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From Our Rehabbers: Tiny Tim Hummingbird

On August 16th I got a call from the Wildlife Clinic regarding a nestling hummingbird asking if I would be interested in rehabbing him (raising him for eventual return to the wild.) Though it was hard to tell, our best guess was that he was a ruby-throated hummingbird, as these are the most common in our area during the warmer months.

At first I felt a little intimidated by this tiny bird. He was the size of a cricket!

A number of questions ran through my head: Was I going to be able to feed him a liquid food without putting it in the wrong place? (This is a very bad problem called aspiration.) Would I be able to keep him warm enough? But as I worked with him, feeding him a special liquid food called Nektar-Plus, with some nutrients and bits of chopped up mealworms added in, it became much easier. We fell into a routine.

Hummingbird nestling, Tiny Tim, on arrival, 8.16.16

The little hummingbird came with me everywhere I went, as he needed to be fed often and on time, and always kept warm. He was a quiet little guy, and I am sure it was a struggle for him to stay alive.

After a day or so I noticed that his feathers looked very dark. I used a magnifying glass to examine him more closely and could see they were dirty. I cleaned him with a Q-tip dipped in some bird mite solution and as I wiped him, a small insect appeared on my hand which explained his feather condition.

The little bird seemed a little better after his cleaning, but I thought he should be examined by WRARI veterinarian Dr. Chan. Any sort of parasites on a weakened baby bird can be devastating. Dr. Chan noted that he wasn’t very active so she prescribed antibiotics. These made all the difference in his demeanor. Within a week he became more alert.

Tiny Tim ready for a feeding

Since it was likely he would miss migration due to his physical condition (hummingbirds typically migrate into the New England area in late spring and leave by the end of the summer) I decided to give him a name. I think he is a boy, so I picked Tiny Tim since he was still smaller than a typical hummingbird for his age.

At that same time, I received a fledgling hummingbird that had been found on the ground. This one appeared fuller and healthier than Tim. After a few days of being warmed and fed alongside my little guy for company, this new bird improved rapidly. I decided it was a girl, though it can be difficult to tell with young hummingbirds. Soon she was able to fly and had progressed to a small netted enclosure called a reptarium. At that point I decided to name her Tina.

Over time, Tim learned to drink from a hummingbird feeder and starting beating his little wings and hovering above a thin branch. I knew then it would only be time before he would start to fly.

One day he made a break from his small carrier. Clearly he was ready to learn to fly. To keep him safe as he learned, I transferred him to the reptarium with Tina. After about week or so they needed more room, so I moved them to a larger container with thin branches wired to the sides, a small fountain at the bottom, and two feeders hung against the branches.

As the weeks passed, I decided to let them fly free in a room in my house that I have dedicated to raising and attending to injured birds.

Tiny Tim on the fountain 10.4.16

The two hummingbirds loved being able to move around freely, zipping from place to place. I hung a branch in the window and I put out several pots of flowers that I had brought in as the temperatures dropped outside. Tiny Tim was fascinated with these plants and would visit and examine the flowers. I also became an object of fascination for him, attracted to my nose mainly, and would examine my hands, face and hair with his little tongue before perching on the glasses on top my head. I truly enjoyed this - it was delightful! But in thinking about what the birds would need to make it in the wild, I decided to keep a ripe banana in the room that would attract fruit flies. That way the little twosome could forage as they would in the wild. It was a big hit and they became quite good at catching them. Now that the cooler weather is here, they have a heat lamp which they seem to enjoy. They perch beside it for long periods of time, enjoying the warmth. At night I place a large heating pad under their reptarium for extra comfort.

Tiny Tim (left) and Tina (right) 11.16.16 by the window

Tina is in very good condition. But Tiny Tim is still struggling a bit. He seemed to enjoy his first few weeks in the room flying about but has been quieter for the last few weeks. His feathers are still not the best – he has not yet molted (replaced) them - and you can hear the sound has changed when he flies. I am hopeful that after he molts, his new feathers will be stronger and he will once again be flying actively, just in time for release in the spring.

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