Jim and Helen Bishop are tending to a hummingbird as if it were their precious child. They quietly peer into its cage, carefully checking the tiny creature for signs of distress.
With a diminished look of concern on their faces, the Bishops are momentarily satisfied by the bird’s well-being.
Because of its frailty, Jim and Helen will continue to check for changes every few minutes. A significant drop in food and water levels requires instant replenishing.
The Bishops call themselves “bird rehabers.” For the past nine years, they have volunteered their services and donated some of their savings to help injured hummingbirds.
They nurse these delicate creatures back to health with the hope of releasing them back into the wild.
As the only state and federally licensed people in Orange County to actively take in hummingbirds, they receive about 250 injured birds a year from local veterinarians and animal shelters.
Their Anaheim home resembles an Army M.A.S.H. unit. Two incubators await an emergency arrival of baby hummers. And cages are scattered throughout the property, filling up the back yard and almost every room of the house. Not all of the cages are occupied, but all are meticulously set up, ready to house a new occupant.
Although they are both retired--he worked in tool maintenance at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach, and she was a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in Long Beach--the Bishops are so dedicated to birds that they haven’t traveled far from their home of more than 20 years since they started caring for them. “The reason we haven’t taken a vacation is that hummingbird season is almost year-round,” Helen said.
The Bishops--who have no children--decided to specialize in hummingbird care because “no one seems to want to get involved helping with hummingbirds’ recuperation. They require a lot of attention, and the formula we import from Germany is very expensive,” he said.
“Last year we spent about $450 to $500 just for the imported hummingbird food,” she said. “That’s not counting the other food we use” as a diet staple.
He explained: “The (baby) hummingbirds get fed every 15 minutes, from sunup to sundown, with the imported formula. So with the time spent in formula mixing and feedings, we maybe get a few hours sleep before we have to get up again.
“This little fella was about that big when we got him,” Jim said, pointing to the tip of his little finger. “We fed him for about a day, then he started to self-feed.”
Found on a driveway, he said the bird must have fallen out of his nest.
“Once they fall there is no way for the mother to get him back home,” he said.
Within five days of care, the little hummer took its first flight.
In the back yard, larger permanent “flight cages” are set up for the next phase of the birds’ recovery. These cages simulate a natural environment.
“We make sure (the birds) know enough to go into the flowers for food by keeping different types of feeders in the cage,” Jim said. “We also hang a bucket of banana skins to attract fruit flies for their needed protein.”
He said store-bought feeders with the red-dyed sugar water will not keep the birds alive without an additional source of food supplement.
“The bird will not survive on sugar alone. They need protein to absorb the sugar,” he said, adding that birds should not be allowed to become dependent on the feeders. “Sugar water should be used as a supplement when natural food is not available: early in the morning, just before sundown or in the heat of the day when the flowers are shriveled up.”
Rather than using the prepackaged hummingbird food with red dye, Jim suggests people mix their own sugar water, eliminating the red dye that may be hard for the bird to ingest. He said to use distilled water or water that has been boiled for at least 10 minutes to kill bacteria. Let it cool, then mix one part sugar to four parts water. Feeders should be taken down every few days, cleaned and refreshed with new sugar water.
The Bishops are also licensed to care for passerine (small songbirds) and the California gnatcatcher. But Jim doesn’t think he’ll be able help a gnatcatcher. “Being that the California gnatcatcher is an endangered species, chances are very slim that anyone would ever find one,” he said.
Records are kept of each bird that has entered the Bishops’ home and are submitted every month to the state and every year to federal authorities.
The required record-keeping serves another purpose: The Bishops glance through these records as if they were scrapbooks of children who have left the nest.
“We keep track of every bird that comes in here,” said Helen. “We insist that every one of them is given a name.
“We got a call yesterday (from a person who had brought in an injured hummingbird) and we looked up the bird,” Helen said.
With an ear-to-ear smile on her face, she said, “It was released.”
The Bishops encourage people who have found injured birds to take them to the nearest veterinarian or animal shelter. Because of the possibility of overcrowding at their home, the Bishops do not receive the birds directly.