We’ve all heard the rough calculus equating a bird in the hand to two in the bush. One has to wonder, however, whether certain birds in hand may have even greater value. Depends on the bird, right?

My contemplation of this creaky avifaunal aphorism is prompted by my recent trip to Costa Rica. Patrick O’Donnell, my intrepid guide through the land of Pura Vida, has already aptly described how mercilessly wet the country was during my stay. I’ll certainly be sharing my feelings on those lamentable conditions, but first I want to discuss Patrick’s singular focus on delivering the best birdwatching possible. It all started when we pulled in to the Cocina Costarricense on Volcan Poas.

The Cocina boasted hearty Costa Rican cuisine, but its real attraction was a collection of busy hummingbird feeders situated right by the front door. Even with the interminable rain, I could easily pop out for incredibly close shots of resplendent hummers. And what a lineup! Volcano Hummingbirds, Emerald-crowned Brilliants, Green Violetears, Purple-throated Mountain Gems, Magnificent Hummingbirds, Stripe-tailed Hummingbirds, Steely-vented Hummingbirds, and Violet Sabrewings buzzed furiously from feeder to flower just a couple of feet from the entrance to the cocina.

As I was blissfully snapping shot after shot of these very sexy subjects, Patrick asked if I’d ever gotten a really close shot of a sabrewing. No sooner had I replied in the negative than he reached into the air like the kung fu-fighting bird guide that he is and deftly plucked out a female Violet Sabrewing.

Amazing, no? Good thing the ABA Code of Ethics doesn’t apply overseas!

Obviously, I’m joking. True, Patrick has trained extensively in the martial arts and knows birds as well as anyone I’ve ever chased birds with. But Patrick would NEVER so much as tweak a feather of a bird even to enhance a birding experience (right, Pat?) While he did take this fetching female sabrewing in hand, the act was one of mercy. The poor bird was trapped inside the cocina and fairly leaped into Patrick’s hand as he tried to gently guide it outside. Great photo op though!

The female Violet Sabrewing impresses with its size, hulking by hummer standards, as well as that dynamic decurved bill, sweeping wings, and dappled iridescent feathering. But when the male makes an appearance, all eyes are drawn to its namesake eye-popping purple plumage. A bird like this, in hand or not, must be worth way more than two in the bush.

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.