In early June we were contacted by animal loving vet techs from Mission Pet Hospital. They had found a fledgling hummingbird in the street on a very windy day. There was no sign of the parents, so they got the baby bird to safety and gave us a call.
At this time of year, it is common for fledgling hummingbirds to jump out of the nest in their sink-or-swim efforts to learn to fly. It usually takes up to 5 days for these aspiring flyers to get the hang of it. During this time, the parents follow them around and continue to feed them, and, when possible, protect them from danger. However sometimes something will happen to the parent, or the fledgling will get into a situation where they are truly in danger that not even their parents can help them with. We once got in a fledgling who had been found in the middle of a busy intersection right in front of a freeway entrance. The passerby snatched the bird out of trouble and brought her to us. Another time, a girl watched with horror as a group of skateboarders nearly ran over the fledgling who was on the sidewalk under their boards. In most cases it is possible to move the bird out of danger but still keep them close enough that their parents can continue to care for them while they practice flying. However there are still some cases where it is better to bring them into care at your local wildlife rehabilitation center.
In the case of our little “Hummy”, he needed to be fed a sugar/insect protein nectar every 15 minutes during daylight hours. For the first few days he was hand-fed. Then he graduated to using a feeder. Within a day or so of this accomplishment, he was able to take short vertical flights. Huzzah!! However, normally the parent birds would be there to continue feeding the triumphant fledgling, and they would even guide the youngster around to show him how to feed himself. Now that “Hummy” could fly, we could not just let him go. He needed to be taught how to feed himself first.
“Hummy” graduated to a flight case that was enriched with $75 worth of Sloat Garden Center’s best hummingbird attracting plants, as well as a hummingbird feeder to supplement the natural nectar. After a few weeks in the outside enclosure, with frequent visits from the neighboring wild hummingbirds, “Hummy” was successfully catching flies, gnats, and other small insects, pollinating the many flowers in his enclosure, and even singing to the wild hummingbirds around him. He was ready to be free.
His release was one of those “don’t blink” types. He flew back and forth inside the enclosure a couple of times before breaching the open door and going straight up as high as he could go, to disappear into the sun-filled open sky. But that was not the last we saw of him. He had made friends here amongst the local hummingbirds and returned to the garden to fly with them and to taste the wild growing plants with their trumpet flowers waiting to be pollinated. We see “Hummy” now and then, sitting on a branch singing his heart out. We don’t often enjoy the ability to release on-site. It has been a true reminder of what our work is all about – getting these amazing co-habitators of our planet back out on their own so they can enjoy the wild life they were born to have.
Here are some photos of “Hummy” taken by Tara Whitefield: