When dozens of police officers in riot gear raided the occupied Hayes Valley Farm in San Francisco early last Thursday morning, it seemed like the end of the road for this garden space. Activists from around the Bay Area had moved in on June 1 with the hopes of holding off the developers set to raze the farm and replace it with 182 condo units, retail space, and a parking garage. But after the early raid, a handful of arrests, and one activist falling 30 feet from a protest platform hung in a tree, it looked like time had run out.

That was before everyone met the Allen’s hummingbird.

Allenshummingbird
Susie Cagle

After developers moved in and began toppling trees, someone alerted them to nesting hummingbirds on the land, and the project was put on hold while biologists and wardens from the Department of Fish and Wildlife investigated.

The Allen’s hummingbird is hardly endangered — it enjoys a pretty significant West Coast population in California and Oregon. Nonetheless, it is protected under the 1918 Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act along with, well, all other non-pet birds. It’s not illegal to destroy migratory bird habitat — otherwise no condos would ever get built! — but it is illegal to destroy their eggs and nests.

“The developers might get a fine, or the project might be on ice for now,” said farm activist Effie Rawlins. The Department of Fish and Wildlife didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Could a little bird really slow San Francisco’s epic apartment construction boom? Probably not for long: It may be springtime now, but those cute little Allen’s all migrate south to Mexico for the winter …