Sunday, March 6, 2011

Saving a Hummingbird

Several weeks ago (Feb. 3, to be exact), we had a week-long cold snap here in the Old Town. Several nights were at or below freezing, but then arrived two sequential nights of a hard freeze--17 and 19 degrees each. We desert dwellers are not used to that kind of cold for so prolonged a period, and trees and plants have died or lost their leaves all over town--it's autumn at the wring time and the wrong place. I've raked up three bags of leaves so far, and have about 10 more to go. All my trees dropped all their leaves, two of my Sennas froze on the outer tips (pruning may save them), and all over my block cactus dropped huge numbers of pads and were drooping and sad, as if they had given up.

I had let Mr. Big out for his evening perambulation in the backyard at 6 p.m., went back in for a minute, and then went back out to find a little fuzzy-looking blob on my patio. What is it? thought I, and Why didn't Mr. Big eat it? So I picked it up (this is where my big sister is shuddering), to discover that it was a hummingbird. He had fallen from a leftover Christmas swag underneath his feeder and was freezing to death. Hummingbirds have exceptionally fast metabolisms that they slow down at night to sleep, but when the temps drop too low, they can literally freeze to death.

I scooped him up and brought him inside. An online bird source said to gently breathe on him as he lay cupped in my hand, and after about 5 minutes of this, his little beak started to twitch. Another 5 or 10 minutes, and his head was moving around, followed by his wings.My neighbor T brought down one of her empty bird cages with a little eyedropper and a hummingbird feeder, and I forced some sweet water into his gullet. When he became active enough, into the cage he went, where I continued to dropper feed him.

Stripey Cat was very interested in that fluttering little thing whose wings beat so fast they were a blurring buzz. After several hours in my closed bedroom, he spent the night in the laundry room (yes, door closed so no cat terrors would punctuate his dreams). The next morning, more dropper feeding, and when T called to say her hummingbird was outside buzzing around her feeder, I let him go. Zoom! Off he flew into my desert willow, which still had leaves on it in which he could hide and soak up the morning sun.

I had hoped to earn some good karma points by saving his little life. We all know what happened two days later. But what a thrill to hold that still, little body, no larger than my thumb, in my hand, and watch him come back to life. The photos were impossible to take, because I was just too close to my own hand, but hopefully these give you some sense of the rescue. And yes, he's sleeping with his tail spread out like that.

I think he's an Anna's hummingbird, with his beautiful shimmering red gorget. I am so glad I went back out after Mr. Big and found him. Makes  me feel all one with Nature and proud of my little part in his life. I have no idea if he's the one that is still buzzing around out there, but I'd better go clean his feeder and make him some breakfast. ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzz to everyone!


  1. Okay, maybe not shuddering, but I admit to a little tremor...
    So glad you were able to rescue him - I'm not a fan of birds, but at a distance, I do - like? - hummingbirds...

  2. Great save! In Michigan we have ruby-throated hummingbirds and they will be about a month I think.