|For 30 years, Helen Bishop's home has been a retreat for the birds.|
Helen Bishop's phone still rings daily. Instinctively she knows it will be someone on the other end with an injured hummingbird.
For more than 30 years, people have brought injured and orphaned birds to her Anaheim home, where a plaque at the front door reads “Hummingbird Retreat.”
“The Lord gave me a job to do and I'm not done yet,” said Bishop, 92.
Although she doesn't treat the birds anymore, she remains a valuable resource for the public and other wildlife rehabilitators.
She doesn't regret the sacrifices she and her husband Jim made to care for the tiny birds over the years. They used their savings to pay for the expensive protein formula that had to be ordered from Germany. Even after they both retired – Jim from McDonnell Douglas and Helen from St. Mary's Medical Center – they never traveled far from home. They wanted to be available for bird rescue.
The couple dedicated their lives to saving the tiniest bird species. Babies required the most attention. From sunrise to sunset they fed orphaned birds every 15 minutes, just as the mother hummer would have done.
Helen continued hummingbird rehabilitation after Jim passed on 18 years ago. He was the one who started caring for the birds, she said. “He had the most gentle hands.”
Hummingbirds can get into all kinds of trouble, she said. Cats attack them. They fly into windows. They get trapped inside houses. They're prone to infection and get sick from dirty feeders. The males fight viciously and injure each other. And babies can fall out or get blown out of nests during high winds.
The Bishops kept track of every bird they received for care, a requirement of their
rehabilitation license from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. They asked people who brought a bird to them to give it a name; it was easier to keep track of them that way. The couple was always happy when they could report that it had been released, she said.
To house the birds, Jim built four large aviaries, or flight cages, and multiple smaller ones in varied sizes. For many years it seemed every table and surface in the house had a cage sitting on it.
Bishop shredded her records after giving up her rehabilitation license two years ago, but remembers a time when they took in more than 250 birds a month. Thousands of birds were treated and released back into the wild after a stay at the Bishops' retreat.
Bishop still keeps five nectar feeders filled for the hummingbirds in her yard, which she meticulously cleans and refills every three days.
Sometimes hummingbirds would stay around the Bishop's yard after their release. One female in particular stuck around, she said. It would even fly to her when she brought out fresh nectar and land on the feeder as she put it back on the hook.
“I recognized her by the missing feathers on her chest,” she said. The bird had been caught by a cat and spent weeks in her care until her feathers grew back enough that it could fly.
Allen's and Anna's hummingbirds live year-round in Southern California. They begin nesting this month and they continue until August. If you find an injured or orphaned hummer, call the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach at 714-374-5587 immediately for instructions on where to take the bird.
Bishop said to prepare a shoebox for transport. Line it with a paper towel and a small twig for the hummingbird to perch on. Put three or four air holes in the lid using a pencil. Keep the bird warm, even if it's an adult.
“They can't survive on sugar water,” Bishop said.
The most common mistake people make when finding an injured hummer is that they wait too long to call for help.