hummingbirdS! - Leon Powers

hummingbirdS! - Leon Powers

this episode:

Save the


A hungry chainsaw had caused

potentially deadly damage. Would

my wacky plan and our frantic race

to save the babies succeed?

Welcome to The Continuing True

Adventures of Doc Hawk, a mildmannered

biologist from Idaho who

regularly finds himself—often along

with his students—in face-to-face

situations with wildlife. Where will

Doc Hawk find adventure next?


M y

friend ron entered My

office carrying a two-foot-long branch from a sycamore

tree. Stuck firmly to the leafy branch was a tiny bird

nest, about the size of a golf ball. Its size left no doubt: It was a

hummingbird’s nest.

And there were two baby hummingbirds still inside the nest.

“Where did this branch come from?” I asked Ron. “How long

ago was it cut off? We’ve got live baby hummingbirds!”

The soft nest was made of plant down and spider webs. The

babies looked about 10 days old. At that age they still have normal-

text by

Leon “doc Hawk” Powers

illustrations by Adam McCauley

Leon “doc hAwk” powerS (6); dAnieL MAyo, www.fLickr.coM/

bLUALien; roLf nUSSbAUMer/nATUrepL.coM (3)

length, triangular-shaped beaks and,

apart from being about the size of a

bumblebee, look like any other baby

bird. As the hummingbird grows older,

its beak lengthens so that by the

time it leaves the nest, the beak will

have grown into the sword-like proportions

of the adult.

Ron explained what had happened

as we rushed down the hallway to

the biology department stockroom,

where I quickly concocted a mix of

sugar water and used an eyedropper

to feed the babies. Surely they were


An ACCidentAL SLiCe

About two hours before, Ron had

been trimming branches from a

number of campus trees. He hadn’t

noticed the hummingbird nest until

later, when he was picking up the


It was a miracle the babies hadn’t

fallen out of the nest. It was even more

miraculous that Ron had spotted the

tiny nest.

I was already weighing my options

and formulating a recovery plan. The

best plan would be to return the nest

to its original location, but this would

pose some challenging obstacles.

Right away, I phoned a couple of my

biology students. This was going to be

a learning experience, plus I knew I’d

need some helping hands. We were

going to attempt a valiant rescue mission,

and time was growing critical.

WHAt if?

While awaiting the arrival of my students,

Kelly and Jim, I continued feeding

the baby hummingbirds. Then

Ron and I headed to the sycamore

tree from which the branch had been

trimmed. To save time, I’d arranged

for Kelly and Jim to meet us there

with some electrician’s tape.

As we arrived at the site, I was

desperately hoping to see adult hummingbirds

buzzing around. I had a

couple of nagging questions: How

had the mother hummingbird responded

to the sudden disappearance

of her nest? Was she still in the area?

Regardless, I had to proceed with my

recovery attempt.

My rescue strategy was bold and

lacking any guarantee of success. We

were going to tape the branch back to

its original spot. That done, we’d still

be at the mercy of a lot of ifs:

• if the mother hummingbird had not

already abandoned the area and was

still lingering nearby;

• if she would return to find her nest

and nestlings;

• if she would accept the altered nest


• if she would then be comfortable

enough with all this disruption to resume

her normal activity of feeding

and brooding the babies.

I had no experience on which to

base my plan. I was relying solely on

my understanding of basic bird behavior

and the power of parental instincts.

I was gambling on gut feelings.

A CHAnge in LuCk

My students arrived and we quickly

taped the severed branch back onto

the stub of its original location. We had

not yet seen any adult hummingbirds,

which worried me. It was now more

than three hours since the nest had

been displaced. I gave the baby hummingbirds

a final feeding, and then

we left the area to minimize further

disturbance. Just because we hadn’t

seen any parent hummingbirds didn’t

necessarily mean none were nearby,

perhaps cautiously watching us.

A black-chinned hummingbird’s unique skeleton allows

it to fly forward, backward, sideways and upside down.



i knew these birds were blackchinned

hummingbirds, the only

species that nested in our town.

The hummingbird family is one

of the largest in the bird world, with

more than 300 species. Strictly an

American phenomenon, the rest of

the world didn’t know of them until

Columbus’s voyages in 1492. Sadly,

their discovery was nearly their undoing.

The aristocracy of Europe began

to fancy hummingbirds to be ideal for

hat ornaments and jewelry. Historical

records of 400,000 hummingbird

skins shipped in a single year from

the West Indies to a single London

dealer illustrate the magnitude of

their slaughter. We’ll never know how

many hummingbird species might

have been exterminated in those early

massacres before scientists even cataloged


Against this backdrop of histori-

The two baby hummingbirds are

about the size of bumblebees and

need the care and attention of their

mother. Can Doc Hawk and friends

somehow return the nest back to

the mother’s home territory?


cal killing, I was now striving to save

two baby hummingbirds. Thankfully,

profound changes in attitude toward

today’s wildlife have occurred since

Columbus’s time.

tHe MoMent of trutH

A half-hour passed, and Kelly and

I anxiously returned to check on our

rescue. Seating ourselves in the shade

some 20 yards from the nest, we immediately

noted an encouraging sign:

Two adult hummingbirds were flying

about the sycamore tree.

It wasn’t until 45 minutes later that

a female hummingbird finally flew to

the nest area and perched within a

foot of the nest, near the spot where

the severed branch was taped to the

stub. She looked around from the

perch, bent down, briefly touched her

beak to the tip of the severed branch,

and then flew up into the canopy of

the tree. This was encouraging. I began

to relax, believing now that this

crazy experiment might just work. By

now, more than four hours had passed

since the nest had been cut down. Despite

these promising signs, we still

had not yet seen a hummingbird return

to the nest itself. The nestlings

remained unfed.

We practically cheered 10 minutes

later when a female hummingbird

flew directly to the nest, perched on

its edge and fed both babies. Kelly and

I looked at each other, both heaving a

sigh of relief. We left feeling almost

giddy over the success of our rescue

mission. For a moment, I felt like the

Boy Scout of my younger years, for

we had clearly done our Good Turn

for the day.

What other Good Turns might

await my students and me? Find out

in future episodes of the continuing

adventures of Doc Hawk.F

With a few helping hands, generous amounts

of tape and a whole lot of hoping, the nestrescue

team attempts to place the baby birds

back into their home tree.

Success! The

mother bird returns

and doesn’t seem to

be put off at all by

the tape job.

After feeding the babies, the mother bird

settles in to protect the nest. The family

reunion is now safely complete.

From Doc Hawk’s

Critter Files

Black-Chinned Hummingbird

Called: Archilochus alexandri

Lives: In the western United States, northern

Mexico and southern British Columbia,

Canada. They migrate south and spend much

of the winter in southern California, Arizona,

Texas and Mexico.

Eats: Mostly nectar from flowers and some

small insects. They also enjoy sugar water

placed in hummingbird feeders.

Fast facts: The adult male gives the species

its name, with his black face and chin upon a

glossy purple throat. Adult females have light

or white throats. … Its nests can expand as

nestlings grow. … One black-chinned can eat

up to three times its body weight in nectar

in one day. … A similar species, the rubythroated

hummingbird, lives in the eastern

United States.


Similar magazines