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My Sunbird Family

I had an experience last week that I would like to share. I still feel a little traumatised by it all.

I found it a very informative experience and, as usually happens when you are close to an animal, you find they are not just dumb and running totally on instinct.

At my place in Far Nort Queensland, Australia, the olive backed sunbirds build their nests inside houses and outside houses and wherever they find a place that they feel like building a nest. They tend to reuse the nests and I have just learned they usually have two nests in use at any one time. The second nest is a decoy for preditors.

I have also discovered their eggs hatch in a couple of weeks and a couple of weeks after that the baby birds are ready to learn about the world outside the nest. Both parents care for the eggs and baby birds. This paragraph has information recently learned by me from reading – but I did observe the father bird taking an active interest in the nest and both birds were often there together.

I had been away from the house for about 3 weeks and the pair of sunbirds had been sitting in their nest hanging in front of the spot where I parked my car. It was safe there and out of the weather with a roof and enclosed in on three sides. I don’t know if they had eggs at that stage. After I’d been there a few days the pair moved to a different nest and I was sad to see no more of them. I don’t know where the other nest is.

One day early last week I got a visitor who arrived at around 9am and while we were talking in a room adjoining the car shed I heard a very loud bang. This was followed by frantic bird chirping. I thought a bird had flown into a window.

My visitor kept on talking and I tried to ignore the birds. After a few minutes the frantic chirping was getting much louder and more insistent. I went into the car shed. I saw an adult sunbird sitting on a wire looking down and chirping. I looked down where she was looking and saw two chicks on the concrete floor. I bent down, and as I reached out the touch the chicks I was surprised the one doing the loud chirping kept on chirping and ignored me completely – until the mother bird gave a few warning cheeps. The baby bird flew up to its mother and hovered while looking earnestly at her and cheeping. I could have easily captured it if I’d tried. The other baby bird was still lying on its side on the concrete floor.

The baby sunbirds, were a slightly lighter shade of the yellow and olive colour of the parent birds. I thought they had come out of the nest for the first time that morning. Their body shape was that of day old chickens – but with more developed wings and with a long sunbird beak. They were probably about the size of day old chickens too – or perhaps a little smaller. The baby that was flying was totally focused on its mother and she was watching me.

I picked the unconscious baby up and held it in my left hand while I stroked it gently with a finger of my right hand. It had its head turned as if it was asleep and almost under its wing. It was lying on its side in my hand. I lifted my hand up so the mother bird could see it and she looked at it for a minute or so from her safe distance. We looked at each other for a while. She didn’t come any closer to me but didn’t move away either.

She obviously was surprised to see her baby lin the state it was in and appeared to be thinking about the problem. Then she looked at the closed window and flew over to it slowly. As she approached the window she flew in an upright position with her feet first. She felt the glass then she backed off and dropped her head slightly as a human would if they had just become aware of a bad thing happening. She flew back to her original position and looked at the unconscious baby a bit longer and then made a decision. She cheeped at the other chick and they flew out of the car shed through the missing wall.

I didn’t know what to do with the unconsciious baby I’d been left with. My visitor told me to put it down and leave it near where it had fallen. I thought it would be in danger from preditors, the most likely of which I thought would be ants. I kept holding it and when my visitor left I took it inside the house and wondered if water would help. I didn’t want it to breath water into its lungs but had to try something so I turned on the tap and washed my right hand and then allowed a single drop of water to touch the baby on its beak. I did this a couple of times as it moved and appeared to want the water. It shook its beak a little. Blood ran from its beak – I think the water washed it out.

The baby bird was still completely unconscious. I had by now seen its eye that was on the side of its head that had been turned against its body. I thought it had been pecked out by its nest mate as it was full of blood. Then I noticed the huge red bubble of blood was behind the clear covering of the eye and its eye was still intact but was a massive bright red mound of blood. There was blood from its beak pooling on the table.

I was really busy as I had to clear the house out and leave in a few days.

I decided to try to find information on how to care for the baby bird.

I was sitting at my computer by then and continued to hold the baby in my left hand while I used my right hand to search for wildlife carers. I found a number of a government department and called it. I got a recorded message that was really faint and I understood that the number I had called was no longer the number I should have called and it gave me the correct number but it was such a faint recording that got fainter as the number progressed that I was not able to get it completly. So I hung on as I was transferred to what was supposed to be the correct number. When that happened I discovered they were all busy and I was given the option to hang on or leave my number for them to call back. I was calling from my mobile so decided to leave the number and get them to call me back. I sat there for a while then walked back outside with the bird still in my hand.

After about half an hour I heard my mobile call and missed it. The message that was left told me that they no longer were able to assist with birds and gave me another number to call. When I called that number I was told they would organise for someone to come to me. Being so far in the country there was no nearby vet or any other place I could take it. After about another hour I got the call and the wildlife carer said she’d be at my place in about 2 hours. Someone had told me to put the bird into a box. I kept holding it as it was so completely unconscious all this time.

After more than an hour after its accident (I think) its feet started to grasp onto my finger. After a while its grip became tight and I had to carefully extricate my finger. I tried putting something else there for it to hang onto but it really only wanted to grab my finger so I let it for a while. I noticed its eye had changed. It had got a lot smaller – almost down to normal size – and it was now black just like its other eye except that instead of being shiny and clear it was wrinkled and looked like an old prune. I was concerned it may be blind in that eye. Its lower lid was beginning to close. The eye was still too swolen for the upper lid to close.

Then a small dog suddenly ran into the house. I have since found out that it belongs a few houses away from my place. As it ran into the room it barked very loudly and I jumped. The bird didn’t move. The bird was beginning to come around and I was now worried that the dog might grab it. There were too many doors open for me to push the dog outside and keep it out so I thought I’d put the bird in a box just in case it woke up suddenly and flew out of my hand into the dog’s mouth.

I could hear occasional movements coming from the box. Each time I heard a noise I lifted the lid a little and the bird knew I was there, and I made no attempt to touch it. As it gradually grew more aware of its surroundings it began to stay as far away from me as it could get. At first its movements were just it trying to stand up. Sometimes I saw it on its feet and sometimes it was on its side. Then after a bit longer it started flapping. It was in that box for about an hour and a half. I was starting to think I may have to get it out of the box before the wildlife carer arrived.

Then about four hours after the baby sunbird flew into the window the wildlife carer arrived. She looked at it and confirmed it was a baby sunbird. When I opened the box for her to see the bird it was ready for me and flew out of the box and tried to fly out the window. Then it learned about fly screens. So I got a tea towel and caught it. It was very cooperative and relaxed in the teatowel. The wildlife carer took the bird out of the teatowel and looked at it. She was concerned because its eye was closed. I said if it had both lids shut then it had made great progress.

We walked outside into the yard and tried to find the other nest – the one it was hatched in. I had no idea where to look. She put it in a small tree near a shed. It sat in the tree while we looked around for the nest. Then she decided to pick it up again and it decided it had been handled enough and tried to fly straight up and got tangled in leaves and branches. It changed tactics and flew out of the tree and then flew straight up to about 20 feet above the ground. It did a big circle and then headed straight towards a mango tree near the highway. It gained height and it looked like it was going to land on the electricity wires – then it dropped like a stone straight down and we lost sight of it. We looked on the ground for it but couldn’t find it.

I watched for the sunbirds with the other chick. I occasionally saw an adult sunbird flying around with a single chick. They made a lot of noise all day and for the next few days.

Late in the afternoon about two days after the incident with the window, a young sunbird sat on the fence near a window I was looking out of. It sat there and stared didrectly at me for about a minute then it flew off. I thought it was probably the chick that had originally flown off with its mother, but hoped it might be the one that hit the window. By this time it had changed its body shape to look like a sunbird but was still a slightly paler colour and smaller than the adult birds.

Two days later at about 11am I saw an adult sunbird fly past my house with two almost grown chicks following it. So I drew the conclusion that the baby I had rescued must have survived as I have not seen enough sunbirds around to make me think there were two sets of chicks at the same stage of development there at that time. When I saw them flying together it would have been about five days since the baby flew into the window.

The next day I moved away from the area so can not continue to watch the birds. This series of events have left me wondering about sunbirds and I’d like to know more about them but there doesn’t beem to be much information available on there. Just the usual scientific data.

I failed to get any photos of the baby bird. It is almost impossible to get good photos of sunbirds as they are so extremely fast and I had one unconscious for hours in my hand and I didn’t even take a single photo of it. I thought of taking a photo of it, but was more interested in keeping it alive at the time. I do hope it is ok and has a good life and that the new people who move into that house like birds too.

My times I have stated here are all guestimates. I know the bird hit the window a little after 9am and that the wildlife carer arrived at about 1:40 pm so it was a few hours before the baby bird was ready to fly away.

Journal Comments

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