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I'm hoping that this isn't the beginning of a trend, but over the past week I have discovered an alarming number of dead hummingbirds on my property. For reference, I live in a suburban area on the western coast of California, and the birds that I've been finding have green feathers, some of which also have beautiful, shimmering red feathers around their necks.

This started about 5-6 days ago, when I found the first bird laying dead on its back on a lawn chair that was up against the couch. I didn't think much of it at the time, but then a couple days later, I found another two dead hummingbirds within about 15-20 feet of where I found the first one, this time on the ground. I'm no expert on birds, but a cursory inspection of their bodies revealed no obvious cause of death: no lacerations or anything that I've come to expect when the neighbors' cats make a catch. They were simply lifeless. There are windows around my house (including where I found them), so maybe they ran into them at some point when I wasn't around... But that's never happened before, or at least it's never killed a bird who's done it. (On rare occasion over the years, I've witnessed larger birds attempting to fly through them, bumping off and flying away without apparent injury.)

For each of the birds, I brought them inside and tried to provide them with sugar-water in an attempt to resuscitate them, just in case I was missing out on some subtle signs of life (I'd found a hummingbird in poor shape in my garage once a number of years ago, and this technique seemed to help it get back on its feet before I released it), but at no point did any of them revive.

At this point, I've already disposed of the birds by placing them in the wild brush out behind my house, to let nature do its own thing with them. But now that I mull it out more in my mind I'm wondering if the deaths could be linked. In all the years I've lived here (a matter of decades), I've never come across the corpse of a hummingbird, so discovering three in such short succession is quite a surprise. I wonder if it could be caused by some recent change in the local environment, but wouldn't have a clue as to what that'd be. Is there something that I should be doing with these birds should I find more, or someone who I should communicate this knowledge to?

  • could there be a predator (a larger bird of prey)? how many dead have you found total? – amphibient Apr 30 '18 at 18:46
  • @amphibient I've found three so far. As for predators, sure. There are hawks and whatnot around. However, as I mentioned earlier, there appeared to be no wounds on the birds. It's not like something was trying to eat them, as far as I could tell. – nasukkin Apr 30 '18 at 19:37
  • Has anyone been spraying pesticides or herbicides in your area? If this happened in my area, I would call my vet as a first step and the Wildlife Rescue of Northern Virginia as a second step. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Apr 30 '18 at 21:20
  • @ab2 I wouldn't know how to determine anyone's pesticide usage around my place. I doubt that if it's happening that it's legal and therefore on the record anywhere; I'm located literally a stone's throw from a state-owned national reserve, so such things would obviously be kept well away. There's also no significant farmland around, so I wouldn't expect that to be a big deal. However, the notion that the birds suffered from some sort of poison hasn't escaped me. – nasukkin Apr 30 '18 at 23:16
  • s/national/nature – nasukkin Apr 30 '18 at 23:49
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I'm not a bird expert, much less a hummingbird expert. I can only say what I would do if faced with dead hummingbirds on my property with the knowledge I have just gained by looking into your problem.

I would read the section on Hummingbird Sleep on World of Hummingbirds.com, and then follow the links to Hummingbird first aid.

Hummingbirds when sleeping enter into a state called torpor, when they appear dead.

It takes anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour for a hummingbird to fully recover from torpor.

Weak hummingbirds may not survive torpor.

The site has a link to Hummmingbird First Aid, and the message is that it is extremely difficult for anyone but an experienced rehabilitator to render effective first aid. But there are some things you can do, according to the link.

My advice is for one person to undertake the first aid that is safe for a neophyte to do, and another person try to get experienced help. In my area, I would call my vet and the Wildlife Rescue League of Northern Virginia and the Hummingbird Rescue Center in San Diego. I found the HRC quickly by googling hummingbird rehabilitation, and also found a few promising rehabber links in my area, but nothing that focused on hummingbirds. the San Diego Center should be able to direct you to rehabbers in your area, (if there are any.)

As to why you are finding dead hummers for the first time after years of no dead hummers, I suggest you call your vet, whatever is the equivalent of the Rescue League in your area, your state's Fish and Wildlife agency and the San Diego Center. My feeling is that they will want to rule out torpor first, but the Fish and Wildlife agency should be interested in the possible use of poisons.

  • Someone needs to look into climate change. Broadtailed hummingbirds are missing a connection with a major food source, glacier lilies, because the lilies are flowering and going to seed earlier than they used to. The OP's hummers may be broadtailed hummingbirds -- they fit his description. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow May 1 '18 at 1:19
  • This torpor comment is interesting. Was it suddenly particularly cold? I can't imagine a scenario where the birds are up and about flying and then all of a sudden get so cold they go into torpor. Does that happen? – That Idiot May 1 '18 at 14:02
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    This is actually interesting; I didn't know about their torpor state. However, I had brought the birds inside for a good long while--an hour or so with the sugar-water--to see if such an awakening would occur and it didn't happen. – nasukkin May 1 '18 at 17:10
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I don't know how this works in California, but here in Massachusetts, the Fish and Wildlife folks might want to know about it. Something unusual is going on. Maybe there is some disease going around. Maybe there is something locally that is poisoning the birds.

Do there seem to be sufficient blossoms around for the birds to feed from? Do you notice anything different about flowers in your area than previous years? What about the existence or lack of humming bird feeders in your area? Was there a recent unusual weather event?

Again, the people from the right state agency probably want to know about such a unusual occurrence, or maybe already know about this particular problem. If you don't know how to get hold of the right state people, try asking local people involved in conservation. Is there a Audubon sanctuary near you? A birding club? These people might know about the issue already, or they can probably tell you how to contact the appropriate state people.

4

The little birds may have been exposed to insecticides, like Imidacloprid by eating contaminated insects. It doesn't take much Imidacloprid to kill a bird as small as a hummingbird. Imidacloprid was recently shown to cause birth defects on newborn white-tailed deer and also kill the adult females and their fawns. White-tailed deer are much larger than a hummingbird and it didn't take very much to kill the deer.

If anyone finds a hummingbird that is unresponsive, but still breathing, hold it in your cupped hands and breath on its chest with your warm breath. If it is not too hypothermic it will warm up and recover in about 15 minutes. It is best to do this outside in case the bird flies out of your hands. If it did that inside of a house, it would likely kill itself trying to fly out of the window and hitting the glass. If you take it in your house, you need to put it in a box (with small holes punched in the sides to provide air) on a soft cloth, close the box so the bird can't escape in your house and set the box under a light to warm the box. Make some sugar water at 1 part sugar to 4 parts water and nothing else in it. Let the sugar water cool to warm enough that you can feel that it is warm but not hot. As soon as the bird begins to flutter around in the box (don't let the box get too hot) it can be fed. Fill a medicine dropper or a small syringe with the warm sugar water. Take the box outside and open it. Hold the end of the medicine dropper or syringe at the end of the bird's bill, so it can slurp out some warm sugar water with its long tongue. Let it eat as much as it wants. Close the box and wait for about 10 minutes. Then open the box (outside of course) and feed it more if it doesn't immediately fly away. After it eats again if it still doesn't fly away after several more minutes and/or more sugar water, close the box and call the nearest rehabber, because there must be something wrong with it besides being cold.

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If the tongue is protruding it could be a case of fungal infection from unclean feeders. Readers please remember to change the nectar every 3-5 days and clean the feeder weekly to keep enjoying these jewels

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Pesticides and improper use of chemicals in their environment have also been a huge cause. Perhaps they’ve been poisoned.

protected by Reinstate Monica Jul 3 at 13:27

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