Respect the Nest! Baby Hummingbirds Are Here!
WildCare's Living with Wildlife Hotline 415-456-7283 has been flooded with calls about "abandoned" hummingbird nests this week.
People see the tiny hummingbird babies in their nest, and they will watch for the mother hummingbird. But even after minutes or hours, some watchers won't have actually seen the mother bird come to feed her babies!
Don’t panic, those baby hummingbirds are most likely not orphaned, but their presence DOES mean it is no longer safe to prune or trim trees, bushes or shrubs! Wildlife Baby Season has begun!
It’s a wonderful thing to be able to observe baby hummingbirds growing up from jelly-bean sized eggs, but it’s easy to mistake a normal, healthy, well cared-for nest for an abandoned one in need of rescue.
For the first 1-2 weeks after her eggs hatch, a mother hummingbird will stay close to the nest and sit with their nestlings constantly to keep them warm. But once the babies' pinfeathers have sprouted they are able to regulate their own body temperature, and mom stays away as much as possible, EVEN AT NIGHT, because her presence draws attention (like yours!) to the nest and can tip off dangerous predators.
Hotline callers will respond, “But I have been watching the nest for three days and I am sure she has not been back! I think I should try to feed them so they don’t starve.”
It can take under five seconds for a mother hummingbird to finish feeding her babies before zipping off again, so if you look at your phone, get a cup of tea, or even blink, you are likely to miss it. Moreover, your watchful presence may be enough to deter the mother bird, so the moment you walk away could be exactly the point she chooses to pop back in for a quick feeding!
Ironically, each year many healthy baby hummingbirds are inadvertently orphaned by well-meaning folks who believe the babies have been orphaned by their mother! Of course, we always want to avoid baby-bird-napping… So how do you determine when baby hummingbirds really do need help?
Any hummingbird (adult or baby!) on the ground needs immediate rescue. Pick up the bird WITH whatever he is sitting on, place him in a small box lined with a paper towel, and bring him to WildCare or your closest wildlife care center. Hummingbirds have incredibly fragile toes, so trying to remove the bird from what he's perching on can damage or even break tiny toes.
Baby hummingbirds still in the nest that are visibly injured, covered in ants or other insects, and/or constantly peeping, also likely need care.
Silence is a baby hummingbird's best defense against predators and healthy, well-fed babies will mostly stay quiet. Babies who are peeping for 15+ minutes may be starving, so this is a red flag, but doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to take over. Attempting to feed them yourself could cause more harm than good, so it’s best to wait for expert advice.
Call WildCare’s hotline at 415-456-SAVE for advice on what to do and where and how to find assistance. We are here to help you live well with wildlife!
With the help of an amazing poster created for WildCare by renowned artist Michael Schwab, WildCare asks you to Respect the Nest! Even as you read this, animals of many species are preparing to use (or already using!) your trees, shrubs and bushes as a nursery.
Click to learn how YOU can Respect the Nest this Wildlife Baby Season! Watch our informative, recorded webinar and learn how to recognize if animals are nesting, and what you should do if you find a baby bird (or squirrel or other animal!) in need of rescue!