A Hollywood hummingbird rehabber will do nearly anything to save these tiny, fragile creatures, and readers following her adventures will learn just how astonishing and heartwarming these birds can be.
A heartwarming account of the trials and triumphs a hummingbird rehabber encounters while caring for her tiny, fragile patients
Before he collided with a limousine, Gabriel, an Anna’s hummingbird with a head and throat cloaked in iridescent magenta feathers, could spiral 130 feet in the air, dive 60 miles per hour in a courtship display, hover, and fly backward. When he arrived in rehab caked in road grime, he was so badly injured that he could barely perch. But Terry Masear, one of the busiest hummingbird rehabbers in the country, was determined to save this damaged bird, who seemed oddly familiar. During the four months that Terry worked with Gabriel, she took in 160 hummingbirds, from a miniature nestling rescued by a bulldog and a fledgling trapped inside a skydiving wind tunnel at Universal CityWalk, to Pepper, a female Anna’s injured on a film set. In their time together, Pepper and Gabriel form a special bond and, together, with Terry’s help, learn to fly again. Woven around Gabriel’s and Pepper’s stories are those of other colorful birds in this personal narrative filled with the science and magic surrounding these fascinating creatures.
Few circumstances lead to a person balancing precariously in a pine tree a hundred feet over the Pacific Ocean at dawn on a cloudless summer day. Bankruptcy, a messy divorce, an unmanageable addiction, a broken dream. Nagging guilt over some nameless transgression that can no longer be endured. Or the doctor explaining how you’ve got two months and they’re not going to be pretty. But Katie isn’t one misstep away from certain death for any of these mundane reasons. She’s on a mission. As she edges out over the rocky shoreline, the bowing branch quivers under her feet.
“What should I do next?” she whispers breathlessly into the phone. “I can almost reach it now.”
“Wait, you’re calling me from the tree?”
“Yeah, I’m on the branch just below them.”
“You’re on what?” I wrest myself from a dream. “Katie, get down and call me back. This is insane.”
“Terry, listen. Yesterday afternoon before I left my house I told you I was too busy and stressed out to deal with this kind of thing now. And remember what you said? You said, ‘If not now, when?’?”
“Yeah, I know what I said. But not now, okay?”
“Hey, I’m out here, so let’s do this.”
I hesitate as the alarming image of what Katie is up to shifts into focus. From my distant, half-conscious state, I try to imagine the line of reasoning people walk themselves through before calling me at all hours: Maybe I’ll give Terry a call. After all, this is an emergency, isn’t it? I hope she doesn’t think I’m too weird calling her from thishookah lounge (the caller all pumped up at two a.m.), or gentleman’s strip club (the stripper calling, not the gentleman), or all-night Korean spa (while in a sweat), or Guatemalan village (¿Hablas español?). Still, despite this rich cultural variety, Katie is my first tree person.
“Yeah, I’m here.” I sit bolt upright in bed. “Okay, do you have the clippers I mentioned?”
Garden clippers came up purely hypothetically yesterday when a frantic Katie called me after discovering a hummingbird trapped in her home office. She had had the French doors to the backyard propped open, and the bird flew into the house in the late afternoon just as Katie had an industry event — which her entire career and life ambition depended on — to attend. Katie called me for advice but was unable to catch the terrified bird rocketing around the rafters, so she left the French doors open and went out. When she arrived back home after midnight, she didn’t see the hummingbird anywhere and assumed it had flown out, so she closed up the house and went to bed, despite my warning about checking the room carefully.
Now two chicks in a nest overhanging the steep cliffs of Malibu are screaming their heads off, and their mother is dead behind the filing cabinet. It’s just two tiny birds. But these little birds create big guilt. The nestlings will sit out there crying all day as they slowly starve to death. So for Katie, there is only one way out from under the crushing weight of self-recrimination.
“I have the clippers in my hand,” she confirms.
“So you’re holding the phone with .?.?.”
“I have a Bluetooth.”
“Great, then reach under the nest and cut the branch at the far end first, about two inches from the nest.”
An endless silence follows, punctuated by a few muted curses over the roar of wind and waves.
More silence, then: “Okay, now what?”
“Now cup one hand under the nest and cut the branch on the side closest to you.” I let out a deep breath, recognizing that these instructions leave no hands for holding on. “And for God’s sake, be careful.”
“Don’t worry. I competed in gymnastics in college. I have excellent balance,” a strained voice comes back.
“Good to know.”
“I finished first in the state in ’95 and competed in the nationals in ’96,” she continues, as if we’re conducting a casual, precompetition interview on ESPN.
“Even better.” That will be my first line of defense in court, I assure myself.
“I do a killer handstand.”
“Well, let’s not press our luck.”
Another long silence.
“Okay, I’ve got the nest.”
“Good, now —”
I hear the haunting wail of the eternal wind, and nothing else.
“Katie? Are you there?”
After a deafening silence that sends me vaulting off the bed and pacing around the room in panicked circles, I hear a faint voice drift back through a crackling connection. “A pinecone just fell on my head.”
Something they never prepare you for in gymnastics.
“Are you okay?”
“I think so, but .?.?. damn .?.?. yeah, go ahead.”
“Okay, now, how do they look?”
“Um, well, they’re tiny, green, and super-cute.”
“I mean, do they look alarmed, like they’re about to fly away?”
“They look a little nervous” — she pauses reflectively — “but no, they’re just kind of staring at me with big eyes.”
“Good. Then cup your hand over them and make your way back, slowly. And if I were you, I’d ditch the clippers.”
“Got it.” She breathes heavily as I hear the sound of bark scraping under sneakers and try not to imagine the lead story on the evening news.
Finally, after the longest thirty seconds of both our lives, she exhales. “Okay, I’m back, we’re back to the ladder so .?.?. can I, let me call you back when I .?.?.”
“Good idea. Put the nest in a box on some crumpled Kleenex when you get in the house and call me.”
“You got it.”
“Oh, and Katie. One more thing.” I sigh, rubbing my eyes. “Just for the record, I never told you to do this.”
“In her endearing new book, FASTEST THINGS ON WINGS: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood, Terry Masear reveals that these birds are not only gorgeous, smart and jaw-dropping masters of flight but also trusting souls that bring out the humanity and love in even the most hard-bitten residents...This is a book about birds that is actually a book about love, and Masear does us a favor by risking heartbreak every day....a powerful story of interspecies communication and trust. The last words of FASTEST THINGS ON WINGS are: ‘I am flying.’ A fitting end to a book that will change forever the way you look at these little birds.”
—Los Angeles Times
"rewarding for birds and reader alike. This is a charming and lively summertime read, something for the patio or balcony, glass of iced tea at hand, a hummingbird or two zipping around the azaleas."
—Dallas Morning News
"a must-read for everyone who enjoys hummingbirds. (Is there anyone who does not fit that category?) Terry Masear is a hummingbird rehabilitator who takes in these tiny injured birds and treats them with great care. Her book, FASTEST THINGS ON WINGS tells about her experiences winning – and occasionally losing – her battles to bring her charges back to health. Although Masear lives in Hollywood and deals with West Coast birds, her stories apply equally to the one species, the ruby-throated hummingbird, we have here. I learned much from this book."
“[a] bright, engrossing debut…Not just for birders, this captivating book brims with warmth, humor, and drama that will have wide appeal.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Encounters with hummingbirds with a variety of personalities have given [Masear] many insightful stories to tell. She has also learned much about the sometimes strange and other times wonderful people of her community, who call her night and day to report orphaned or distressed hummingbirds. Masear is bound to win fans with this passionate memoir."
"Masear shares an abundance of knowledge about hummingbirds’ mating and feeding habits, their incredible flying abilities and migratory journeys, and what they need to heal and thrive. But her observations about the rescuers are just as interesting. 'You can learn a lot about someone by his reaction to a helpless hummingbird in need of rescue,' she writes. 'In fact, you can find out just about everything you need to know about a person.'"
"Terry Masear’s charming account of saving hurt and orphaned hummingbirds grabbed my attention from the first paragraph and kept me riveted until the very last page. I loved this artfully woven story and am certain that animal lovers of all ages will as well."
—Michele Raffin, author of The Birds of Pandemonium
"This rare and lovely book is destined to be a classic. I was riveted, charmed, delighted, devastated, profoundly moved, and taken to a magical place few people ever get to glimpse. It's one of the best books I've ever read about how rehabbers bond with the animals we save."
—Stacey O'Brien, author of Wesley the Owl
"This book is a delightful read. No one else could write such a wonderful memoir of care, compassion, and delight for these small creatures. Masear’s writing is
enthralling and captivating—and I hated for it to end.”
—Joanna Burger, author of The Parrot Who Owns Me
“Fastest Thing on Wings is an exaltation of hummingbirds, but it’s also the story of Terry Masear’s exceptional heart and heroism in saving these fragile and remarkable creatures. In her beautiful account, every rescue is a revelation. Hollywood is full of stars, but few shine as brightly as hers.”
—Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO, The Humane Society of the United States
"In this well-written memoir, she tells the story of Gabriel, a male Anna’s Hummingbird rescued from danger in the middle of busy Rodeo Drive, and Pepper, a female Anna’s injured on a film set. Along the way, Masear shares an abundance of knowledge about hummingbirds’ mating and feeding habits, their incredible flying abilities and migratory journeys, and what they need to heal and thrive. But her observations about the rescuers are just as interesting. 'You can learn a lot about someone by his reaction to a helpless hummingbird in need of rescue,' she writes. 'In fact, you can find out just about everything you need to know about a person.'" —BirdWatching
"You don’t have to be a bird person in general or a hummingbird person specifically to read this book. You don’t need to know anything about birds at all. The very gifted bird whisperer Terry Masear has you covered. She’s one of California’s hardest-working hummingbird rehabilitators. What she knows about these tiny wonders will leave the average bird lover agog....[you'll] come away with a sense of awe for the tenacity and toughness of these wild animals and their sheer will to survive." —Washington Post
“I cannot believe what a gripping read this is – it’s like the Hunger Games for hummingbirds.” —Robin Young, host of NPR's Here and Now
"I begin with a must-read for everyone who enjoys hummingbirds. (Is there anyone who does not fit that category?) Terry Masear is a hummingbird rehabilitator who takes in these tiny injured birds and treats them with great care. Her book, Fastest Things on Wings, tells about her experiences winning – and occasionally losing – her battles to bring her charges back to health. Although Masear lives in Hollywood and deals with West Coast birds, her stories apply equally to the one species, the ruby-throated hummingbird, we have here. I learned much from this book" —Buffalo News
“When Terry Masear, author of THE FASTEST THINGS ON WINGS: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood rescued a fledgling 12 years ago, she had no idea that she would one day be Hollywood’s go-to hummingbird rehabber, fielding as many as 85 calls a day….[In the book] she explains how one of the smallest, most beautiful birds in the world evolved from dinosaurs; how hummingbirds can experience PTSD; how even rock stars cry over injured hummingbird chicks; and why she suffers from kitchenheimers.” –National Geographic
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