Birdology and the Hummingbird’s gift with Sy Montgomery

To research books, films and articles, Sy Montgomery has been chased by an angry silverback gorilla in Zaire and bitten by a vampire bat in Costa Rica, worked in a pit crawling with 18,000 snakes in Manitoba and handled a wild tarantula in French Guiana. She has been deftly undressed by an orangutan in Borneo, hunted by a tiger in India, and swum with piranhas, electric eels and dolphins in the Amazon. She has searched the Altai Mountains of Mongolia’s Gobi for snow leopards, hiked into the trackless cloud forest of Papua New Guinea to radiocollar tree kangaroos, and learned to SCUBA dive in order to commune with octopuses. In this episode, she talks about a variety of birds including California Condors, Hummingbirds, Hawks, Cockatoos and many others.

Sy’s 28 books for both adults and children have garnered many honors. The Soul of an Octopus was a 2015 Finalist for the National Book Awards. The Good Good Pig, her memoir of life with her pig, Christopher Hogwood, is an international bestseller. She is the winner of the 2009 New England Independent Booksellers Association Nonfiction Award, the 2010 Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award, the Henry Bergh Award for Nonfiction (given by the ASPCA for Humane Education) and dozens of other honors. Her work with the man-eating tigers, the subject of her book Spell Of The Tiger, was made into in a National Geographic television documentary she scripted and narrated. Also for National Geographic TV she developed and scripted Mother Bear Man, about her friend, Ben Kilham, who raises and releases orphaned bear cubs, which won a Chris award.

Episode Notes

1:00 About hummingbirds.  The tiny Bee hummingbird.  The fastest bird, the male Allen’s Hummingbird’s is faster than the space shuttle, she says.

3:50 How to care for an orphaned hummingbird.

5:00 Why should you save a bird? Sy talks about why she saved orphaned hummingbirds.

7:00 The variety of hummingbirds.

7:45 Ruby throated hummingbirds.  

9:00 Sy talks about condors and vultures.  10 feet across wingspan.  Native Americans revere the condor wherever it was found.  All vultures take death and make it into life, she says. 

15:00 What is it like to hold a condor? Sy was part of the California Condor Recovery project.

18:50 How do you hold a condor? Do you pull the neck to you or away? What does the breath of a condor smell like?

20:00 How to conserve condors while working with hunters? Using copper versus lead bullets.

24:00 Emus of Australia.  Sy says that they showed her “my destiny.”

28:00 The personality of an emu.  They are curious and have a sense of humour, says Sy.  

30:00 Sy talks about the books she loves.  Dian Fossey’s Gorillas in the Mist.  Jane Goodhall’s The Chimpanzees of GombeHoward Ensign Evans book on insects.  

34:00 Sy talks about her favourite birds.  The woodpecker.  The Cassowary.  Papua New Guinea and Queensland, Australia where she saw a cassowary. Casque, red wattles, the curiosity of a cassowary.

38:00 Hawks and learning falconry.  Nancy Cowan, master falconer. Harris’ hawks. Yarak

41:00 About crows roosting in Auburn, New York

44:00 About parrots.  Dancing with a cockatoo. Snowball the cockatoo

48:00 Birds and the wildness.

Questions asked:

  1. The first of your books that I read was about the California Condor.  For listeners here in India, could you please tell us about the condor– details will help as we don’t have Condors here.  I for instance, didn’t realize they were vultures.
  2. Please tell us about the conservation efforts for the condors.  For instance, you say that the efforts to return them to the wild is “creative, controversial”.  Please tell us details for those who may not have read that book.
  3. Where are condors most plentifully found?
  4. Ask Sy about lead versus copper bullets.
  5. Tell us about the emus you met in Australia. (how to be a good creature)
  6. The books that inspired you that you list. (how to be a good creature)
  7. Tell us about the woodpecker’s song. (the wild outside your window)
  8. Migrating songbirds
  9. Tell us about the birds in your book, Birdology.  What was the theme of the book, Birdology
  10. –hawks (illustrating that birds are fierce–as I learn through falconry)
  11. –crows (showing how birds are everywhere–following the controversy generated by a very large roost of crows)
  12. –parrots (showing that birds are smart–we meet Snowball the Dancing cockatoo and the Alex studies, of the talking African grey parrot
  13. –cassowaries (showing that birds are dinosaurs–I go to find one in Australia)

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