Archive for Peru 2010

Nov
03

Bell, Book, and Hummingbird

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The French entomologist G.A. Baer spent much of the first two years of the twentieth century in Peru, collecting specimens for colleagues and institutions back home.

In his spare time, Baer also kept an eye out for hummingbirds. Among the 25 species he collected for Eugène Simon and Walter Rothschild was a new species of metaltail, which Simon named Metallura theresiae in honor of Baer’s wife.

Simon found it remarkable that an unknown bird could still lurk “in a region so close to those explored by the skillful collectors E. Bartlett, Stolzmann, and O.T. Baron.” But Baer found even more remarkable something he had witnessed in Huamachuco in April of 1900.

After having paid the customary calls on the town’s authorities, who welcomed me most warmly, I visited the local curate, with whom I discussed my hunting plans.

The curate took the opportunity to complain at length about hte behavior of a little hummingbird, which had acquired the habit of coming into the church every day and interrupting mass, flying and buzzing from flower to flower of the altar bouquets, entirely untroubled by the crowd of the faithful or the burning candles.

Shinging Sunbeam Ecuador September 2007 171

Baer was able to identify the bird, “dressed in modest brown, as appropriate when attending mass,” as a shining sunbeam, but the only advice he could offer the priest — who was eager to be rid of the little intruder — was to stop putting flowers on the altar for a while.

But the curate didn’t dare approve any plan like that, for fear of insulting the ladies who regularly sent bouquets to the church.

And so all the monks and priests of the church assembled in council “to deliberate this grave matter.” Baer pleaded in favor of the defendant:

I explained that it was impossible to net the little bird and that of course one couldn’t dream of solving the problem with a murder.

The council was persuaded.

 On mature reflection, it was resolved that the little sinner would be pardoned.

But that sunbeam had come dangerously close to being excommunicated.

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