How to Help Hummingbirds
The smallest of all birds, adult hummingbirds weigh only 0.1 to 0.3 ounces (2.5 - 8 gm).
Hummingbird nests and the babies they contain are vulnerable because they are so small. Even the most conscientious arborist or home gardener can easily overlook the miniscule and carefully-camouflaged nest of a hummingbird, with disastrous consequences.
The baby hummingbird in the video above has a horrific story-- he was found on the bumper of a tree trimmer's truck as it pulled into the greenwaste dump!
The arborists were convinced that they had checked the trees thoroughly from their last two jobs, so they were shocked to find the baby hummingbird on the bumper when they arrived at the dump. That he survived the tree trimming, the branch loading and the ride to the dump, and especially that he was spotted sitting on the bumper is nothing short of a miracle!
Unfortunately because the truck load was comprised of trees from multiple job sites, attempting to reunite the baby with his mom would be impossible. The arborist was very grateful to be able to bring the baby to WildCare!
This tiny orphan arrived at WildCare traumatized, dehydrated and chilled. Fortunately an exam determined that this tiny bird has no injuries and is in remarkably good shape, despite his ordeal. After being warmed up and receiving subcutaneous fluids (a challenging thing to do on a bird this small!) he started gaping for the specialized formula we give our hummingbird patients.
This hummingbird will go into care with a foster care specialist where he has an excellent chance of growing up healthy and ready to return to the wild.
How to help hummingbirds
Hummingbirds are admitted to WildCare's Wildlife Hospital for many reasons. A fluffy baby bird of any species found on the ground needs immediate help. If you find a baby hummingbird on the ground, gently pick her up, including whatever she's gripping with her feet. Hummingbirds have strong toes, and removing something from a baby's grip can actually break her tiny bones.
Keep the baby warm, dark and quiet, don't try to feed her and don't peek at her. Call WildCare immediately at 415-456-7283.
It is absolutely not true that a mother bird will reject her young if a human has touched the baby, so please don't hesitate to pick up the baby bird! If you find an injured hummingbird of any age she is more likely to survive if you bring her to WildCare immediately.
Do not feed the bird. A cold, sick or injured bird may not be able to swallow the food and can aspirate (choke). Sugar water on a hummingbird's feathers can impact the bird's ability to thermoregulate (control body temperature), her water-proofing and even her ability to fly.
If you find an intact hummingbird nest in one of your trees, give it lots of space. Hummingbirds are very fast both in flight and in feeding their young. It is unlikely that you will even see the mother feeding her chicks and, if you get too close to the nest or are present for long periods, you may prevent the mother from feeding her babies.
If a hummingbird is caught inside, you can often lure the bird outside with a pot of brightly colored flowers. As with all birds, turning off lights, closing blinds and making the room as dark as possible to contrast with the open door will encourage the bird to fly out. Even better than potted flowers, if you have a hummingbird feeder, hanging it just outside the door will draw the bird out even faster.
Speaking of hummingbird feeders, please always keep your feeders clean! Especially in warm weather, the sugary food quickly grows bacteria that can be very bad for the birds. A feeder also attracts a larger-than-normal number of hummingbirds to a single area, which can spread disease. To properly clean hummingbird feeders, do NOT use bleach! Use vinegar and water in a 9:1 solution (9 parts water to 1 part vinegar) and special bottle brushes to get into small holes. Rinse thoroughly! Remember to change the food often-- fill with only enough to last 1-2 days (sooner if gets cloudy/moldy).
To further protect the hummingbirds in your yard, cats should be kept inside or in enclosures to protect both them and wild birds, including hummingbirds, which are particularly susceptible when feeding in flowers. This is especially important during the spring and summer months when young birds are fledging and learning to fly.
Caring for hummingbirds at WildCare
At WildCare sick, injured and orphaned hummingbirds are stabilized and kept in a warm, quiet environment.
Young hummingbirds need intensive, time consuming, and specialized care. The ingredients in hummingbird formula have to match their age-specific nutritional requirements precisely. As the chick grows, the percentage of insects and sugar in the formula is adjusted, as is the time between feeds. The enclosures in which they are kept need to be frequently modified too, in keeping with their age-related requirements.
Baby hummingbirds are fed every 20 - 30 minutes from dawn until dusk, and yes, our dedicated Hummingbird Foster Care person is a volunteer! Thanks to her, rescued baby hummingbirds like the ones in these photos grow up healthy and ready to return to the wild.
Being placed in the care of an expert is what saves the lives of most hummingbirds. Hummingbirds of all ages have tremendously fast metabolisms, so time is of the essence. Remember, if you find a hummingbird on the ground, please bring her to WildCare immediately. Call our Living with Wildlife Hotline 415-456-SAVE (7283) with any questions.
Click to donate now to help WildCare help hummingbirds this spring!
Love my hummers. Thanks for your good work. BTW, why do you not recommend bleach for cleaning the feeders. I’ve been using it for years.
Good question John! Bleach for seed feeders is fine, but since hummingbird food is liquid, there’s a risk that bleach will leach into the solution if the feeder isn’t properly rinsed and completely dried. Rather than risk people not drying their feeders completely, we recommend against bleach.
Thank you for this informative article on hummingbirds – truly wondrous creatures! Can you also say something about the best formula for their ‘food’ – I do a simple one part organic sugar mixed with 4 parts boiling water, let cool, and fill my feeders. I read awhile ago to forego the red dye powder found in garden stores as it is bad for their livers. And – it is so easy to make, anyway.
Good question! We recommend the same mix as Audubon… looks like the same recipe you’re using. Here’s Audubon’s recipe:
• 1/4 cup refined white sugar
[Ed. note: Please do use refined white sugar. Honey can promote dangerous fungal growth. Organic, natural, and raw sugars contain levels of iron that could be harmful. Plain white table sugar is sucrose, which, when mixed with water, very closely mimics the chemical composition of natural nectar.]
• 1 cup boiling water
Note: There’s no need for red dye here. Red coloring is not necessary and the chemicals could prove to be harmful to the birds.
1. Mix sugar and boiling water until sugar is dissolved.
2. Cool and fill feeder.
3. Hang up your feeder outside and wait for the hummingbirds to come.
Sadly, I’ve not seen mother hummingbird today and it’s almost midnight and she’s not returned to nest in our tree. 1 of 2 babies are alive at 2 weeks and the other has passed about 2-3 days ago with flies starting to invade the nest. Do mothers abandon the nest if one dies and the other is living? Not sure what to do from hear as natures course will clearly let the second baby die from not being fed. So sad.