HomeTop StoriesA woman in Mexico City heals hummingbirds and receives healing in return

A woman in Mexico City heals hummingbirds and receives healing in return

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Catia Lattouf gently holds a baby hummingbird between her hands and says, “Hello, sweet little man. Are you very hungry?” It’s the newest patient in her apartment in a toney section of Mexico City, where she’s nursed hundreds of the little birds back to health over the past decade.

Under Lattouf’s caress, the bird relaxes little by little so that she can evaluate it. A young man who rescued him after he fell from a nest on his patio watched closely.

“It’s a broad-billed hummingbird,” said 73-year-old Lattouf, moving a pipette to its beak. “Oh, mommy, do you want to eat!”

This is how Lattouf’s days have often gone since she converted her apartment in the Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City into a clinic for sick, injured or young hummingbirds, about 60 of which are currently flying around.

Lattouf, who studied French literature, has become a source of reference for bird enthusiasts, amateurs and professionals alike, throughout Mexico and other parts of Latin America.

Her makeshift clinic also supports more formal institutions like the Iztacala campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, which sometimes refers cases to her due to a lack of resources, time and space, said one of her researchers, the ornithologist María del Coro Arizmendi.

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Arizmendi said there are 22 species of hummingbirds in Mexico’s sprawling capital, with the broad-billed hummingbird and the berylline hummingbird being the most common. In Mexico there are about 57 species and about 350 in America.

As dozens of tiny birds buzzed overhead, past walls and her bedroom window, Lattouf explained that she began caring for them a year after surviving colon cancer in 2011. It started with a hummingbird that had an eye injured by another bird.

A vet friend encouraged her to try and help it. She named it Gucci after the brand of the glasses case she kept it in. The bird became her inseparable companion, sitting on her computer screen while she worked.

“It wrote me a new life,” she said of the bird’s nine months living with her.

It helped lift Lattouf out of the grief and loneliness she had experienced after her husband’s death in 2009, followed by her own battle with cancer. Her illness had prompted her to sell her five luxury boutiques to focus on her recovery.

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Later, friends and acquaintances began to bring her more hummingbirds. She began studying how to better care for the birds that are native to the Americas and usually weigh only 4 to 6 ounces (one-fifth of an ounce or less) and measure about 10 to 12 centimeters (4 to 5 inches long).

“Most of them come to me as babies. Many come to me broken,” she said.

Some have injuries to wings after bumping into things or falling out of nests. Some have infections from drinking contaminated water from hummingbird feeders, which are popular in the city.

Since May, demand for her services has skyrocketed. Someone posted a video about her work on the social platform TikTok that has been viewed more than 1.5 million times.

Lattouf says she never rejects a bird. Together with her co-worker Cecilia Santos, whom she calls the “hummingbird sitter,” they care for the birds during long days that stretch from 5 a.m. into the night.

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Most of the hummingbirds are in the bedroom where Lattouf sleeps. They stay there until they are strong enough to fly and feed themselves. She then moves them into an adjoining room to prepare them for eventual release. They are released into a wooded area on the south side of town.

Many of them manage to return to the wild, but those who die in Lattouf’s care are buried near her building among small plants.

The city is filled with threats to hummingbirds. There are the slender black grackles that attack the birds and destroy their nests, as well as constant construction projects that replace flower gardens with concrete.

But Lattouf remains optimistic and bets on other bird lovers who plant more flowers to feed the large pollinators.

“Nothing is guaranteed,” she said. “I believe that God gives life and God takes it, but we do everything possible.”

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