Going the Extra Mile for a Hummingbird (and Other Birds)

Stories are the currency of the bird world. It is one way we measure how our lives are spent. This fall, I look forward to sharing some of my favorites with you from ABC staff, members, and friends. Here's a personal favorite of mine, concerning a Ruby-throated Hummingbird that had just returned to Virginia from its wintering grounds:


Our house has a large screened porch that has captured many a bird over the years. As a result, it was a constant refrain to my children to keep the porch door closed. This was routinely ignored, and we captured and released many birds—12 species in all!

One April day, I noticed the door open—again—and launched another lecture to my children as we walked up the steps onto the porch. To our dismay, we found a motionless hummingbird lying on its side.  I was disconsolate that this poor bird has just traveled hundreds of miles or more just to end up caught in a trap, and adjusted the intensity of my lecture to the occasion. The kids were distraught.

I scooped up the bird and walked inside with the children tailing behind me, fearing the worst. I held the bird in one hand while mixing some sugar water with the other. I placed the bird's bill into the ramekin of sugar water and, after a minute or two, a miracle happened: a tiny white tongue slipped out, and then again, and again. Slowly, this tiny animal began to recover, rolling upright and beginning to clench its feet.

As we watched with awe, the hummingbird completely recovered. It eventually took wing, turned to peer at us for a moment, then spun and flew out the kitchen window to freedom. The migration had been a success for this jewel of a bird after all—and I think the kids never left the porch door open again.

Costa's Hummingbird, kojihirano/Shutterstock

Costa's Hummingbird, kojihirano/Shutterstock

We are humbled by the beauty, boldness, and endurance of hummingbirds, from the ruby-throat to diminutive Costa's Hummingbird and the far-flying Rufous Hummingbird. These fantastic creatures, the weight of just two pennies, go the extra mile. Many of these birds travel 600 miles across the Gulf of Mexico and more to share their lives with us. We at American Bird Conservancy go the extra mile for these and all birds because they represent so much of what is great in life, including the bird stories we love to tell.

We do it also because birds need our help in our increasingly complex world, where threats like habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change all take a toll.  If we expect birds to continue to provide us with such pleasure and inspiration, we need to go the extra mile for them.

ABC has set very ambitious conservation goals this year, and we are close to meeting them through hard work, smart partnerships, and persistence. We have program funding holes to fill, however, to finish the year strong and not miss a beat going into 2016.

Rufous Hummingbird, Scott Bechtel

Rufous Hummingbird, Scott Bechtel

A handful of ABC friends have offered a dollar for dollar challenge match of up to $200,000 by December 31, 2015 to encourage other ABC supporters to go the extra mile with us. With your additional help, we can introduce a range of scientifically proven solutions to birds hitting windows. We can complete land protection projects that will carry us over the one million acre line of critical habitat protected for endangered bird species.

In addition, we can complete the first translocation of endangered Hawaiian Petrels into protected breeding grounds. And we can continue scaling up our landscape level, full life cycle, on-the-ground conservation for suites of declining migratory birds on their breeding and wintering grounds.

If you care about birds, we hope you will help us today!

George Fenwick, American Bird Conservancy PresidentGeorge Fenwick is President of American Bird Conservancy. He received a PhD from the Department of Pathobiology at Johns Hopkins University. In 1994, he founded American Bird Conservancy; previously, he had worked for 15 years with The Nature Conservancy as Vice President and Director of Ecosystem Conservation, Acting Director of Science, and Chair of the Steering Committee for the Last Great Places Campaign. Prior to that, he worked for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Earthsatellite Corporation, and as an instructor at the University of Virginia.