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Spread the word, save a life

This hummingbird, alas, did not make it. (Photo by Wildwoods staff)

I remember the first time I held a ruby-throated hummingbird, so impossibly small and beautiful. I was a wildlife rehabilitation intern at Wildwoods and I learned many things. I learned how delicate and how incredible these tiny birds are. Their hearts beat up to 1,200 times a minute and their wings flap up to 80 times a second. In addition to hovering, flying forward, up, down and to the side, hummingbirds can also fly backward, a skill no other bird possesses.

It’s August, the peak of our busy season. A caring woman calls, concerned about a juvenile hummingbird she found a week ago. She’s only just heard about Wildwoods or she would have called sooner. She’s been doing her best to care for the little hummingbird, who seemed at first to be doing well on the sugar water she faithfully fed it every five minutes. However, now the bird was sick with labored breathing. Also, she asked, why could the hummingbird not yet fly? Could we help?

Our hearts sank. The bird had been on an improper diet for over a week and it might be too late to save her. This story shows one of the many reasons why wildlife rehabilitation should only be done by trained, licensed professionals. Even with training, wildlife rehabilitation is difficult. Without training and a network of resources and other professionals as well as access to proper foods and medication, the results are often heartbreaking.

This rescuer had devotion and a heart of gold. She fed the little bird every five minutes. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the training to know that nectar alone was not a correct diet. In the wild, in addition to nectar, hummingbirds eat small insects stolen from spider webs, forage for insects around the holes made by woodpeckers and snatch insects out of the air.

The bird’s rescuer also did not see that the sugar water she’d fed the bird so diligently had saturated the feathers in a sticky mess, permanently damaging them. Hummingbirds have very short legs and a flightless hummingbird can’t get around because it cannot walk.

The tiny hummingbird was very sick and passed away later that same day, never experiencing her first flight.

Please don’t try to raise or care for orphaned or injured wildlife on your own. Wildlife rehabilitators never work alone, but network with other rehabilitators and consult other organizations. We question our every move, always seeking to ensure that we providing the best care for the animals.

Wildwoods exists because of people like the wonderful woman who rescued this bird, people who take the time to notice and help injured wildlife. We are here for people like this, to bring her act of kindness full circle with proper knowledge, training, equipment, medication, and food. When you find an injured or orphaned animal, please call us at (218) 491-3604.

Also, please spread the word that we are here to help. If the kindhearted hummingbird rescuer had known about us sooner, we might have been able to bring her generous act full circle, and another hummingbird might now be buzzing fiercely around her garden.

We are grateful for the kindness of this hummingbird rescuer, and for the kindness of all those who go out of their way to help animals in need. Help us help these people and the animals they find. Spread the word that we are here and that we can provide the best care for that orphaned or injured animals. You may well save a life! 

Elle Ustipak is the wildlife care and education coordinator at Wildwoods. She moved to Duluth in 2015 from Minneapolis where she had been gaining experience in wildlife rehabilitation at The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota and The Raptor Center.

Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. The writers are volunteers at Wildwoods and/or experts in their fields. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit, call (218) 491-3604 or write to P.O. Box 3161, Duluth, MN 55803.