A beautiful, humbling hummingbird rescue experience during the first day at…

Ruby Throated Humming Bird in Aaron's hand -
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We’ve been privately working on this website for quite a while now, but we officially went “public” with the site late in the afternoon on Tuesday, October 2, 2012. Thanks to the awesome support of our friends and family, we’re thrilled to say that within 24 hours, we’d already received over 2,800 views from around the world. Woohoo!

This is something measurable, something tangible, and something that further encourages us to share the amazing things we’re learning on a daily basis at Tyrant Farms. Our hope is that more people will care enough to form a loving relationship with their food.

As cool as that 2,800 number is, something else happened yesterday that we wanted to share. It’s something we can’t quantify or measure, but to us, it was even more encouraging than any number or statistic could ever be…

Hummingbird encounter and rescue 

In case you haven’t noticed, the symbol of Tyrant Farms is a ruby throated hummingbird, several of which we happily host during the warm weather months each year. These are remarkable little critters who fly thousands of miles each year, overwintering in Central and South America before flying back to the US and Canada in the spring.

If you look at a map of North and Central America, check out the 500 mile wide span of water labelled “The Gulf of Mexico.”

Map showing the Hummingbird route Crossing Gulf of Mexico

This is the flight path of ruby throated hummingbirds. source:

Every ruby throated hummingbird has to fly over that area of ocean each fall and spring without stopping.

Think about that for a moment… FIVE HUNDRED MILES. Nonstop.

For a person on a cruise ship, that’s a piece of cake. For an 8 centimeter long, 0.2 ounce bird that beats its wings 50 times per second, that’s beyond incredible. But that’s not the reason we settled on our hummingbird symbol/logo…

Our spark of inspiration came while watching the movie/documentary Dirt, which we highly recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about dirt/soil. As it turns out, soil is a precious resource that we’re all stewards of. (Yes, we’re dorks who actually get really excited talking about and helping our soil improve each year).

The massive diversity and complexity of the interconnected lifeforms that exist in a single teaspoon of dirt boggles the mind, and the health of our soil (collectively) is not only vital to sustaining all life on earth, it’s also an essential component of growing great food.

At one point during the movie Dirt, Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai told “the story of the hummingbird” (click here to watch her excerpt). After Maathai told her story, Susan and I both looked at each other and—nearly in unison—said, “that’s it—that’s our symbol.”

So, back to yesterday…

At the end of the first day of being fully public, we decided to go outside to relax, pick dinner, and check in on the “farm” (i.e. we did the same thing we do pretty much every night).

I was finishing up a few things on my laptop as The Tyrant went out to the front porch to play with the kittens and put on her boots. Within a few seconds she came back inside, and exclaimed “Baby, there’s a hummingbird trapped on the front porch.”

When read in written form, that’s not a clear call to action. However, over our years together, I’ve learned to immediately recognize from a single vocal note (no syllables or full words required) when The Tyrant wants, er demands, something…

Within 33.4 seconds (she was timing me) our front porch was fully equipped for our hummingbird rescue: it contained a laptop, a ladder, a hummingbird feeder, a trapping box, and me (the newly appointed hummingbird whisperer). Right outside of our door is a high ceiling area with walls on four sides.

Somehow, a female hummingbird had flown into this area and was frantically flying back and forth next to the ceiling trying to find a way out. All she had to do was fly down a few feet into the opening, but her instincts were telling her to fly up, out, and away.

As I was setting up my hummingbird rescue equipment, Susan frantically searched the internet to find out what to do (and not to do) during hummingbird rescue operations. No nets or cloth could be used, otherwise we risked damaging the hummingbird’s small feet or wings. I’d be using my bare hands for the operation.

Susan then informed me that I had less than 60 minutes to capture her (they typically eat every 15 minutes), or the hummingbird would likely suffer a heart attack or die of exhaustion. Fantastic.


Tyrant Farms / Aaron von Frank: Hummingbird Whisperer -

Aaron, The Tyrant Farms “Hummingbird Whisperer,” trying (unsuccessfully) to coax our trapped ruby-throated hummingbird towards a nectar tube.

Up the ladder I went. After a solid 30+ minutes of grasping at thin air, making odd hummingbird-like sounds to try to coax her towards me, and telling her (in the most pleasant voice possible) that I was not going to harm her, I finally managed to get my hands around her small body (the hummingbird’s not The Tyrant’s).

She immediately made a few attempts to flap out of my hands, but since she’d been in a panicked state of flight (with a few intermittent landings on our porch light chain) for at least 45 minutes, we wanted to keep her still for a bit and also get some sugar water into her. After a minute, I felt her small trembling body relax in my hands.

If you’re like us, you’ve probably never had an opportunity to look closely into a hummingbird’s eyes, so we understand if this sounds a little strange… her small brown eyes were remarkably emotive (Susan also fell in love with her little eyelashes). We sat there on our front porch, quietly and curiously looking at each other over the next 5 minutes, three fellow passengers on Spaceship Earth. Connection.

After a few more minutes, we took her to the back yard, planning to let her perch on our large hummingbird feeder in case she needed some additional food. As I unwound my fingers from her body, I felt her muscles tense for flight. My hands opened, and her wings purred to life. No food necessary.

Away she flew towards the forest, disappearing into the sunset. The Tyrant and I stood there for several minutes, quietly—amazed, appreciative, and humbled by the experience.

The Tyrant soon found the best words to describe what we’d just experienced, “we’ve found our deepest passion… and we’ve set it free.” It was a perfect ending to a beautiful first (official) day at Tyrant Farms, and our symbol is now infused with even more meaning, at least to us.

We just hope we’ve put out enough feeders (we’ve since added an additional one) and planted enough flowers to provide our new feathered friend with enough nectar to fatten up for her long fall flight across the Gulf of Mexico. We’d love to see her again this spring at Tyrant Farms, and we’ll make sure to have flowers ready for her return.
Aaron von Frank holding a Ruby Throated Hummingbird Gal



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  • Reply
    November 29, 2012 at 8:55 am

    We sure hope our mothers are proud of us!

  • Reply
    April Gordon
    November 28, 2012 at 11:35 am

    I am a longtime admirer of Wangari Maathai and found the video you mentioned an inspiration to those of us trying to do what we can to be good stewards of the earth despite the enormity of the challenges we face (and often apathy or resignation of others). This to me a core element of living a life of integrity, i.e. living your beliefs. It is nice to see young people like you, Aaron, and Susan embracing this philosophy. Your mother must be very proud of you. April Gordon

  • Reply
    Doug Cone (@nullvariable)
    October 5, 2012 at 10:09 am

    What a cool story! I think I’m going to have to buy a humming bird feeder now 🙂

    • Reply
      October 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      Thanks Doug! If you ever need a hummingbird whisperer, just remember we’re right around the corner from you. 🙂

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