Thursday, March 22, 2012

Operation: Rescue Hummingbird

On Tuesday morning, I was watering the plants on my front porch when a red-breasted hummingbird appeared.  I froze and watched the hummingbird sip nectar from my flowers.  Aren't hummingbirds amazing?  They are like the bird equivalent of a Pause Button: no matter what I'm doing, I have to stop and watch the hummingbird. 

About six hours later, I saw a different hummingbird.  It had brown and green feathers and was lying on the sidewalk in front of my house.  Oh no!  I leaned close... it was breathing!  I ran inside and searched online for tips to save the hummingbird.

Tip One: Walk close to the bird.  This might be enough to startle it back into flying mode.  I got really close to the hummingbird and tried to startle it back into life, but the bird continued to lie on the sidewalk.  Damn.

Tip Two:  Feed the bird nectar from a hummingbird feeder.  Hummingbirds need to eat constantly.  If the bird flew into something and stunned itself, it might just need a sugar jolt to revive.

Problem: I did not have a hummingbird feeder on hand.

Solution: I raced to the hardware store and bought a hummingbird feeder.  The store only had one feeder left in stock, and it cost $20, but this was not a time for bargain shopping.  I had to get back to the hummingbird!

When I got home, the hummingbird was still there and breathing.  Thank god.  I was worried a dog would eat it or worse, maybe an adolescent boy in a "cruelty to animals" phase would find it. 

I sat down on the sidewalk and tried to feed the hummingbird.  The hummingbird was too weak to drink directly from the feeder, but it sipped little drops that I angled towards its beak.  As it gathered strength, its tongue darted out more rapidly.

I didn't take too many photos.  I was mostly focused on the hummingbird.  Every few minutes, I offered the hummingbird more drops of nectar; and every few minutes, he got a little stronger.  He did not appear to be injured, but he also could not fly.  He tried like hell to fly, but always ended up on his back and once on his back, he was stuck.  My neighbors sat with me for awhile, and we speculated that maybe this is a young hummingbird who is not ready to fly. 

Eventually, I got him to perch on a stick.  Isn't he handsome? 

When Nathan got home from work, I was still sitting on the sidewalk with the hummingbird.  We gathered some sticks and leaves, and Nathan built a nest in our garage.  He opened the garage door about a foot so the hummingbird could get out, and I put the feeder by the makeshift nest.  We felt like we could not bring the hummingbird into the house (it is a wild animal, after all), but we thought it would have the best shot at surviving the night if we set it up at the edge of our garage.  With the bird perched on its twig, I transported it to the garage (slowly, carefully, and crouching as close to the ground as possible).

After dinner, I went outside to check on the hummingbird.  He was about 15 feet from the spot where I had left him and lying on his back, totally stuck.  I carried him back to the garage. 

I was so sad that night.  We played Mario Kart but my thoughts kept returning to the hummingbird.  I had done everything I could and I felt so humbled and honored that I got to spend a couple of hours trying to help this little creature.  I know that many hummingbirds meet untimely deaths, but I wanted this hummingbird to survive.

The next morning, first thing, I went outside and looked for the hummingbird.  I could not find him anywhere.  I did not see any feathers, so I decided he must have survived the night and flown away.  Yay!  Elation!  Party time!

I went on a walk and when I got home ... I spotted the hummingbird.  He was lying on his back, near our trash cans.  I had not seen him in the morning because he was hidden by a fence.  My heart broke and I crept towards the bird, assuming he was dead.

But he wasn't!  He was still breathing, albeit very shallowly.  His eyes were shut and he seemed to be in a deep sleep, almost hibernating.  I dropped some of the hummingbird nectar on his beak, but he kept sleeping. 

I found the contact information online for a woman who rehabilitates hummingbirds.  She told me to take the bird to the Pasadena Humane Society and if he could be saved, the PHS would get the bird to her.

I sprang into action and padded a shoe box with a small hand towel.  I tried to pick the hummingbird up but he was waking up and did not want to be moved.  I ended up moving him with a piece of paper and a twig. 

Just in case the bird revived enough to fly, I poked holes into the box lid and then covered the box.  As we drove to the animal shelter, the bird started to cheep for the first time.  The cheeps reassured me that he was still alive and whenever we were stopped at a traffic light, I opened the box to give the bird some fresh air.

Here is the last time I ever saw my hummingbird:

Doesn't he look minuscule in his shoe box?!?

When I said goodbye, the hummingbird was doing much better.  He was fluttering his wings and his eyes were alert and open.  I think he has a chance to be saved.

Although we were together for less than 24 hours, I miss my little hummingbird.  He is so sweet and gentle.  I touched him several times to try to help him fly, and he never once tried to peck me.  He did not struggle to get away or squawk angrily.  Instead, he sat with me quietly, as if we were meant to spend a few hours together.