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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Close Encounters of the Avian Kind: Tale of the Traumatized Hummingbird

Recently, I was on a routine house call for two of my canine patients needing pain management at a client’s grand and nature-friendly home in Beverly Hills. Upon leaving the hustle and bustle of urban Los Angeles, the ability to connect to and observe the daily goings on of nature in a more wooded neighborhood lends to some interesting experiences.

In between my patients’ acupuncture treatments, I was startled by a sudden thud on one of the large glass windows in my client’s home. The client then calmly exclaimed that a hummingbird just hit the window. We went outside and found the bird lying motionless on a stone patio. Upon further examination, the bird was still breathing and slowly blinking its eyes.

I reached down to gently pick the bird up in my cupped hand and noted that its feet were firmly fixed to a piece of tree bark. Wishing to minimize further stress to the hummingbird, I elected to not remove its feet from the bark. The bird then showed further life by fluttering both of its wings, although the left wing appeared less able to move with the same strength and certainty as the right.

I then recalled some tips about hummingbird emergency care on Project Wildlife Animals: Hummingbirds and elected to slowly dip the bird’s bill into a small bowl of water (no sugar water was readily available). This seemed to bring more life to my feathered friend, which caused a few blinks of the eyes and another flutter of the wings. This second flutter had more uniformity then the first. The bird then released its grasp on the bark and slowly flew away to a nearby trough-shaped plant’s branch.

The hummingbird appeared calm and to be slowly regaining its senses. I did not want to further confine the bird in my hands, so I poured a gentle stream of water down the branch to provide further hydration or some sensory stimulation. A short time later, I heard an unusual chirp (another bird’s sound) from somewhere nearby. Another hummingbird soon was evaluating my recovering friend and seemingly lending emotional support. After a few minutes, both birds took flight and transitioned to a higher and more remote area of the yard. They lingered there on their respective branches for a few minutes, then disappeared.

After partaking in this close encounter of the avian kind, I corresponded with my fellow animal-welfare associate, Terry Masear of Los Angeles Hummingbird Rescue, who informed me that “hummingbirds are protected under federal law and must be cared for by licensed wildlife rehabilitators only.” (Masear’s organization operates under South Bay Wildlife Rehabilitation, which is licensed by the State of California and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.)

Not only is it illegal to house hummingbirds without the appropriate certification for rehabilitation, but doing so may put the birds’ lives at risk. Feeding solely sugar water or nectar is insufficient, as hummingbirds also consume mosquitoes, fruit flies, and other insects. If an inadequate blend of nutrients or calories is supplied, the birds will go into liver failure and ultimately die.

Masear has released rehabilitated hummingbirds in the West Hollywood area since 2006, when populations were much smaller. As a result of her group’s efforts, the numbers of hummingbirds have significantly increased due to plentiful food supplies.

Although the hummingbirds are thriving, Masear’s organization now receives upwards of fifty calls per day from persons in need of hummingbird rescue as compared to only a few daily calls years back in 2006. Growing hummingbird populations have led to more birds incurring trauma. City tree trimmers cut branches each spring, which inadvertently takes down nests (usually holding two eggs) and endangers the lives of the chicks.

Additionally, Masear reports that window strikes are one of the most common forms of hummingbird trauma. Should one occur on your property, the bird can be offered a sugar water mix (one part sugar to four parts water) and confined to a securely covered box with air holes and filled with shredded tissue paper for transport to the rehabilitation site.

I guess we will never know if the bird made a full recovery, but my hope is that our attempts to provide some sense of post-trauma comfort were helpful.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: The Hummingbird in question, by Patrick Mahaney

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