Hummingbird on the nest

Hummingbird Rescue: A True Story

By Cindy Hardin, Director of Outdoor Education & Volunteer Coordinator

Our neighborhood has abundant tree canopy, and is adjacent to lots of open, undeveloped spaces, including the Ballona Wetlands. We see all kinds of bird species, raccoons, possums and the occasional coyote on a regular basis. This “urban wildlife” is a constant source of fascination for me and my husband, Jonathan. Large trees can be seen through every window of our home. And each spring, the view from our kitchen is a veritable wildlife show, as we have a hummingbird that nests in a tree around six feet from the window near our breakfast table. We start watching for her to return at the beginning of February. We love to observe her busily flitting about, making repairs and improvements to last year’s nest.

Soon, she is perched on her masterpiece, and we know that another clutch will be poking tiny little beaks upward, waiting for a meal. We peer into the nest from the window, watching as their bald little bodies start to sprout feathers, and their eyes begin to open. A little more time passes, and the nest suddenly seems impossibly small for two birds. This is when things start to get dicey. The two siblings start to vie for space, shifting and nudging each other. Jonathan is always particularly concerned that one will fall from the nest at this stage. I assure him that they will be fine. This year I was proved wrong.

Our little hummer sometimes manages to produce two rounds of offspring, as was the case this year. All went well with the first pair of chicks, and we watched them fledge in March. Then, in early May, she was on the nest again. By the end of the month, two more chicks were rapidly maturing, and things began looking a little crowded. Early on Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend, I looked out the window and saw only one chick! I held my breath and looked to the concrete sidewalk below. Jonathan’s worst fears were realized; the other chick was down on the ground. I ran out to asses the situation, and found her to be inert. I picked her up, and still no movement. She was resting in the palm of my hand, and could not have weighed more than a gram. I remembered reading that hummingbirds can go into a torpor state when it is cold, so I cupped my hands and breathed on the little creature. She started moving! I called to Jonathan to come around and bring our step ladder. As he is much taller than I, I handed the chick to him. He clambered up the stepladder and positioned her on the nest, but was unable to get her in there securely. Her sibling had taken advantage of the sudden expansion of his home, and our stepladder was just a little too short to fit her into the nest. Bam-she fell to the ground again! Now it was my turn to try. With Jonathan acting as my spotter, I stood on tippy toes and managed to get her a little more securely on the nest, but things were still precarious.

We went back into the house to observe through the window, as by this time the mother hummingbird was frantically buzzing around us as we were bumbling about with her progeny. I turned to Jonathan and said “We need a ladder”. He agreed, but pointed out that as it was 7 am on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, our chances of finding a neighbor available to lend us a ladder were slim to none. Meanwhile, the poor little nestling was laid out on the edge of the nest, in danger of tumbling down once again.

I refused to be deterred in my quest for a ladder. I knew that a neighbor down the way was a handyman; surely he would have a ladder. The catch was that I would need to wake him in order to borrow said ladder. Then I remembered: the vacant condo across the alley was being remodeled, and their balcony was low enough for me to “access” the unit. Perhaps the sliding glass door would be open! And yes, I was contemplating breaking and entering, but for a good cause . . .

I approached the balcony, and lo and behold, the sliding glass door was open, and the construction workers were on the job! I explained the crisis in my broken Spanish, and before I stumbled through my story a ladder was being handed down to me. Back down the side of the building I went, and to my disbelieving husband I said “I got a ladder!”. I climbed up to the nest, and carefully positioned the chick more securely, greatly upsetting her sibling. Once again, the mother hummingbird was frantically flying about, observing my ministrations.

I returned the ladder, and hustled back inside in hopes of calming down the mother. We watched with bated breath all through breakfast. Within an hour, the parent was back, and trying to feed the chicks. They both responded, and by mid-day the little tumbler had made her way back into the interior of the nest. Within a week, the two were perched on the sides of their now way too small home, practicing with all their might the wing movements needed for flying. And then . . . they were gone.

Interestingly, after this dramatic morning, the behavior of the female changed markedly. In previous years, she has completely ignored us. After Operation Hummingbird Rescue, she would fly right up to window and flutter her wings every time that she saw me. She would actually come to my eye level and look directly at me! And last week, after not seeing her all summer and fall, she was outside the kitchen window, looking at me again.

We are hopeful that she will choose to re-build the nest and bear another brood in the next few months. I like to think that she knows we are supportive of her efforts!

I know that many of you have probably heard that if you touch the young of a nesting bird she will abandon the nest. Prior to last year’s nesting season I had read that this is false, and that if one finds a fallen nestling one should try to return it to the nest. Had I not read this article, I would have been more hesitant to attempt to save this tiny little creature. With nesting season fast approaching, I encourage all to be aware of possible new life in your neighborhood. If you do run across a situation where a baby bird has fallen, make the attempt to return it to its nest if you can do so safely. Who knows-you might make a new friend in the form of a mother bird!

AllensHummingbird Cornell

Allen’s Hummingbird | Photo Courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology