San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Report on Baby Hummingbirds Was One of My Favorite Stories

I have been a contributor to The Tico Times over the past decades usually on topics dealing with nature. The enclosed article, which appeared Jan. 21, 1994, is one of my favorites. Maybe some of today s readers will have the opportunity to extend a helping hand when a similar emergency occurs.

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On Dec. 31 a neighbor called me with an emergency SOS: Come over and tell us what to do. We have a hummingbird nest and the babies are crying and the parents haven t been around for three days. My neighbors said the babies were born on the 23rd and they had been watching the parents feed them. The parents disappeared on the 28th, and feathers on the ground near the nest gave us the impression that cats had attacked the parents.

I brought the nest with the two tiny birds home and immediately prepared a mixture of boiled water and sugar for them. They were smaller than the first joint of a thumb. They quieted down after feeding and went to sleep. I continued this diet for a few days and then contacted a biologist for additional advice. She said they needed protein, and suggested fruit flies.

I collected overripe bananas, papayas, and pineapple, placing pieces in several plastic bags. Soon we had swarms of flies which I killed and put in the artificial nectar solution. This was to be their basic diet, supplemented by nectar extracted from plants in my garden.

One fledgling was larger and stronger than the second, and I have been told that this is usually the case. I fed the babies about 12-15 times daily, and I placed the nest in a basket which was covered in the evenings.

At about 17 days of age, the birds started to leave the nest, grasping some cloth I had left in the basket. The larger one started exercising his wings. On Jan. 11, when the birds were about 20 days old, I was feeding them outside in the sunshine when the larger of the two suddenly took off.

He seemed to have no problem flying, circled around for a while, went to some nearby blossoms for nectar, and disappeared. A biologist friend advised that hummingbirds usually leave the nest at 20-26 days of age. Out first was just that age.

The smaller bird flew a bit on Jan. 13 (22 days of age) and returned to the area of the nest. Perhaps he did not feel strong enough to leave. I gave him additional liquid and flies on his return and he rested for a while. Later in the day he tried several short flights, and then took off again to join his brother in my garden, where we assume they will be able to find sufficient protection and food. Our biologist friend advised not to restrain the birds if they decided to go off.

I hope this account will encourage others who encounter baby or injured birds or animals to try to save them. Check with a vet or biologist for suggestions and contact any agency that deals with nature tourism and speak with their biologist-guides for ideas on care and feeding.

I always offer special prayers to St. Francis of Assisi for help and guidance. In this particular case, I was successful in saving these birds. In past instances, I have saved some animals and was able to prolong life for several days in others. There is always great satisfaction in knowing that one has done one s best to lengthen the life of a living creature.

Luis Ramírez

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