A dizzying array of hummingbirds thrive in Southern Nevada, where they sip from feeders and flowers and lay impossibly tiny eggs in spider-web nests no bigger than a shot glass.
As it turns out, they also do pretty well in a rolled-up sock in Marion Brady's workout room.
Brady rescues hummingbirds, an unpaid, full-time, self-taught job that puts her in rare company. As far as she knows, the valley is home to only one other such service, which requires a great deal of commitment and a permit from the federal government.
Brady keeps a trio of cages near her exercise equipment for her rotating brood of mismatched patients. In a sunny corner of her northwest valley home, she cares for the feisty birds while they learn to perch, fly, find nectar and all the other skills they will need to survive on their own.
Then, when they're ready, she lets them go.
"I love to be able take care of these little babies," she said. "It's a real stress release."
She probably needs that more than most. For the past 20 years, Brady has served as a crime scene investigator for the North Las Vegas Police Department.
She fell into rescue work by accident.
About four years ago, she was volunteering at Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary when a hatchling hummingbird showed up at the nonprofit animal attraction.
Until then, the only baby birds she had ever cared for were two doves and a grackle, but she volunteered to take the tiny hummer home with her because he needed to be fed every 20 minutes or so.
"I was afraid to pick him up. I didn't want to crush him," she said. "You kind of learn what you can do."
Determined to do right by Squeak, as he came to be known, Brady scoured the Internet for information about hummingbirds. She even put in a call to the ornithology lab at Cornell University.
What she learned right away is that the baby birds cannot survive on nectar alone. To get all-important protein into Squeak's diet, she had to buy worms from her neighborhood pet store and mash them up into sugar water.
She eventually switched to a powdered hummingbird food that she ordered from Germany for $129 per container before discovering a cheaper, domestic brand.
"Basically, you mix up a little protein shake for them," she said. "Believe me, it's much easier than it is to squeeze the guts out of a mealworm."
Since Squeak, Brady has taken in 35 hummingbirds, from injured adults to naked, newborn blobs no bigger than the image of Lincoln on a penny.
Only three have died, all of them very young and vulnerable. One of the babies came into Brady's care within minutes of hatching from an egg the size of a small jellybean. The bird was so small she was afraid to pick it up.
The rest of her rescues have ended happily, with healthy birds released back into the wild to live out their second chances.
That sounds like a pretty impressive success rate to John Hiatt, conservation chairman for the Red Rock Audubon Society.
"They're not all going to make it," he said. "They don't all make it when the mother bird is taking care of them."
Brady doesn't advertise her services. People are referred to her by Gilcrease, or they find her by word-of-mouth.
This year has been especially busy for some reason. Already, Brady has taken in 18 hummingbirds, and the calls keep coming.
Things have been so hectic that she recently recruited a partner from one of her rescue calls.
Jacquelyn Romero originally contacted Brady about a baby hummingbird she found abandoned in her olive tree. That bird since has been reared and released back into Romero's yard, and Romero is now caring for other birds that have been brought to Brady.
Like the hummingbirds themselves, the work involves short bursts of furious activity.
Shepherding a bird from pickup to release can take as little as a few weeks or as much as two months.
The youngest ones need to be fed by hand three to six times every hour.
"They go everywhere with me," Brady said. "If I have to go to the store, they go with me."
Romero said she has fed hummingbirds at Girl Scout meetings and in public restrooms.
Brady has taken her blue plastic carrier with her to the office and even the occasional crime scene, where she has been known to take a few seconds to feed one of her babies when she goes to get something out of her CSI cargo van.
They eventually release all of the hummingbirds they rescue - and not just because keeping one as a pet is a federal offense punishable by a hefty fine.
Romero said these are wild birds, and they are not shy about letting you know when they are ready to be let go.
"They're actually fierce," she said. "These are not parakeets. You can't clip their wings and keep them in a cage."
Romero and Brady recently launched their own website, lasvegashummingbirdrescue.com, to provide tips and a way for people to contact them when they find a distressed hummer.
Brady plans to devote a lot more of her time to rescue work when she retires later this month after 25 years in law enforcement.
She said she wants to enroll in a college biology program somewhere and get some formal training in hummingbirds. She also wants to get a rehabilitation permit of her own so she can stop using the one held by Gilcrease.
Brady said she still sees Squeak in her backyard from time to time.
When she first let him go, he used to fly up to her and hover a few inches in front of her face. Now he keeps her at arms length.
"He's wild again," she said.
He also is a father. Shortly after he was released, Squeak paired up with another rescued hummingbird. Their offspring now rule the feeders in Brady's yard.
"I've got my feathered grandkids looking in the window at me," she said, beaming. "To know that you saved the life of one of Mother Nature's smallest little creatures is such a good feeling."
Contact reporter Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350.