An ill-advised hummingbird emergency affirms the role of SPCA Wildlife Rescue Center.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Baby Bird was having a bad day.
Baby Bird was a striking Allen hummingbird, red and green with some brown feathers, a member of a species that can hover, fly forward, backwards, vertically up or down, even diagonally, with wings that beat 200 times per second and flight speeds that can reach 60 mph – a bird with enough aeronautic ability to embarass an F-16 and enough courage to attack hawks and kestrels. A true marvel.
But this was no such inspiring example. He was frantic. Fluttering. Desperate to fly. Going nowhere. And very small. Was he injured? Broken wing or leg? It was difficult to tell.
He was nearly crushed by my pit bull Frankie as we merrily descended the Maple Trail at Carmel Valley’s Garland Park last month. We diverted at the last moment, to avoid squashing Baby Bird.
Like most youth, Baby Bird had no idea there was trouble all around from passing dogs, hikers or horses. The Maple Trail is no place for a 1-gram bird to be.
I retrieved a stick to prod him away from danger. Baby Bird responded by continuing to hop. He couldn’t fly.
Hopping certainly wasn’t the surest path to survival. Leaving Baby Bird alone in the woods seemed callous. I wanted to help.
I HAD SNATCHED HIM AWAY FROM HIS HABITAT, AND INTRODUCED A LOT OF DRAMA.
I looked around for baby bird’s nest, but no luck. His mother was not dive-bombing us, either. With no maternal help in site, I decided to intervene.
I scooped up Baby Bird and let him perch on the faded visor I cradled in my hands. I figured his best hope was the SPCA’s Wildlife Rescue Center – a trauma clinic for wild animals. Seeing its rehabilitated owls being released back into the Carmel Valley hills at SPCA’s Wild Celebration, I knew there was hope.
As we marched down the hill, I serendipitously spotted Garland Park ranger Jeffrey Niewenhuis, showed him Baby Bird, and discussed my plan. He offered to deliver him to the rescue center for me on his way home. I alerted the SPCA that Baby Bird was soon to arrive, hoping someone would be there to receive him. I had done my good deed for the day.
Or so I thought.
~ ~ ~
When I called later to follow up, the SPCA informed me there was no medical emergency. No broken leg. No broken wing. Baby Bird was doing exactly was he was supposed to be doing when Frankie and I passed by. He was developing his wings, growing out of his clumsy adolescent self.
And I had snatched him away from his family and his habitat – where he was maybe a day away from flying freely – and introduced a lot of drama.
Despite my error, Baby Bird was now in the one place where he might survive his newly complicated circumstances. The SPCA Wildlife Rescue Center has two staffers and a handful of volunteers to oversee this unusual operation. Hollister based-Sandy Copas is one such volunteer, and the SPCA’s hummingbird expert. An orientation session at SPCA this Saturday, June 12, aims to reinforce the ranks of volunteers.
Baby Bird was transferred from SPCA headquarters off Highway 68 to Copas’ facility, then immediately moved into a 400-cubic-foot aviary with plenty of room to fly. But first he had to eat, taking food from his new surrogate mother. He’d soon need to learn how to identify food sources. Then he’d work on strengthening his wings. Then he’d learn how to maneuver so he could survive.
When he was finally scared of Copas, acting more like an irreverent teenager than a dependent toddler, he’d be ready to leave the nest.
Copas persevered, and Baby Bird grew as all had hoped. He was soon ready for his release. Copas, the SPCA’s Rosanna Leighton, Frankie, Baby Bird and I all rendezvoused at Garland Park, hiked to the original location where Baby Bird had been kidnapped, and offered him a second chance.
Before he left his perch in the traveling cage, Baby Bird and I held a long, intense glance. He was clearly content. There was forgiveness in his eyes. And with a sudden flash, he climbed straight up to a waiting limb 50 feet above us, free at last.