Birding tips

How to Feed and Care a Baby Hummingbird

Baby hummingbird chicks are incredibly tiny. If you come across one in distress, acting quickly is crucial to ensure its well-being.

Knowing how to feed a baby hummingbird and what a baby hummingbird eats could make all the difference to this tiny creature.

However, it is worth noting that due to their itty-bitty size and delicate constitution we can often do more harm than good, especially if we don’t know what we’re doing. Therefore, the best thing you can do to help a hummingbird chick in need is to seek out the services of an experienced and licensed wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian. According to Hummingbird Market, there is only a small window in which to initiate care to these tiny creatures;

“Your time-frame with hummingbirds is less than four (4) hours to initiate care and only about twenty-four (24) hours to get help before it may be too late.”

So, it’s essential to act quickly.

What do baby hummingbirds eat?

Hummingbird chicks are fast-growing individuals and they can’t rely on nectar alone. They need a steady source of protein to assist their development, so in the wild, the mum will feed them a mix of soft-bodied bugs and sugary nectar. Bugs and insects such as caterpillars, gnats, spiders, and aphids are likely to be on the menu.

The provision of nourishment by the mother is a delicate and nurturing process. After foraging for insects and nectar, the mother returns to the nest. The mother delicately inserts her beak into their mouths and regurgitates the partially digested insects and nectar, ensuring a well-balanced meal for her offspring. The chicks instinctively open their beaks for the regurgitated meal, aiding their rapid growth.

As the chicks grow, they start seeking their own food. Step by step, they learn to search for insects and nectar sources. This is how they gradually move away from their parents’ care.

How to feed a baby hummingbird?

Now that you know what a baby hummingbird eats, you will need to know how to feed a baby hummingbird.

In the wild, the mum will regurgitate this sweet bug mixture into the hummingbird chicks throat, and she will do this up to three times an hour.

When rescuing a baby hummingbird, you probably won’t have any regurgitated bugs to hand, but preparing a baby hummingbird food recipe—a mixture of one part sugar to four parts clean water—will suffice. Although this should not be fed for long periods as the hummingbird chick will die due to lack of protein – it is just until help arrives. This nectar solution shouldn’t be fed for more than 72 hours.

At home, a small eyedropper is a suitable substitute for a hummingbird’s beak. Fill a clean eye dropper with the liquid and present it in front of the hummingbird chick’s beak. Do not squeeze the dropper – this would release too much solution and causing the chick to drown. If the chicks are readily opening their beak then carefully drop 3 (younger) – 5 (fledglings) drops of the solution into their mouths.

Hatchlings can barely hold their head up and should be left to qualified and experienced wildlife rehabilitators and veterinarians to feed.

Baby hummingbirds are hungry so you’re going to need to replicate the mother’s behavior and feed them every 20 – 30 minute and through the night if they begin to call for food.

Hummingbird chicks are notoriously tricky to rehabilitate and while the bulk of the work will be carried out by a wildlife rescuer or veterinarian, by using your knowledge of what a baby hummingbird eats and how to feed a baby hummingbird, you are significantly helping its survival rate.

How do I know if it’s a baby hummingbird and not an adult?

Hummingbird chicks are significantly smaller than adults. When they first hatch, they are roughly an inch long. They also aren’t decked out in the same dazzling colors as their parents. Baby hummingbird hatchlings are black with no feathers.

This will change though. Hummingbird chicks grow rapidly, and they will soon develop a fuzz downing before feathers begin to grow and they develop that long beak.

How do you know if a hummingbird chick needs rescuing?

It can be tricky to tell whether a hummingbird needs rescuing or not – the mom is incredibly attentive, regularly but quickly feeding her chicks (taking roughly only 5 seconds) so it can be easy to miss the comings and goings of momma bird. However, if you’ve been watching the nest for between one and two hours and there’s been no activity then help may be required. Baby hummingbirds need to be fed frequently, without a regular source of food they will die so now is the time to call an expert for advice.

One sure-fire way to know if a hummingbird chick needs rescuing is if you find it on the ground.

What to do if you find a baby hummingbird on the ground?

Firstly, you’ll need to check for a nearby nest – it’s possible the hummingbird chick has fallen, or the nest is broken, damaged, or even have predators present. If the nest is safe gently pick the hummingbird chick up and place it back, then monitor to see if the mum comes to feed the chick. If she doesn’t then you will need to intervene.

It’s worth noting that hummingbirds have no sense of smell so that old-wives tale about hummingbirds abandoning their young if touched by a human is entirely incorrect. Just be gentle when picking up a hummingbird chick.

If there’s no nest or the nest is unsafe, then you can craft a make-shift one from a container lined with tissue (not fabric, this tangles around tiny feet and wings) and place it next to the nest, again waiting and watching to see if mum returns.

Really tiny hummingbirds can’t regulate their own body temperature and will need to be kept warm so you might have no choice but to bring it in, place it in a tissue lined container, and place it under a lamp to keep it warm. But watch out for signs of overheating: restlessness and panting.

If you have had to intervene then be sure to call an expert for help, and while you wait for them you’re going to need to know what baby hummingbirds eat and how to feed a baby hummingbird to keep them alive.