PAWS Wild Again
April 2008 

Kevin Mack

Round-trip Ticket for Two
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

On Thursday, April 3, around 2:30 p.m. a woman named Jane was pruning a cedar tree in her Edmonds back yard. As she collected the branches that had accumulated on the ground, some movement caught her eye. She looked closer and found two tiny birds, each barely larger than a bumblebee. The birds were very young; their miniscule bodies had an incomplete covering of partially-grown feathers. Although they bore only a passing resemblance to adults of their species, their size left little question as to what kind of birds they were. Jane recognized them as hummingbirds, and she realized that the simple act of pruning trees had just put their future in jeopardy. After unsuccessfully searching her pile of tree trimmings for the remnants of a nest, Jane placed the young hummingbirds in a cloth-lined margarine container and drove them to PAWS.

The hummingbirds' stay at PAWS lasted only about 10 minutes. Wildlife reception and admissions specialist Cindy Kirkendall recorded Jane's information about the birds while wildlife rehabilitators Peggy Faranda and Michele Heinlein gave them a thorough examination. The identification of the birds was further narrowed to Anna's Hummingbirds, and they were both given a clean bill of health. They had not been out of the nest long, and the best thing we could do for them was return them to their mother's care as quickly as possible. I would follow Jane back to her house and attempt to return the hummingbirds to their nest.

Peggy and Michelle placed the birds in a small basket for the ride back to their home, providing them with a warmed cloth to keep them from getting chilled in transit. I followed Jane for a mile or so to her home, with the little hummingbirds riding in their warm, covered basket in my passenger seat. They did not make a sound.

When we arrived at Jane's house, her husband came out of the garage to greet us. He had constructed a small wooden platform with a roof that he hoped could be used to house and protect the hummingbird nest if we found that it had been accidentally cut down during the earlier pruning. It was a very thoughtful thing to do, and it was encouraging to see how much this couple truly cared about the welfare of the wild beings with which they shared their property.

Jane led me to the foot of the cedar tree under which the hummingbirds had been found. A small pile of cut branches lay next to the trunk. Jane shuffled a few of the branches around while stating that she had looked through the pile but didn't see anything that looked like a nest. I looked straight up and spotted a rounded object that was about one and a half times the size of a ping-pong ball. It was attached to a thin, curved cedar branch about 12 feet off the ground. The outer surface of the object was covered in lichen, and it was extremely well camouflaged. Pointing up I said to Jane, "There it is." She was surprised at first and then visibly relieved to realize that the nest was still attached to the tree. Apparently, she had simply bumped the branch that held the nest while she was pruning. The babies were ejected, but as long as the nest was not damaged, returning them to their home would be a simple matter.

Jane's husband grabbed a ladder for me, and I climbed up to inspect the nest. It was still intact. Up close the nest was quite impressive. It was made out of tiny plant fibers, spider webs and bits of moss. The blue-green lichen that coated the outer surface contrasted with white and brown plant down and small bird feathers that lined the inner cup. As I marveled at the details of hummingbird architecture, I was suddenly visited by the little architect herself.

A female Anna's Hummingbird flew in and hovered about one foot away from my face. We were eye to eye. She was close enough that the buzz of her rapidly beating wings filled my ears. Although she was only a fraction of my size, her presence was powerful. Her dark eyes inspected me closely, and there was a fierceness to her gaze that made her diminutive size seem irrelevant. As quickly as she had appeared, the hummingbird was gone. I was left with the sense that I had just been informed that my presence at her nest was not appreciated. I returned to the ground and retrieved the basket from my car that contained two little beings whose presence I knew she would appreciate.

Returning quickly to the tree, I removed the lid from the basket and climbed back up the ladder. As I carefully placed the first youngster back in the nest, I was buzzed once more by the mother hummingbird. She again looked me in the eye before hovering for a brief moment over her newly re-nested baby and then she retreated. I placed the second hummingbird next to her sibling. The two of them squirmed around and jostled one another until they were snuggled in side by side in the nest. They then relaxed and sat perfectly still.

No photo afterall...No CF Card.
Above is the stunning image of the young hummingbirds in their nest...or at least it would be if my camera had a memory card in it when the photo was taken.

I snapped two quick photos of the content nestlings before descending the ladder. My intent was to show Jane and her husband the happy results of their choice to help these wild animals in need. Unfortunately, when I pressed the playback button on my camera, they instead saw the words, "No CF Card" flashing on the screen. In all of the excitement, I had not checked my camera to make sure that it had a memory card. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but no photo seemed worth keeping an anxious mother hummingbird away from her young any longer. We removed the ladder and I took one photo from the ground where it would not cause further disturbance to the family after their stressful afternoon. One of the babies’ beaks could be seen extending over the edge of the nest. As I left I wished them good luck, and I hoped that the next time they exited the nest they would do so by their own choice and under their own power.

Photo of a baby hummingbird back in the nest.
This photo, taken from below, shows one of the babies comfortably back in the nest.

A Word of Caution
The preceding story is a prime example of why you should use caution when doing routine maintenance in your yard. From March through September there is a high likelihood that you are sharing your property with breeding wildlife. Nests of many species are small and well-hidden, and often extremely difficult to spot. If possible, pruning of bushes and trees should be performed during the non-breeding season (typically October through February). If it must be done during the spring and summer months, any plant that is to be pruned---even bushes---should be thoroughly inspected for the presence of nests or den sites. Doing so will help to ensure that you are not unintentionally endangering wild lives or upsetting wild parents!

paws.org | Support PAWS | Volunteer | Adopt | Co-exist with Wildlife | Report Animal Cruelty

Please direct questions or comments to info@paws.org. Wild Again and other PAWS services rely on your donations. Please give to PAWS.

A Northwest leader in protecting animals since 1967, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) shelters homeless animals, rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife, and empowers people to demonstrate compassion and respect for animals in their daily lives.

All rights reserved. 2008 Progressive Animal Welfare Society