The day I almost relaeased an angry hummingbird in my office

Mar 23 2011 Published by under [Biology&Environment]

Because of child-related factors, I get in to the office early - usually before anyone else on my floor and most people in the building. Perhaps related to this, I have a good relationship with the janitorial staff in my building, but it also means that I am often the point person for things that come up in the early morning in the building.

One morning a member of the janitorial staff came by with a heap of paper towels and asked me "can you do anything with this?" Unsure what "this" was, I opened the towels to find a dead humming bird.

As another important part of the story, our building has a lot of glass and in the middle it is possible to see through the building. This, of course, is like creating a giant bird neck breaker because birds think they can fly straight through. Despite multiple requests from myself and others to place some sort of marker on the glass, this has yet to happen. So, it is common for me to hear the thud of bird-on-glass from my office.

Alright, back to the story. This bird was like grilled bread - toast. I gracious accepted the carcass from the distraught janitor and promised to make some calls to see whether it could be put to some use. Turns out that it could and it joined the ornithology "bird on a stick" collection*. The creature's death was not totally in vain.

A few days pass and I hear a thud. Another bird and an untimely fate. But being the curious person I am, I went to check it out. What I found was another hummingbird, laying on its back all akimbo, with it's long tongue laying sideways like a bad characiture of a dead bird. I grabbed some paper towels** and picked it up. When I did so its neck lolled about and it let out a pathetic squeak. "On death's door" I thought and went to call the bird on a stick guy.

I placed the bird/towel combo on my desk and looked around for the phone number. Not where I left it, hmmmm. While doing so, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye - something was staring at me with cold dark eyes. From my desk the bird peered at me. "Oh shit, I'm going to have to put it out of its misery" I thought. Sure a broken neck but not dead yet! But since ornithology is not my thing, it would seem that my appreciation for the resilience of bird necks was soon to be my undoing.

With pity in my heart, I picked the bird/towel pile and considered how I might dispatch of a bird to end its suffering. Perhaps sensing the danger, the bird suddenly looked a LOT more lively. And angry.


They may be small, but you still don't want to piss off a hummingbird. Fast sharp beaks, yo. (source)

Now I'm holding the bird/towel hybrid and the bird starts to squeak. A lot. Realizing that I may have been premature in my calling the time of death, I put a second hand on the towels as the bird decided that it no longer wanted to be wrapped in a paper toga. My office has both high ceilings and a big ass window = essential impossible turf to catch a flying bird.

Must. Get. Bird. Outside.

Down two flights of stairs and outside, all with a squeaking bird in my hands and students wondering what the hell kind of perverse experiment I was doing. I got through the exterior doors in just enough time before the bird freed itself and flew off like a bolt.

Moral of the story - stunned birds can look like dead birds, but it's best to double check before you bring them into your office.

*And in case it's not clear, the bird is not standing on a stick, but more resembles a popsicle. Reason # 5684 that I don't work on animals.

**I have no idea when this is the choice medium of transfer for dead birds.

22 responses so far

  • Alyssa says:

    LOL! I realize I shouldn't laugh, but this story brightened my snow-filled day.

  • gerty-z says:

    hahaha!! Fantastic. The mental image of the angry hummingbird pecking at your hand is cracking me up! But only because I know you are OK, of course.

  • Dr. O says:

    Hahahahahaha!! Too funny!!! And that picture is great, but is the bird bending his neck backwards??

  • NotaBene says:

    Birds = evil.
    Monty Python = funny! Thanks for linking to that, I haven't seen it in a long time.

  • JaneB says:

    I once worked in a post-doc office/microscope room with huge sliding glass windows, overlooking a courtyard with a couple of trees. One day some person left the window open when we left for lunch and when we got back an entire hatch of newly fledged blue-tits was exploring our space... it took a couple of hours to get them all out, not helped by the 'bird phobic' refusing to leave and squealing every time one came close to her.

    Another time we had squirrel issues... they were getting in and stealing tea bags and snacks from the communal store (and leaving the wrappers on the floor, the little hooligans!), and nearly caused the demise of the relationship between a pair of grad students since each was convinced the other was taking more than their fair share of the communal snacks and not admitting to it.

  • Anon2 says:

    We once had a deer wander into the building on a weekend (not sure who opened the door for him?). When it hit the glass, everything shattered and we arrived Monday morning to a gaping hole in the glass wall.

  • Patchi says:

    What they do at the zoo is to "save them with soap": just apply soap to the window. You could even get "sciency" with the drawings 😉

    More bird-related Q/A here:
    http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1098

  • Jen says:

    Wow. There's gotta be some way to mark that window. Does a little bit of painting tape work? I would just do it.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    It's not A window. It's a 4 floor wall of glass roughly 70 feet wide. It's not something you do in the afternoon when you're bored.

  • Dr. O says:

    Although can you imagine the looks you'd get if you showed up in coveralls with a ladder and began working on it one afternoon? 😉

  • Namnezia says:

    Reminds me of the time when my dog "killed" a squirrel in the backyard. When I finally pried the squirrel away from her it looked half-dead and me with no clue of how to put it out of it's misery. After fretting over this for a while I reluctantly went into the garden shed looking for ideas and cursing the dog. Fortunately, when I turned I saw it scamper up a tree, freeing me from finishing it off.

  • Geologist says:

    Thanks for the good story. To avoid similar encounters in the future you might want to try a few black silhouettes of birds of pray on the windows. They look quite nice and scare away birds.

  • Worm Pilot says:

    I knew where this story was going the minute I got to the part about the dead bird. I had a similar experience doing field work one summer. A bird ran into our cabin window, and being ecologists (as I was at the time), we froze the poor bird to preserve it in case any of our fellow field researchers could put it to use. Two weeks later, the same thing happened...only this time we didn't get to the bird quite as fast, and it woke up and flew away.

    The frozen bird did get put to good use, but we always wondered whether it would have woken up too.

  • Zombie says:

    For a while, I had hummingbirds flying into my open garage,
    and one got trapped because he flew up to windows above the door
    trying to get out and wouldn't fly back down to the door to escape.
    Unfortunately, he got pretty tired out, and I was able to get a
    ladder and catch him. When I took him outside, he just kind of sat
    in my hand for a couple of minutes, and I was afraid he was either
    injured or had depleted his energy (with his hummingbird
    metabolism), but after a bit of a rest, he perked back up and flew
    away. Hopefully he was able to find enough food afterwards to keep
    going. I later figured out, when another hummingbird flew in to
    inspect it, that they were attracted to the red plastic handle
    dangling from the door mechanism for opening the door manually. I
    covered it by tying an old sock over it, and I have not had any
    more birds fly in since.

  • chall says:

    😉 Good that you had the time to get out before it started attacking you.

    I've done a similar thing and after that I'm even more hesitant to pick up "dead" (stunned) birds. It's a quite remarkable survival instinct I guess? that said, i'm scared of the peering eyes.... guess I should've never watched those movies "the Birds" and some other old school black and white ones with crows ^^

  • OMG, PLS is our savior! He can resurrect shit from the dead.

  • Chris says:

    I'd put some serious pressure on the building maintenance
    people to fucking do something about those windows! Poor little
    birds. Good that this one survived.

  • Lab Rockstar says:

    Good thing you got it outside without it pecking your eyes out. Those little hummers are deadly, man.

  • antipodean says:

    TFBUNDY Totally fucked but unfortuntely not dead
    yet

  • Thanks for the great article. You've pointed out a really
    serious problem in a humorous style. Your university might consider
    Bird Friendly Development Guidelines, published by the City of
    Toronto, Canada. It's a development guideline for cities, or any
    community (universities included). It's a 46-page, free, no-strings
    attached download...
    http://susansbirdgardens.com/freebies/bird-friendly-guidelines/bird-friendly-guidelines.zip
    You might also be interested in articles about birds flying into
    windows... why they do it, and how to prevent it. Check out...
    http://susansbirdgardens.com/blog/category/care-of-wild-birds/birds-flying-into-window/
    Thanks again for a great article...

  • The American Bird Conservancy has a flyer with low-cost window mods for reducing bird collisions:

    http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/collisions/pdf/collisions_flyer.pdf

    These are more practical for smaller windows but could be scaled up to larger ones with sufficient commitment from building managers.

    The saddest thing about the collision issue is that even birds that recover enough to fly off afterward are likely to die afterward as their brains swell from the concussion. Keeping the phone number of a local wildlife rescue group handy could save some of the victims, but preventing collisions is by far the best way to save lives.

    Dr. O: He's got his head tucked down between his shoulders and his wings raised over his back.

  • Ink says:

    I have never seen an angry hummingbird before. A wee bit scared now.

    What a story! You are so cool. And...I really liked "bird on a stick man," as far as nicknames go.

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