Last Friday morning, I received an urgent phone call from some folks who live out Williamson Valley Road. They explained they had a baby hummingbird that was trying to leave the nest, but was “stuck.” Their fear was that the mother was going to tire of feeding the baby if it couldn’t leave, and it would eventually die.
I have to admit, I rarely get involved in rescuing baby birds, as I am generally of the opinion that when humans get involved things rarely end well. Every year we receive a lot of phone calls about baby birds, and our advice is always the same — leave them alone. Don’t touch them. Don’t bring them indoors. Let nature run its course.
Baby birds are far more likely to survive to adulthood if they are taught by their parents how to forage for food, how to avoid predators and how to navigate growing up. This is knowledge that we as humans cannot pass along to baby birds.
Well, uncharacteristically, I made a commitment to go to their house, right then and there, to assess the situation. Their description of the problem was accurate — the baby hummingbird was helplessly attached to the nest, and it could not leave. It would surely die if something were not done.
Using a stepladder, I reached the nest and determined the most efficient way to deal with the situation was to remove a chunk of the nest to which the hummingbird was attached. Back on the ground, I could see that it wasn’t just a simple entanglement — the bird’s leg was totally wrapped up in the nesting material.
I tried to gently separate pieces of the nesting material, and found that I couldn’t hold the bird in one hand and pick at the nesting material with the other. The whole time I was holding the hummingbird, it was flapping furiously — it wanted to be set free! It was challenging to cradle the bird with a sufficiently tight grip so it couldn’t escape — yet gentle enough as to not hurt it. Not an easy task with a bird weighing only a few grams!
I finally resorted to asking the homeowner to hold the hummingbird, and, using both some tiny scissors and my fingers, I was eventually able to remove all of the nesting material.
However, once the leg was fully exposed, it wasn’t a pretty picture. The upper portion of its leg looked pink and healthy — it seemed to be getting a consistent supply of blood flow. However, from the point of strangulation down, there was no flesh on the bone, and the toes appeared “dead.” I am confident the foot will wither away and fall off, leaving a little stub.
With the leg free, I released the bird into the wild. It was pretty proficient at low, short flights, but its ability to land and “stick” its landing was greatly inhibited by having only one useable leg. I am sure that with time and experience it will have no problem adjusting to a life with only one leg.
I re-caught it several times in an effort to place it in a safe location so mom could continue to feed her baby. At one point, the baby was resting on the palm of my open hand and the mom came right to the baby. It seemed to be a happy reunion! I am hopeful it will survive its injury and grow into adulthood.
On another hummingbird note, I have received several reports of rufous hummingbirds showing up over the last week. Be on the lookout, as you can’t miss them!
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona—Prescott and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.