How to Rescue a Hummingbird

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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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141 Comments

0
gruselig
gruselig

13 years ago on Introduction

Although it's commendable to rescue birds, please, please do not feed hummingbirds any kind of protein or protein replacements. Their digestive organs are not designed to break down large amounts of proteins (which make up only 5% of their diet), and are instead designed for carbohydrates which come from the nectar they consume. Feeding them only hummingbird nectar is perfectly okay. The bird you rescued, by the way, is an adult female. Juvenile hummingbirds have a brown patch on the back of their head and neck, which fades as they age. She was most likely coming out of torpor, a kind of overnight hibernation that some very small birds go through, which made her sluggish and slow to respond. If they become overheated (over 40°C) during and while coming out of torpor, it can kill them - they use up the little energy reserve they have to cool themselves down, and cannot survive to feed themselves. The best thing to do would be to leave the hummingbird in a safe place outdoors and keep an eye on them rather than try to nurse them back to health. If they appear sluggish well into the day, call a local wildlife rehab centre, or even contact Professor Doctor Karl Schuchmann of Museum Koenig, a world-reknowned hummingbird specialist.

0
Livfri
Livfri

Reply 1 year ago

He commented on the rehabbers! Leave it in tne road or give it a chance!

0
Livfri
Livfri

Reply 1 year ago

Actually their diet is 80% protein from insects! The nectar is burned off quickly from flying and really diesnt account for much of their diet at all. Where you are getting 5% is frightening.

0
Lordofthepies
Lordofthepies

12 years ago on Step 12

Although it is great that you managed to save this hummingbird, you should probably be aware that it is illegal to keep a wild bird in the US.  If you find a wild bird that you think is ill/injured you should ALWAYS call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, ask their advice, and take it in if they say it needs care.  The majority of birds that people try to rescue die because either people don't know how to care for them or they were rescued when they did not need to be.  Many rescued birds are simply fledglings learning how to fly, and when they are taken away from their parents they will probably die. 

This hummingbird may not have needed rescue at all, certainly not for as long a time as you kept him.  Hummingbirds use so much energy that when they sleep, they must enter a period of semi-hibernation.  On "very cold" mornings it may take a little bit longer for them to wake up.  A good meal at most was what this hummer needed, and you could possibly have simply warmed her up in your hands and he would have been fine.  Although you saved him, this bird could have easily died ( I have seen it happen many times).  A wildlife rehabber is really your best bet if you think it really needs care.

0
Livfri
Livfri

Reply 1 year ago

Thank you. It was recognized as illegal.. too many legal trolls

0
winterwindarts
winterwindarts

Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

Hypno_Hawk does have a valid point although most wildlife rehab people near where I grew up wouldn't take a bird unless it was a bird of prey. There was a local bird sanctuary that would occasionally take other birds but usually they wouldn't as they already had too many, but at least they'd give some instructions on care if they couldn't take the bird and a family friend who worked there showed us how to feed babies and teach them to fly once they fledged...which is good because we had a number of pet birds that sometimes needed hand feeding and/or flight training. We did have a number of legal pet birds of various types including babies that sometimes needed hand feeding or flight training.

My family helped a few birds over the years-mainly morning doves and a couple of starlings. Usually they needed little other than a safe place to recover for a few hours away from predators (crashed into window and then dropped into the pool below being rather common until film was put on the windows).

The one longer term wild resident-a starling-was found far from any potential nest and possibly had been played with a little by a cat beforehand. We didn't have any extra cages at the time and had to put her in with some zebra finches to keep her safe from our cats (NEVER mixed wild and pet birds if there is any alternative at all-they can make each other very sick-even a box is better in most cases). She had just started to get some pinfeathers and was quite a bit larger than the finches. Zeebs being prolific and prone to feeding any baby that demands it, kept her stomach full although she still had to be hand fed mashed up bugs as the zeebs are seed eaters, not omnivores like starlings. Flight training for her was difficult, she enjoyed just sitting on a perch and getting fed and clung to us as we tried to get her to fly back and forth. Eventually she did take off and apparently thrived-unlike most rescued birds returned to the wild...the next year she brought half a dozen newly fledged babies of her own to show off and wasn't above begging neighborhood kids for a bit of peanut butter. Shortly afterwards my family moved away so we don't know how long she lived but with her obviously thriving and finding a mate with which to raise at least one clutch we are pretty comfortable calling her a huge success. Even wildlife rehabbers often lose many of their baby birds and the number that can be successfully released is very small and even smaller still is the number who can survive their first year in the wild.

0
rsdandy
rsdandy

Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

Maybe you missed the part where he said that he found him in the middle of the road. Sounds like a rescue was in order to me. You will be lucky to find one wildlife agent that would not welcome this persons help.

0
Sisa
Sisa

9 years ago on Introduction

The "myth" is correct. The parent won´t take anything back that is domesticated. A pet is not an animal. It lost its independence, thus its reason to live as an free wild beauty. We rescued many animals /birds too/ and even when I was a little girl I used to hold the birdies in my hand and mama fed them without any hesitation /one little fellow was apart from her missing at least week, and she still tended to it as a parent would/. And after its wing healed we return it in the forest, its mom waiting nearby (she had other 3 small kids).
But we never named them, they are too unique for unnecessities as names, still you made a wonderful job, I´ve never even held a hummingbird /in my country there are none/; kids and animals always liked me naturally, the way you give off calming waves, I guess, they are fond of you, too....
Isn´t it lovely to repay little back to Mother Nature.

0
Livfri
Livfri

Reply 1 year ago

They aren’t being domesticated. Hummingbirds in the wild can be quite friendly. They are being given a chance to survive. Domestication is a stretch.

0
scott35750
scott35750

8 years ago

It is a federal offense to possess a hummingbird. I would not recommend this. Just saying.

0
Livfri
Livfri

Reply 1 year ago

Think that was covered and the nice humanitarian rescuer explained his position which is well founded.

0
maleahmac
maleahmac

7 years ago on Introduction

It may be a federal offense. However here in Arkansas even when you try to contact wildlife rehibilitators they do not answer nor call you back. So I think myself personally will take my chances. Though I know I may not succeed id rather try than turn my back. Why they make a law against it is even crueler than the fact that they do indeed turn their back. If anyone can help me please contact me at 501-414-0655 and it will be so appreciated.

0
Livfri
Livfri

Reply 1 year ago

EXCELLENT ANSWER!

0
MadVegetarian
MadVegetarian

13 years ago on Introduction

Ouch! I used to volunteer with a wildlife rehab center. Taking care of wild animals without the proper know-how is a gamble... And naming them is a no-no. Many animals will "fix" on you. And livestrong2431 is right. I would stay away from the mix and make your own. All you need is the right water - sugar ratio.

0
TreyO
TreyO

Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

thank you for the advice, but one comment. When you, or anyone makes a reference to "the right water/sugar ratio", PLEASE tell us what is is, or point us to a specific location to fing it. :-)

0
Livfri
Livfri

Reply 1 year ago

Yes....I also am thankful and hungry for guidance as well!

0
calibrat4
calibrat4

Reply 5 years ago

The proper ratio is a 4 to 1 ratio. Meaning 4 cups of good water... boiled, bottled. 1 cup of sugar. Fill clean feeders, change out feeders every few days, especially when they start to cloud. the hummingbirds can get drunk and fly in to things and die of hypothermia. For much more information, please check out HELP SAVE OUR HUMMINGBIRDS on facebook! There is more than enough information to help you out! Thank You and here is the link.

https://www.facebook.com/helpsaveourhummingbirds/