Monday, March 22, 2010

Rescuing Baby Hummingbirds

Spring is definitely here. Baby birds and nests are everywhere. Currently, there are two active Allen's hummingbird nests in the yard. (A-1 has two chicks and DR-2 still has eggs. The third nest, D-1, was abandoned after the female broke one of the eggs.)

The other day I had a comment from someone saying that they had a baby hummingbird and they didn't know if they should leave it alone or call for a rescue group to pick it up.

The baby Allen's hummingbird pictured here is still downy and can't fly. It is out of the nest, but its mother is still taking care of it. The chick calls to the mother and she only appears for short bursts to feed it. It does not need to be rescued.

Here are some key points to remember regarding baby birds.
  1. No one can take better care of a baby bird than its parent. Young birds with feathers usually have NOT fallen out of a nest, but are learning to fly. Some species like hummingbirds and California towhees leave the nest before they can really use their wings. They hang out in shrubs for a few days learning to fly. BEFORE you try to save a baby bird, watch it for a while. There probably is a parent bringing it food. This spring the Bewick's wrens brought one of their young fledglings to the yard like it was day care. The young bird could barely fly. It poked around the patio and the planters all day. In the evening the parents came and took it home. This went on for 3 or 4 days. A few years ago a young crow spent about a week in the yard. It couldn't fly. Parents and siblings brought it food and usually, a family member was stationed to watch over it. In both cases, we did nothing but provide a safe place. Most birds are good parents. Rarely, do they abandon a chick.
  2. Sometimes baby birds do fall out of a nest. The first step is to PUT THEM BACK. Most birds do not have a sense of smell. You are not going to scare off the parent.
  3. Older chicks may push a younger or weaker sibling or out of the nest. If this is the case, there may be a reason. Perhaps the parent only has resources for one chick. In some cases, cowbirds will lay their eggs in other species' nests. The cowbird chick will push out the owner's chicks. This seldom happens in Southern California. I did have a situation in 2008 when very hot weather caused an older hummingbird chick to push its younger sibling out of the nest. In the photo, you can see the mother, "P" is perched on the nest. The larger chick, Pop, is in the nest. The smaller one, Peep, is on a branch beneath the nest. These chicks were only about a week from fledging, so they were mostly developed. We replaced the smaller chick, but it was pushed out again. We made a small replacement nest, put it about 8 inches from the original nest and the mother bird continued to raise both chicks successfully.
  4. Parent birds typically leave their chicks while they go off to get food. Sometimes they stay away from the nest so that they don't attract predators. But parent birds come back to their offspring. A few years ago a friend had a fledgling CA towhee get stuck in her garage over night. She was concerned she was going to have to call a rescue person. In the morning we opened up the garage. The parents waiting outside, calling for the chick. It took a few hours, but the parent birds lured the chick out of the garage. Family reunited.
I can't say it strongly enough. The best way to rescue a baby bird is to reunite it with its parent.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this post. Yesterday I found 2 babies on the ground, which we determined belonged to the towhee nest built among our jasmine.

They were small and mostly bald and looked dead, but when I determined that they were still breathing and moving a bit, I popped back into their nest. The mom and/or dad keep going into the nest, so I hope all is well. I worried all night that my scent would deter the parents, but thanks to your post, I don't have to worry about that.

Kathy
Fremont, CA

Keri said...

Kathy, I'm glad you found information that helped your situation. I hope your towhee chicks do well.

Anonymous said...

We just found a towhee chick at dusk. Our yard is rather safe most of the time, but we're concerned about the neighbors cat, who started prowling around. The parents took off as soon as it got dark. We were concerned, so we hung a little cage next to the bush where the nest is, and put the little chick in there with some of the brush to sleep on for the night. We'll open the cage first thing in the morning. Do you have any other suggestions to help save this baby towhee from that cat?