Hurt Hummer (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 29 Aug 2021

Hurt Hummer

[Hummingbird with btoken wing] Yesterday afternoon, I stepped out the back door and walked a few steps along the rocky path when I noticed movement at my feet.

It was a hummingbird, hidden in the rocks, and I'd almost stepped on it.

Closer examination showed that the hummer was holding its left wing out straight -- not a good sign. He might have flown into a window, but there's no way to know for sure how this little guy got injured.

The first order of business was to get him off the path so he wouldn't get stepped on. ** I held his bill with one hand (it seemed like a part I couldn't accidentally injure with my huge strong mammalian paws) and gently scooped him up with the other hand, trying my best to avoid the broken wing, then deposited him on a flat rock well off the path. He was fairly quiet and didn't try to get away.

We find window-stricken birds now and then in this house with its expanses of glass. Often, the bird is stunned at first, and needs some quiet time to recover. So I left him there for a while. When he was still there, half an hour later, I put a little nectar in a feeder and set it next to him.

I'm saying "him". I'm not entirely sure of his species or gender, but I'm guessing a young male rufous or broad-tailed hummingbird, from the few red feathers and the beautiful red tail. The adult males all mostly left weeks ago (except one broad-tail whom I still hear now and then), headed south to their winter homes, but I've had a slew of immature males around the feeders, and maybe some females too (it's hard to tell the difference).

I haven't seen a good explanation for why the adult males leave first. Maybe they're rushing to claim the best winter territories, and the youngsters hang back practicing their combat skills on each other before heading south. Or maybe, as one person on our local birding list suggested, some females are still raising young, and the males leave early so there will be more food left for the growing chicks.
[Hummingbird with btoken wing]

After another half hour, he had moved a little, but hadn't moved closer to the feeder. Various websites advised offering an eyedropper of nectar. I didn't have an eyedropper, but I took a straw, dipped it in nectar, held my finger over the back of it so the nectar would stay in the straw, and offered it to him, but it obviously frightened him and he tried to get away, so I stopped before he hurt himself further.

It was time to call in the experts. I know the Wildlife Center in Española has vets who can set broken bones, though I didn't know if that was possible on something as delicate as a hummingbird. But I called them and they encouraged me to bring the bird in. It was late in the day and they close at four, but if I could get there by four thirty, they'd be there.

I found a shoebox and grabbed an old t-shirt off the rag pile (everybody says not to use fuzzy cloths like terrycloth, which can tangle a hummingbird's claws), gently scooped him into the box and closed it. During the trip the hummingbird seemed to perk up: I could hear him moving around, climbing over the folds of cloth, and when we arrived, his bill was poking out a hole at the top of the box: apparently he wanted to see what was going on.

The hand-off went successfully. The woman at the Wildlife Center said they were expecting another after-hours hummingbird besides mine. Our local bird rehabilitator (who isn't a vet, so she sends broken wing cases to Española) tells me all her hummingbirds have been around this time of year, when the birds are getting ready to migrate and there are a lot of juveniles. I guess it's an especially dangerous time to be a young hummer.

She agreed the wing looked broken. I asked her if that meant the bird was doomed, but she said it depended on where the break was: if it's very near a joint, there's nothing they can do, but if it's away from joints then it's possible to set the wing and they can recover. That amazed me: I'd love to see how one goes about setting a hummingbird's wing bone. How wonderful!

I left my email address and phone number, and I hope they let me know what happens to the little bird. If I hear more, I'll post an update here.

Alas, I did hear back a week or so later, and my hummer didn't make it. His wing was too badly broken and there was nothing they could do.

[Young rufous hummingbird with rusty bow-tie neck feathers] Here's one of the other young hummingbirds at my feeders this week. I love his little throat bow-tie.

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[ 08:34 Aug 29, 2021    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

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