Animals the Size of the Nail on Your Pinky Finger Which Require Feeding Every 15 Minutes


A few readers contacted me after my last post to question my comment, noting that Peninsula Humane Society accepts all animals including native wildlife: "we have several baby hummingbirds brought down in their nests by recent windstorms, animals the size of the nail on your pinky finger which require feeding every 15 minutes." The photo here is offered up as evidence of what I was talking about. For scale, that's a tiny syringe, the sort which delivers your annual flu shot, which these two babies are getting fed from. One the other end is one of our wildlife technicians acting as surrogate mom.

PHS/SPCA is the caregiver for orphaned and injured native wildlife from San Francisco, San Mateo and the northern half of Santa Clara counties. And the first Anna's Hummingbirds are now in.

Amazing birds, really, hummingbirds are not the passive, brightly colored little flashes of color we make of them. They are tenacious and pugnacious little creatures, which is a very good thing for the orphaned babies we try and nurse along until they're old enough and strong enough to return them to the wild. (Several Pueblo peoples of the American southwest, a part of the world with a large and varied population of hummers, liken these birds' behaviors to that of warriors.)

And speaking of behavior, here's something novel: baby hummingbirds' toes instinctively wrap into the fabric of their nests upon hatching. They are in fact so tightly caught that if the nest (about the size of your thumb, usually with two hatchlings) gets blown off by a storm or a tree-trimmer, those babies stay in place even as it tumbles down to the ground away from the tree. As a general rule they do not fall out of their nests but, rather, they fall with their nests (as is the case with these two).

As the babies grow, fed by both parents, their growing bodies stretch the fabric of the nest's material. Eventually, when they are ready to fly, they have stretched the nesting material to such a point that it is now more like a loose net than a dense fabric, allowing their toes to free up as they lift into the air. It's a remarkable adaptation for a remarkable animal.

In our care, of course, staff and volunteers replace those parents. The surrogate moms are tuned into kitchen timers which are set to alarm, initially, every 15 minutes and eventually longer durations as the babies mature, bringing a yummy blend of insect slurry and nectar to feed the babies out of the ends of syringes. And they must do so pretty much from dawn to dusk.

Last year, PHS/SPCA made well and then returned to the natural habitat 1,368 hummingbirds, squirrels, goldfinches, robins, raccoons, opossums, red-tail hawks, screech owls, turkey vultures and other native wild animals. Want to be part of that? Go to our website ( and check out volunteer opportunities.