Introduction: How to Rescue a Hummingbird

About: Long time bicyclist, bike commuter, bike tourer, recent bike builder/experimenter. I'm an energy consultant for hydro electric, solar and other renewable energy generation.

It's very satisfying to rescue a humming bird on the ground and nurse it back to health then release it. Here is how I've done it a couple of times.

I found this little guy sitting in the road as I biked by on a very cold early morning ride. Traffic was light so I circled back to pick him up before the next cars would come by.

I put him in my shirt pocket to warm him up. I looked at the nearby trees to see if I could tell from where he fell. He seemed cold, dazed, calm and lethargic. He made himself comfy in my shirt pocket. I put my hand over the pocket to further block the wind and warm him as I rode home.

My daughter named him "Wallace".

Step 1: Read Up on Your New Guest

Wallace and I start reviewing the literature to see what we may be in for.

He is an Anna's hummingbird according to our book.

He liked looking at the picture and reminiscing about family etc.

The sock nest was roomy and comfy for him.

Step 2: Set Up a Cage for Your Little Guest

A cage is needed to keep the little guest's whereabouts known and to keep the other pets out.

If you need to warm your bird use a thermostatically controlled heat pad under the cage, not a thermostatically controlled blinking light sleep deprivation device.

Step 3: Feeding

Two important things about feeding:
1) They need frequent feeding (I fed him every 15 minutes for a couple hours)
2) They need to be kept clean and dry during rehab. Feed carefully so you do not get your guest sticky or matted since he will not be insulated by matted feathers and could get too cold.

We fed him a commercial product called "Instant Nectar" for humming bird feeders.
You mix it up in COLD water so you do not super saturate the water with sugar that later would crystallize when the water cooled. (Mixing it in warm water could lead to rock candy in your humming bird feeders.)

Step 4: Feeding Technique

I usually put the bird on my belly (It helps to be portly) or hold it in one hand.
Get a few drops of bird food in an eye dropper.
I get the dropper opening very close to the end of the beak and see if he will eat without being prompted.

Do not squeeze the dropper and get sticky nectar on the bird.

I have discovered the bird "feeding prompt" is to gently touch the back of the head and neck with a finger. (The back of his head and neck, not yours.)
The bird immediately starts feeding. I wonder if the parent birds do this to speed up feeding.

Its tongue darts out about 3/4" several times per second (that's several Hz for you fellow nerds) lapping up the nectar inside the dropper.

Step 5: Adding Protein to the Sugar Food

When we raised a tiny baby hummingbird a few years ago, we deduced that a bird cannot grow on sugar alone. If that was all they ate, they would end up looking like rock candy crystals instead of muscle-bound athletic birds.

We figured the parents catch bugs and feed the babies some protein upon which to grow. So we shook bugs out of flowers into the nectar bowl and ground them up. (please, no harsh comments from the bug's rights activists). It helps to not use pesticide in your garden.

This time since I brought the bird home at breakfast time and we were having scrambled eggs, I took some egg yoke and mixed it into the nectar. (Egg white just seemed too cannibalistic)

Step 6: Getting a Little Fresh Air

Wallace sunning himself while standing on a perch that was too big to grip.

He is taking a breather between small meals.

I once over fed our first baby humming bird...
She kept responding to the feeding prompt (my finger petting the back of her head) so I kept feeding her as she sat on my belly and we watched TV. I though, hmmm where does she put all that food?

Then to my shock I saw a red bulge like a full size red grape on her throat under her chin.

I think it is her crop (some say gizzard) that can be used for temporary food storage. I stopped feeding her and she digested that stored food over night. But be careful you don't over or under feed your guests.

Step 7: Getting Some Excercise and Feeling Better

Wallace tries out his wings and shows signs of friskiness.

I had to hold the cage so Wallace would not fly away with the whole thing. Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit but he was looking much healthier after a few good meals.

Step 8: Something About the Milk Carton Catches My Eye

While feeding Wallace his 7th little breakfast including Instant Nectar (like Tang for hummingbirds) with ground up egg yolk mixed in it. I noticed something on my milk carton.

Step 9: Wallace Notices It Too

He said something like "Hey! I should be getting home soon."

Actually, he started flying fairly well around the house like he was capable of upward flight and motivated to resume independent bird life.

So we start making preparations for a return to the wild.

I want to give him a lift back to where I found him (a mile away but in the next county).
I hear these guys are very territorial, so my local hummingbirds may not adopt him into the clan. Additionally, I think he may be young and still in need of bird parent training on flight and feeding let alone having that special talk about the birds and the bees....

Step 10: The Travel Box

After putting Wallace in a small cardboard box with his sock nest and twig...

I packed him on my bike and rode back to the tree near the spot where I found him in the road.

Here is his travel box as I took him out for return to the wild.

Step 11: One for the Road

I got him out and he was anxious to get going but he decided he had time for one final hand-fed meal before flying off to resume normal bird life.

When I let him go, He flew straight up into the tree overhead and sat for a few seconds. By the time I had my camera ready he had already gone.

I imagine he will tell the others about his experience but maybe he'll exaggerate a little so it sounds more like an alien abduction, instead of an all expense paid trip to a bed and breakfast.

But, you know how birds are.

Still, it's a very satisfying thing to do, so I recommend the effort.

Good luck! and Happy Earthday!

Step 12: Prior Experience

Our first baby hummingbird rescue (10 years ago) ended successfully after a week with an amazing reunion.

The week started as I was mowing the lawn and found a smaller baby in the grass, not able to fly. I knew the myths, "If you touch it the mom won't take it back", etc.

But as night was falling I had to do something. We took it in and hand fed it for a week 10-15 times/day. We named her Heidi (since she was "hiding" in the lawn).
She liked to sit on my shoulder pretending she was a parrot and I was her pirate/mobile perch.
I let her practice flying in the house like an insect fluttering up the wall and slowly back down, coming to rest in the the palm of my hand. This practice helped her build strength and endurance.

On the 6th or 7th day we brought her cage outside for some evening fresh air and 30 seconds later her mom zooms down from the redwood tree and starts chittering excitedly at us. Something about "You've been giving her too much sugar and you're going to rot her beak off." We reached into the cage, picked Heidi up and put her on the top (outside) of the cage. Within 15 seconds, the mom was catching gnats (bugs) from a convenient nearby swarm and feeding them to Heidi. Over the next hour Heidi was escorted by her mom, in a series of small flights, back up to the nest in the redwood.

This debunks the "Momma bird won't take back babies that have been touched by people" myth.

The nest was high up in the redwood. It was high enough for about a 30 degree glide path over the house and down to the front lawn where I found Heidi that first day.

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