Gently holding a baby hummingbird between her hands, Catia Lattouf says, “Hello, cute little guy. Are you very hungry?” It’s the newest patient at her apartment in a toney section of Mexico City where she has nursed hundreds of the tiny birds back to health over the past decade.
Under Lattouf’s caress, the bird relaxes little by little, allowing her to evaluate it. A young man who rescued it after it fell from a nest onto his patio watched attentively.
“It is a broad-billed hummingbird,” the 73-year-old Lattouf said, as she moved an eyedropper to its beak. “Oh, mama, you want to eat!”
This is often how Lattouf’s days have gone since she turned her apartment in Mexico City’s Polanco neighborhood into a clinic for sick, injured, or infant hummingbirds, about 60 of which currently flit around.
Lattouf, who studied French literature, has become a reference source for bird lovers, amateur and professional alike, across Mexico and other parts of Latin America.
Her improvised clinic also supports more formal institutions like the Iztacala campus of Mexico’s National Autonomous University, which sometimes refers cases to her due to a lack of resources, time, and space, said one of its researchers, the ornithologist María del Coro Arizmendi.
Arizmendi said there are 22 species of hummingbird in Mexico’s sprawling capital, of which the broad-billed and the berylline hummingbird are the most common. In Mexico, there are some 57 species, and around 350 across the Americas.
With dozens of the tiny birds buzzing overhead, along walls and the window of her bedroom, Lattouf explained that she began caring for them a year after surviving colon cancer in 2011. It started with one hummingbird that had an eye injured by another bird.
A veterinarian friend encouraged her to try to help it. She named it Gucci after the brand of the glasses case she kept it in. The bird became her inseparable companion, perching on her computer screen while she worked.