How to Rescue a Hummingbird

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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.

Intro: How to Rescue a Hummingbird

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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126 Discussions

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PatriciaP117

4 months ago on Step 5

I found a young adult on the ground yesterday & found your post extremely helpful! I made a sock nest and fed it every 15-20 mins till bedtime, then every 1-2hrs based upon wether she was hungry. I took her back to the park today, but she just isn't ready or able to fly away at the moment. Her mom did stop by when I spoke out loud to her, sounds crazy I know. Since she'll be with me another day or two i don't want to just feed her nectar, did you give her raw or cooked eggs and how well did it mix it? Thank you for your help!

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tkjtkj

1 year ago

nice, and thoughtfully kind job ..

I've wondered a lot about the idea that feeding birds egg-yolks is good for them..

Consumed cholesterol is not the source of the cholesterol in a hen's egg: cholesterol doesn't exist in plants, and birds have survived many millions of evolutionary years. Yes, of course they do eat bugs but that cant possibly provide enough for the laying of an egg or two every day!

I should think the it'd be the egg WHITES that would be of great benefit: nearly 100% protein .. albumin, actually ... good stuff!

I searched the net for info on this topic and could find nothing other than 'theory' to support feeding these critters egg-yolk . Perhaps someone can inform me of any demonstrated advantage. The need for protein is never disputed!.. it's why you ground up the bugs ... One egg's 'whites' would be the equivalent of about a gazzillion ants! Of course, I dont know if bird physiology can manufacture all of what they need .. i do doubt they can ... We humans cannot manufacture proteins that contain the " 9 essential amino acids"... they must come from food. Most likely (by far!) birds would have the same issue ...

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calibrat4

1 year ago

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

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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.

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TreyOMadVegetarian

Reply 3 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. :-)

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calibrat4TreyO

Reply 1 year 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/

As I said earlier, my family was lucky with the starling. Granted, she was just getting her first pin feathers so at least she first impressed on her parents instead of on us. She remembered us the next year but she didn't impress on us either...the clutch she raised pretty much proved that point. If she had impressed on us she wouldn't have accepted a mate of her own species.

We were lucky and we know it. This was one of those times that wildlife rehabbers wouldn't take the bird-we checked. They were usually overwhelmed as is was with the endangered critters and birds of prey. Other areas would be different and you always need to call and check with them before taking in a bird or other wild animal.

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Joanne19701970

1 year ago

We too rescued a hummingbird that flew into the window and landed on the deck (actually TWO hit the window but one was OK enough to fly away) she couldn't fly so we hand fed her for a few weeks and it's been around 2 months since we've had "Bella" and the last 2 days she really doesn't seem to be able to fly again? We've had her out lots in the house and she would fly around the ceiling (19ft high) then land on my daughters head or shoulder. We thought she was doing great, however, now she sits on the bottom of her cage in her "nest" we made her. We have 2 feeders set up near her so she can feed and not have to fly to the top of the cage. I did see (with a little horror :) that you've fed yours protein - we have NOT fed her protein - we've been making the sugar water every couple of days with 4 parts water, one part sugar boiled... no dye. Really worried about the little thing :( we planned to keep her until spring and hopefully she's able to get out with her friends but right now it seems like she's going backwards on progress... any insight you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks - oh we are in Canada - it's COLD outside is it possible she's "cold"?? Should we have a heat lamp (well not something bright just something to keep her warm??)? ANd you know they look like cottonballs when they sleep (torpor) - that's what she looks like during the day now.... help!!!!

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Hummerlover

2 years ago

I found two baby hummers in a nest but the thing is that the base of their beaks are covered in some kind of bug what do I do please answer ASAP

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WoodenbikesHummerlover

Reply 2 years ago

I don’t know about the bugs.

It could be the bugs are leftover food, or a parasite or both.

options are:
Leave everything alone (to nature). This may be very normal.
Call in federal wildlife authorities as some commenters tell me I should’ve done.
Seek other advice.

I would suggest against using any cleaning product or poison or repellant on the birds or the bugs.

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barefootbohemian

3 years ago

I appreciate you offering the information and the fact you did some reading up so you would know some of what to do. You might have failed to read anything regarding federal wildlife protection laws and hummingbirds. Only a TRAINED & LICENSED hummingbird rehabber should attempt to rescue and rehab any hummingbird. I live in an area with an abundance of ruby throat, rufous calliope hummers and have been placed in a position of needing to help them several times. Unfortunately the nearest hummingbird facility is in Albuquerque and I am closer to Taos, so moving them to the facility is a long hard journey on an injured bird, but it is both a moral and legal responsibility to do just that. That is what made starting a hummingbird rescue in my area so important.
Some points to your tale- please don't use commercial nectar mix for any hummingbirds. Most contain at least trace amounts of substances that are not healthy for bird or human. Mixing a nectar of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar (I use raw sugar for all my feeders and anytime I hand feed a bird as wll. They really love raw sugar, maybe it's because it lookspre like beer than nectar? Please NEVER use food coloring in your mix as it is toxic to birds over time as it is not properly excreted.
And as for returning a baby bird to them nest- hummingbird mothers will almost always accept babies back without a problem. It is best to return a baby hummer to the nest of you see were it is.
I am glad you see the need to help care for the small creatures of this big planet and I commend you for that!

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You are correct about my failure to read up on the laws protecting hummingbirds before I scooped the semi conscious bird from the major road surface before the next car came along. I've now looked at a summary of the Migratory Bird Act and, as a layman, I see its intent is to prohibit all activities that would decrease the number of individual birds in wild circulation. e.g. hunting, trapping, poisoning, killing, capturing to remove from wild circulation, etc. It uses the hunting term "taking" for killing, and the term "possession" (presumably for a chain of ownership covering a large part of the remainder of a bird's life) for removing from wild circulation. I'm comfortable my 3 hour rescue did not violate the intent of the Migratory Species Act, and in fact I sincerely believe the rescue helped to keep the bird in circulation. I applaud people who are able to achieve rescues with a licensed trained rehabber. I'm glad you were able to start a rescue facility in your area. Finding a licensed trained rehabber before the next car drove by was beyond my abilities, the rescue was within them.

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humlvr

4 years ago on Introduction

I'm a hummingbird rehabilitator. Some of suggestions in your article are informative for your viewers; such as placing the nest under a well-lit and protective setting, warm up the nest underneath the cage, and feed bugs in addition to sugar water to the hummingbird, and hummers have poor sense of smell. I hope you don't mind that I make some corrections of how to care for them.
1. Socks are not the best material for the nest. The loops can catch their feet and cause damage when you try to take them out of their "nest". The much better alternative is to use an egg cartons or a small container, and line it with facial tissue. Change the tissue out at least daily.
2. They shouldn't only be on sugar water diet for more than 3 days. Regular strength sugar water causes gas in the crops for the nestlings which is unhealthy and can be dangerous. Please use nectar without red dye. By giving them just sugar water and red dye in the diet can result future deformity.
3. Over feeding can cause aspiration. It's safer to do more frequent feedings than long feedings.
4. Garden insects are good, just make sure there are no ants in the mix. Ants are toxic to hummers.
5. The sooner you return the nestlings to the original site the better. The hummingbird mothers do the most appropriate care with their chicks. However, some mothers don't hang around too many days, especially if she has established another nest.

It's really wonderful that you took time to rescue those hummers. The world is a better place with people like you!

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TreyOhumlvr

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

so, can you tell us EXACTLY what you mean when referring to nectar? Something I can buy at the store? Nearly all of the store nectar I've seen contains red dye.

As for my regular hummingbird feeders for the many wild birds, is it OK to use my own sugar water? Or, again, should I be using something else?

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cymonian

9 years ago on Step 12

i actually go through this process fairly often. i have a skylight above my porch, and hummingbirds often get caught in it and keep trying to fly up, and i have to get them with the ladder, unless they are already dead :(

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maleahmaccymonian

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

its time to remove the skylight. you shouldn't let that keep happening. This makes me sick to my stomach