Mar 18, 2016

The renesting of two hummingbird chicks

By Deanna Barth

I live in Hollister, California - a relatively small town. Over the years I've networked with animal-related groups and local agencies, like our shelter, offering my knowledge and skills with dogs and cats, and my expertise in wildlife capture. More recently, I joined our community's Facebook page. 

With the rise and success of social media, it seems sometimes faster and easier for a “finder” to reach out for help through these sites. Case in point:

This morning, while I was at work, someone posted a photo on our local Facebook page of two nestling hummingbirds. Within minutes, several people responded by tagging me.

I sent a message to Desiree, thanked her for reaching out for help, and asked for more details.  

Apparently, a hummingbird had built its nest on a string of Christmas lights under the eave of their home. This morning, when the family was taking down the lights, they noticed two little hummingbirds dangling, clinging to the remnants of their nest. 

The family carefully and gently worked to untangle the baby birds, unhooking their tiny feet from the wire and nest material. The chicks were placed in a box to keep them safe while Desiree searched for help. Not knowing who to call, she posted on Facebook. 

It took me about an hour to get home to Hollister and to Desiree's house to evaluate the situation. 

I was worried the babies might be injured after such an ordeal, but they looked great. Both were bright and alert, actively gaping for food and vocalizing. Their wings and legs and feet appeared normal and uninjured.

I knew the best chance for survival for these two nestlings was to place them back in the nest and let “mom” continue to care for them. 

I needed to find a way to put the nest back where it had been.  

The nest was not in good shape. It was badly torn.

With many birds, an appropriately-sized bucket or basket can be used to make a new nest, but hummingbird nests are so small!

I'd already been in touch with our organization's founder, Rebecca Dmytryk. She's had a tremendous amount of experience in re-nesting wild birds and I wanted to get her take on the situation. 

The size and shape of a cup nest is important in helping distribute weight off the chicks' legs as they develop. Depending on the species, the depth is critical too. Too high a rim and the nest will be dirtied with droppings.

Rebecca texted back an idea - to use fiberglass window screen material, shape it into a cone to hold the remnants of the original nest, and fasten it to something for support. The screen material would allow for adequate ventilation and drainage, and the mesh openings would be so small, the bird’s tiny feet would not get caught.  

I placed the chicks in small cup and kept them on a heating pad while I went to work making a new nest. 

This is where my husband, Chris, is always ready and willing to help out. 

Things went according to plan. We created a cone large enough to hold the original nest and added a stick so we could attach it to the eve of the home. As Chris secured the nest in place, I let the gathering of neighbors and children have a quick up-close look at the babies before placing them in their new home.

It was time. While standing on a ladder, I carefully plucked each grape-sized baby from the box and placed them in the nest, and, as I was doing so, the mother-bird buzzed my head! 

We folded up the ladder and backed away. Within minutes, the mom was on the nest.


The mother hummingbird flying over the roof  near the nest.

Just a reminder, wild birds are federally protected. It's a violation to harass, chase, capture, handle, confine, possess, or in any way injure a protected bird, nest or egg. WES responders are permitted through the US Fish and Wildlife Service which authorizes rescue and temporary care of wild birds species.