Click any photo to enlarge

Monday, December 10, 2012

A tale of torpor

Early this morning, like around 6 AM, the phone rang. That early it's never good news. I recognized my daughter-in-law's voice, and immediately said, "what happened," or something to that effect. Annie told me she had let her cats outside, as normal, and they came back in with a hummingbird, seemingly dead, that they were fighting over. She rescued the bird, assuming it was dead. But as it thawed out (the temperature outdoors was 26° at the time), it came to life. After putting it safely inside a bag, she, understandably, called me. (I had gotten up at 5 AM, so no problem there.)

I rushed over to her house a block away and brought the bird back to my house to start a feeding regimen until the weather warmed up a bit. As soon as I got home I called Kelly Bryan, possibly the world's foremost hummingbird expert (also not in bed when his phone rang). I welcomed his advice and moral support, but also wanted him to know about the bird in case he wanted to come over and examine it. He said he would if necessary.  Fortunately the bird wasn't injured and fed from a hummingbird feeder readily (sometimes they won't). Because of the frigid temperature it had obviously gone into torpor.

Hummingbirds enter a kind of hibernative state on cold nights where their body temperature drops and their metabolism slows to help them conserve energy when food resources are unavailable.

The temperature dropped down to 22° before it started warming up. Meanwhile, I fed the feisty hummer every half hour. In between feedings I kept him in a bag in a dark closet.

After I was able to read the bird's band number, it turns out it was a male Allen's that Kelly had banded here in October of 2011, as a juvenile. (Sorry for the blurry photo but Annie had to use my camera while I held the bird. She didn't know how to focus it.) We were both pretty stressed worrying about the safety of the bird. As you can probably see, he lost a few feathers in my hand. While I've handled hundreds of hummers, Annie had never handled a one, so it's no wonder she was terrified. 

When I saw other hummers coming to the feeders outdoors, I released him, even though it was still not above freezing. He flew like a rocket and seemed very healthy, but I haven't seen him back at the feeders here. Another very aggressive hummer keeps fending off the others so fast I can't tell what they are. 


  1. From: Terri h

    Oh, so wonderful of you to save this little fellow and share photos and story with your readers. He is beautiful!

    I recently subscribed to your blog. Enjoy it very much.

    I live in South Carolina and read monthly newsletters called Hilton Pond Center. Jim Hilton is an avid hummingbird bander. He takes a group of folks to Costa Rica annually to band hummers. And he's banded nearly 5,000 of them on his property in York, South Carolina. I bet Jim would love to read your story. I tried to access his email to forward your post and wasn't able to find a way to email him. So I'm sending you a link to his website.

    If the link is dead and you wish to see his site, search Hilton Pond Center York SC.

    (I use the anonymous option to post comments because I don't have a profile to use. Thanks for allowing "anonymous" comments! Not everyone allows "anonymous"

  2. Terri, welcome to my blogsite. I have heard of Jim and his website. I'll check it out. Thanks.

  3. I just checked it out. That's Operation Rubythoat. I'm a member if that. They come band at my place annually. In one of my posts I show photos of them banding at CMO. I'll look it up and let you know which post it is.