researched. By carefully peeling back layers of history to find shimmering hummingbirds hidden within, Dunn has created essential reading to understand human obsession—past and present—with these remarkable creatures.”—Jonathan C. Slaght, author of Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl
- “Glittering gems of the Americas and nowhere else on Earth, hummingbirds lure Jon Dunn from Alaska to Chile in this whizzing travelogue of hummer natural history. In an adventure replete with pop culture and literary references, Dunn treks deserts and jungles, investigates a slaughter of hummingbirds for love potions, unmasks the real James Bond, and in Colombia sees an otherworldly hummer, ‘like some enameled god fallen to earth.’ The book is that exquisite.”—Dan Flores, author of the New York Times bestseller Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History
“More than just an observant birdwatcher, Jon Dunn is a talented traveler and writer, capturing just the right details of people and place to make his hummingbird odyssey come alive. The Glitter in the Green is a vivid exploration of a dazzling subject.”
—Thor Hanson, author of Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees
“This is more than a bird book, but still, it is. It combines one person’s adventure with arguably the most spectacular group of birds in the world: hummingbirds! The immensely talented writer Jon Dunn follows these highly diverse jewels from Alaska, down the Americas to Tierra del Fuego, and weaves an environmental and cultural dialogue around these hummers and the human-dominated world they live in.”
—Joel Cracraft, Curator in Charge, Ornithology, American Museum of Natural History
- On Sale
- Apr 20, 2021
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Basic Books