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Hummingbird's survival one of Wildlife Rescue's 'biggest success stories'

An orphaned hummingbird gets fed at Wildlife Rescue in Burnaby. - Courtesy Wildlife Rescue
An orphaned hummingbird gets fed at Wildlife Rescue in Burnaby.
— image credit: Courtesy Wildlife Rescue

A tiny orphaned hummingbird rescued from a barge on the Sunshine Coast last month has grown up to become one of Wildlife Rescue Association's biggest success stories, the Burnaby-based group says.

On July 4, a pair of rufous hummingbirds, which were just a few days old, were brought into the WRA Care Centre at Burnaby Lake.

Huddled in a nest the size of a small mushroom cap, the siblings weighed less than three grams and measured just four centimetres.

They were extremely weak and their prospects looked grim. The birds were put on a 10-minute feeding schedule between dawn and dusk, and while the weaker sibling died after a few days, the stronger nestling began to thrive.

Over the years the WRA has successfully treated dozens of adult rufous and Anna's hummingbirds but this is the first time in its 33-year history that it has raised a hummingbird nestling.

“It’s very rare for hummingbird nestlings to be seen at wildlife rescue centres so we knew it was going to be a very complex rehabilitation,” saiHummingbird outside at WRAd Linda Bakker, team leader at WRA. “They were so tiny and vulnerable when they arrived and in the early days we didn’t think either of them would survive.”

As well as its small size, the surviving nestling presented a number of challenges for staff. Unlike other young birds, it had to be kept at a much cooler temperature at night to trigger a state of torpor to slow its metabolism to reduce its need for food—something that occurs naturally in the wild.

Ensuring that the bird got the right diet to promote development was also tricky. But with a diet that included nectar, blood worms and fruit flies it started to thrive. Twelve days after its arrival the female bird started to fly.

When the hummingbird arrived it was kept in an incubator with the temperature set at 39°C. Now it spends all day and night in an outdoor enclosure, drinking from a hummingbird feeder and flowers from our wildlife garden and catching its own fruit flies. Bakker said her plumage is in excellent condition and her flight is now so swift and agile, that staff struggle to catch it for examination.

After five weeks in care, the bird is now ready to fend for itself and will be released early on Monday morning (Aug. 13) at Widgeon Marsh in Port Coquitlam by one of the WRA rehabilitation staff.

“This is the first time we have reared a rufous hummingbird nestling and it has turned into one of our biggest successes,” said Bakker. “It has really been a huge effort by WRA staff and volunteers to ensure that she got the very specialized care she needed and we are really excited that she has a chance to live out in the wild.”

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