Syringe Feeding Joy and A Sleepless Night

“I cannot do all the good that the world needs, but the world needs all the good that I can do.” ~ Jana Stanfield

There was a knock on the door.

Our neighbor found a hummingbird with what appeared to be a broken wing, flying on the ground in tight circles, unable to right itself at all. Healthy otherwise, it was completely vulnerable to the world and to our neighbor’s cats.

The kids brought the rattle-y shoe box inside and began working out what to do next. Protected from harm, this patient was now thirsty.

There are no illusions about caring for wildlife at DirtNKids. Hosting an injured bird — even for just a few hours — is a big job, with a hummingbird being a special case in itself. With a metabolism on steroids, this species feeds ’round the clock during the day. They must torpor at night, lowering a normally 1,000 bpm heart-rate to around 50 or so, to keep from burning out in their sleep. It’s how they’ve survived millennia. Experts are still unsure how the migratory Ruby-throat makes the 500-mile trek across the Gulf of Mexico, but however they do it, a human trying to model this behavior would be, well, impossible.

I gently held it between my fingers, offering nectar through a small syringe. It’s hard to fathom this fella can torpor in a box with tissues. It can’t perch, and frequent handling would bring on undue stress and anxiety. We had to secure it in some way without the help of a surgeon’s tool chest.

My daughter, Angie, disappeared to her bedroom. When she emerged, she had between her fingers a tiny ‘sweater’ sock she’d hand-sewn from stretch-knit her Grandma had given her for a Halloween costume. It was just the size for our little hummer.

We slipped the suit over the bird’s head and giggled as it poked little feet through the perching holes cut in the bottom. Now bolstered upright in a bed of Kleenex ‘diapers,’ it waited for what was next.

Hummer Burrito

No longer a raucous, buzz-y roommate, I turned out the lights and set the alarm for a thirty-minute nap.

Nite_niteI had just dozed off when the alarm sounded…again.  I fumbled to turn on the lamp, find reading glasses. Lifting the lid quietly, two beady eyes stared back at me as I sleepily placed the tip of the syringe over an awaiting beak. Glub blub glub  Bubbles rose like a Sparkletts water station. It is amazing how much solution one little body could drink at once.

If only it would torpor, I could abandon this whole mess and get some sleep. Ugh. I could see the long, string-like tongue flicking in and out. A tilt of its head cued me for another drink. Such a sweet little face, so trusting, it’s almost as if it knows I’m trying to help it. But one thing’s for sure: there would be no hibernating for this hungry bird tonight. My fate was sealed.

We repeated this procedure many times through the night, and around 4:30a, I simply gave up, not answering the call to rise to the alarm. Sleep-deprivation must be a successful form of torture, I thought to myself. I would do anything for some sleep. I pulled the covers tightly over my head and turned off the alarm.

Was I making the right decision? The shoe box next to me was quiet. Was the patient anxiously expecting its next meal, tongue-flicking in the dark, salivating? Or was it quietly working like Houdini to escape his tube-sock entrapment and wake me up with his non-aerial acrobatics? Would I feel terrible if I found a dead bird in the morning, starved by the caretaker who just needed some shut-eye?

I drifted off, dreaming of zippy green rockets, shimmery hovering jewels dancing in my head.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The Stamina War had a clear winner by morning, and it certainly wasn’t me.

As the kids noisily piled in to my bed, excited that the patient (and I) had made it through the night, I could hardly open my eyes, desperately needing a caffeine jolt. How on earth did I do this with four nursing newborn babies so many years ago? Then my thoughts shifted to the bird: it must be very, very hungry by now. The kids were already eager and on the task at hand.

I got ready for my day and tried to wake up.

The girls would have to take over feeding duty until I could return home from an appointment. While I was gone, the kids took turns between lessons, syringe-feeding every 20 minutes. Anxious to deliver our little package to rehab, everyone’s work was finished on time. Gotta love the flexibility of the on-line school.

The Wildlife Center of Texas is located near The Heights of Houston which meant a long sit in traffic. We hoped it would not be for naught. Unable to talk to anyone beforehand, the recording on the phone number instructed us to just show up and drop it off in person. After nearly an hour of coasting on the 610 Loop, we arrived.

Ginny explores the wildlife trivia

The kids got busy touring the place, meeting the animal ambassadors and learning about wildlife rehabilitation. I filled out paperwork, and the staff took our injured hummer to the back. It was now in very good hands.

While there, we added a few ‘wild’ species to our bird list and took some photos of willing subjects.

Harris' Hawk

Harris’ Hawk Ambassador
They are the pack-hunters of the skies.

Eastern Screech Owl

Screech Owl Ambassador
…not liking the Harris’ Hawk entrance.

We learned that the White-tailed Hawk we used to see every week hunting his field is quickly becoming locally extinct due to loss of habitat. That explains why we haven’t seen him in a long while. The field he hunted is long gone, replaced by housing development, strip centers, and all things homo sapiens. It is sad to think that that particular hawk may be the last one like it we see with our own eyes — forever.

However, hope lives on through the eyes and care of future generations (like mine). For the sake of species diversity, they’d better treat our wild (and domestic) spaces better than we did, better than our forebears did. For what remains of the wild species who share our spaces, I have to hope.

Hedgehog, given up as a pet
because of his petty, pesky, prickly-ness.
Some things are better left wild.

Anni stresses the importance of responsible
pet care; the kids then amaze her with a tale
of a three-bunny rescue.

Peregrine Falcon Ambassador
has the run of the place behind the scenes.
Both wings were shot off, removing his wildness.

Red-tailed Hawk Ambassador
Still quite wild, though unable to be wild,
he greets us as we come in, sees us out as well.

We consider all the things we can do to help wild species do what they do. Sometimes, it’s as simple as “get out of the way” or provide habitats for shelter or learn to coexist peacefully with each other. Learn, think and act. It’s a simple solution, but it does work. We should all use our brains better.

We cannot stop development (a/k/a/ business ‘people’). We cannot stop those (a/k/a/ ‘compassionate’ people) who kill other animals needlessly. We cannot undo the pillaging of the natural world or the speedy extinction of species who cannot adapt to a human-dominated planet.

But we can do each what we can do.

Today, we might have saved a single hummingbird. Will it change the world? Probably not. But it feels good to help a species so crucial to our own survival. It feels good to have hope for the children of my own species. It feels good to give some joy back to those who have given so much of it already.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

To see just how much we love the hummingbird, check out some other posts:

19 thoughts on “Syringe Feeding Joy and A Sleepless Night

  1. Oh, so great to read this post. I am always torn between “leave them alone” which I know lets nature do her beautiful work, and “HELP THEM OUT!” which is what my heart always yearns to do. I have had some beautiful successes, some tearful failures, and a couple of times when I waited too long & should have helped out earlier. I could recite them all because they stick. “I am a good person.” is what I tell myself. I am just trying to help out my fellow Earthlings. Lovely to meet someone else just doing that too.


    1. Hi Jodie, I’m sorry I missed your comment. I’m with you, torn between letting ‘nature just be’ and interfering where it seems necessary. I would do anything for a hummingbird. We also remember every, single encounter. Collectively, they connect us to our world. Thanks so much for coming by. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a beautiful and poignant story, Shannon. The broken birdie couldn’t have landed in a nicer family’s home.

    Absolutely gorgeous photos too. I love the way you bring in communal harmony through rescues ❤


    1. It was quite the adventure, Christy. Unfortunately it didn’t make it, but that’s okay. We always come away smarter and more appreciative of the world around us with these experiences. Your comments are just lovely. Glad to see you back!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It didn’t, but that’s okay. What we took away in experience and education was worth all the effort. After all, I’m training our world’s future stewards. That photo still makes me smile!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. At least you tried :-). I saw a documentary about songbirds yesterday. It mentioned that a lot of them die by hitting windowed buildings in downtown Toronto (Toronto is on a major migratory route). It’s cool that a lot of people worked to increase awareness about this and now it is against Ontario Law for buildings to have reflective windows (they are legally obligated to retrofit their windows to make them bird safe).


      2. Thank you so much for sharing that, Myriam! I started a post some months back about that very subject that I have been remiss in finishing. Perhaps I need to bring it to the fore-front; thanks for the cage-rattle there.


  3. I think all we can do is try to help out the wildlife. Last year we took in a grackle that did not make it I signed up for the updates so I could keep up. I hope the hummingbird does make it. I have no idea why there is not a office closer we grumbled about the drive over there and the traffic lol.


    1. I’m thankful to have found them, but It is definitely a hike in. Our hummer didn’t make it. Got a note that after a few days, it succumbed to its injuries.


  4. Love it! Great post!! We do what we can, right? That hummer is fortunate to have injured itself near your place!! I like the hummer burrito pic – smart thinking on the part of your daughter. Any idea if the rehab place will band the hummer? If so, it might be fun to track it and hopefully follow it through a relatively long life.


    1. They do band before release. Now a week later, we still have heard no feedback, good or bad. It will make my day — my year — if it was rehab’d and released! In the meantime, we are planning on attending future releases of sea birds and raptors. Can’t wait.

      Thanks for the comment, Matthew. You and I have similar views on nature, I think. Have a great week birding; we are still relegated mostly indoors for the time-being.


  5. I enjoyed your inspiring story, Shannon, and applaud your tenacity and kindness. Great lessons for the kids always abound from your household, and this is what is most inspiring of all. 😀


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