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Magic Comes to Indigo Hill

Sunday, August 19, 2007

You'll pardon me, I hope, for the delay in posting about the baby hummingbird...it takes awhile to download the photos and compose the posts. Here's his story:

August 14, and I am deleriously happy, happy as only a bird weighing half as much as a penny could make me. Magic, the tiny eight-day-old orphaned hummingbird I wrote about in July, has come to stay with us. My friend Sherri raised him, with a little good food from hummingbird rehabilitator Connie Sale and a bit of advice from Connie and me. She did the hard part, and she did a wonderful job. Magic was self-feeding before he ever flew! I wish I'd had Sherri's touch when I was raising the four orphaned hummingbirds four years ago. I fed them with a dropper long after they were technically able to feed themselves. Man, what a lot of work. Sherri made him fend for himself.

Magic is a lovely little bird, energetic and inquisitive. His feathers are a little patchy, nothing a few baths and a good molt won't take care of. It's really hard to keep a young hummingbird from dribbling formula on himself, unless you feed him with a cannula, inserting it deep into the crop. I don't blame Sherri for not wanting to do that! The first thing I wanted to do upon receiving him was to wash him. I knew that, with Magic in a little pet carrier to come from Sherri's house to mine, this would be my first and last chance to handle the bird, and I wanted to get the bath over with. So I took him from the carrier and put him right in the sink.

After soaking Magic in the bath, I worked on the caked-on formula with my fingernails and a tweezers. There were a couple of clumps I had to pull off. Better Magic have a couple of bald spots than a bacterial medium on his chin. The feathers will grow back quickly. As I washed I found a lot of pinfeathers coming in. He'll look great in no time.Here he is, all dry. This is his bad side. He doesn't look that much worse than a lot of the hummingbirds at the feeder, who are all in heavy molt right now.

Washing a hummingbird is not for the faint of heart. First, they hate it. Second, it's a little scary. But I've had seven injured or orphaned hummingbirds in my care over the years, and from time to time you have to wash them, because fouled feathers don't insulate or give lift. Buzz, Lily, Diamond and an unnamed adult male--all were injured, and all got kind of grotty after living in close quarters for weeks on end. So I'd put a little tepid water in a shallow bowl or sink and soap 'em up with a weak solution of baby shampoo or Aveeno oatmeal wash. A good rinse and then a blow dry, and it did wonders for their appearance and attitude. Hummingbirds are very easy to handle. As long as you keep them from buzzing their wings, they're putty in your hands.You have to get used to the little pitiful squeaky cry they give when you first pick them up. Awww.

You need to give them something to eat a few times during the process.When the eyes close and they go kind of dull on you, it's time to end the bath.They hate being blow-dried. I gave it up after a little while, and let Magic blow dry himself with his own wings.

The first thing I did Monday morning upon returning from Chautauqua was put up the nylon fledging tent. I bought it at Campmor.com. It's a Wetzel tent, 15 x 17', meant for picnic tables but fabulous for bird rehab. I love this bit of gear. Easy to put up and take down, and perfect for songbirds. The soft mesh can't hurt their feathers. Best $100 I ever spent.

We took him out to his new tent, festooned with flowers and tiny branches for perching, and a feeder full of good maintenance solution. It wasn't long before, soaking wet, he lifted right off the perch and circled around the tent. Whew.You can see Magic, perched like a dot right above Phoebe's head. It still amazes me how a bird that is the size of a dust mote on this picture can run peoples' lives so thoroughly.

Over the course of the afternoon, he sampled red mandevilla, blue delphinium, Salvia coccinea, and yellow trailing snapdragons. I am so proud of him, and looking forward to the day he can be released. He was Day 37 on August 14; I'll probably keep him until around Day 41, to make sure he has a good fix on the place and all the myriad hummingbird flowers and feeders here. What an honor to host him. Thank you, Sherri, for all your hard work and love.
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