Readers’ wildlife photos (hummingbird rescue)

July 25, 2014 • 12:27 am

Lou Jost, a biologist living in Ecuador, sends us a photo of the Green Violetear (Colibri thalassinus) along with a rescue story:

 This poor hummingbird flew into my house and in its rush to escape, smacked into one of my windows and knocked itself out, landing on its face on the floor with its tongue sticking out. But its neck wasn’t broken so I tried to revive it and washed the dirt out of its eye and tongue. I set it on a stool outside, but I was sure it would die. After half an hour I approached it again, and touched it, and suddenly it took off and climbed straight up into the sky like it was shot from a catapult, eventually disappearing out of sight above me, and chattering all the way like hummers do when they are excited. It reminded me of the whale you posted some time ago, jumping for joy after it had finally been cut loose from a fisherman’s net.

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This is a Green Violetear, and if you look closely you can see white flower mites on its beak, one near the nostril and another near the tip. This bird’s beak was crawling with these mites when it crashed, but they seemed to be jumping ship as the hummer went limp. These mites ride hummers and butterflies from flower to flower, as they must since flowers don’t last very long (they eat the nectar or pollen). Flower mites are so numerous they can remove half the nectar from some flowers!

The species is found on the edges of tropical montane forest; here’s its range from the Cornell Ornithology website for neotropical birds (Audubon reports that it’s also found in the eastern U.S. as a vagrant from Mexico):

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I’ll add two facts to Lou’s story:

1. There are four species of “violetears,” so called because they have large violet feathers sticking out the side of their head, like ears. Here’s a photo showing one, taken from Wikipedia (you can see the “ears” appressed to the head in Lou’s photo):

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2. Hummingbirds are in the order Apodiformes, meaning “Things without feet,” referring to their tiny pedal extremities. They are also the only birds that lack scales on their feet, which are covered instead with naked skin. Besides the family of hummingbirds (Trochilidae), the order contains two other families: tree swifts and swifts.

Wikipedia adds this about the order:

While apodiforms do in fact have feet, they are quite small and their legs are short and relatively weak. Many birds in this order cannot walk, and thus rarely if ever land on the ground since quick escape from predators is virtually impossible. For this reason members of this order spend a majority of their time in the air.

Apparently Lou’s bird didn’t have any trouble taking off, but note that it is gripping the edge of a hole in a plastic stool.

17 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos (hummingbird rescue)

  1. Very interesting story/photos — thanks for sharing, Lou!

    Did the weak feet in this order of birds influence their spending so much time flying (as we found out about another family in this order, swifts, from an earlier post) or did the high-proportion of time spent in the air made their pedal extremities insignificant?

    Ah, flower mites, now, that’s living on the fast lane! 🙂

    1. I suspect Wikipedia has the cart before the horse, and the small feet are a consequence, not a cause, of their airborne lifestyle.

  2. Awww poor bird probably had a big head ache. I had a similar thing happen with a ruby throated hummingbird here but she didn’t didn’t get knocked right out but instead flew to the roof of my car & sat in a groove near the door until she recovered. Her eyes were closed and her body puffed like this bird.

    I didn’t know about the aptly named order, Apodiform (good ol’ Greek alpha privative) but it makes sense as they do have really tiny feet.

    1. I have this problem with ruby throated hummingbirds every summer (not this summer yet though…cross fingers). They always seem to come around…no broken necks so far. One also flew in the house and I had to catch it after it tired itself out trying to escape through the window; a window that doesn’t open. That was a struggle! But once I caught it in the hollow of my hands, it began to chirp wildly. Poor guy…but he was free moments later.

  3. Nice job saving that beautiful beastie. Nice photo as well.

    (I’ve mostly stopped calling metazoa animals (see! it has spirit (animas), that’s why we call them animals!) or creatures. (see! they were created, that’s why we call them creatures!))

  4. Birds hit our windows from time to time and if they don’t kill themselves out right can sometimes be revived. I put the bird on a towel and cover them with a hat and let them sit for a hour or two in the dark. Then take them out and release them.
    We’ve hung strips of ribbon in front of the window which seems to give them warning.

    1. We had to almost completely cover our dining room window w translucent Contact paper this Spring to keep a poor dumbass robin from hurling himself against it from dawn until dusk. He’d sit in our lilac tree outside the window and see his reflection and feel compelled to attack it.

  5. I saved a hummingbirds stuck in the restroom at Orient Land Trust, CO, last week. Luckily, I work with birds, so it was easy for me to handle the poor guy. It was also quite amazing for me to hold such a tiny bird

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