How To Tell If A Hummingbird Is Dying

Hummingbirds are beautiful and fragile creatures that bring joy to those who observe them. But what should you do if you suspect that a hummingbird in your yard or nearby may be ill or passing away? This comprehensive guide will walk you through how to identify common signs of distress and disease in hummingbirds, and provide options on steps you can take to help a struggling bird.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Look for lethargy, fluffed up feathers, shivering, drooping wings, wheezing/tail bobbing, and an inability to perch or fly. Provide emergency food and shelter options while contacting a wildlife rehabilitator.

Recognizing Normal Hummingbird Behavior

Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures known for their vibrant colors and incredible agility. If you’re a bird enthusiast or simply enjoy watching these tiny marvels, it’s important to be able to recognize normal hummingbird behavior.

By understanding what is typical for these birds, you can better identify when something might be wrong or if a hummingbird is in distress.

Visiting Feeders Frequently

One of the most common behaviors of healthy hummingbirds is their frequent visits to feeders. Hummingbirds have incredibly fast metabolisms and need to consume large amounts of nectar to sustain their energy levels.

If you notice a hummingbird consistently visiting your feeder throughout the day, it’s a good sign that it’s healthy and thriving.

Alert and Agile Flying

When hummingbirds are in good health, they exhibit alert and agile flying patterns. These tiny birds are capable of hovering in mid-air, flying backward, and making quick turns. They should appear light on their feet, moving swiftly from one flower or feeder to another.

If a hummingbird appears sluggish or struggles to fly, it could be a sign of illness or injury.

Groomed Appearance

Healthy hummingbirds take pride in their appearance and are meticulous groomers. They spend a significant amount of time preening their feathers to maintain their vibrant colors and streamline their bodies for efficient flight.

If you notice a hummingbird with unkempt or ruffled feathers, it could be an indication that something is wrong.

Chirping Sounds

Another characteristic of normal hummingbird behavior is their distinctive chirping sounds. Hummingbirds use vocalizations to communicate with one another and establish their territory. If you hear a hummingbird chirping happily while feeding or interacting with other hummingbirds, it’s a positive sign that they are healthy and content.

Remember, it’s essential to observe hummingbirds from a respectful distance and avoid interfering with their natural behavior. If you suspect a hummingbird might be in distress, it’s best to contact a local wildlife rehabilitator or bird expert for further guidance.

Signs of Illness or Injury in Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are small, delicate creatures that require special care and attention. Unfortunately, there are times when these beautiful birds may become ill or injured. It is important for bird enthusiasts to be able to recognize the signs of illness or injury in hummingbirds so that they can provide the necessary help and support.

Here are some common indicators to look out for:

Lethargy and Weakness

If you notice a hummingbird that is unusually still or appears to be weak, it may be a sign of illness or injury. Healthy hummingbirds are known for their energetic and fast-paced movements, so a lack of activity can be a cause for concern.

Keep an eye out for a hummingbird that is not feeding or exploring its surroundings as usual.

Ruffled, Puffed Out Feathers

When a hummingbird is sick or injured, its feathers may become ruffled or appear puffed out. This is a natural response to conserve body heat and protect the bird from further harm. If you see a hummingbird with unkempt feathers, it may be an indication that it is not feeling well.


Shivering is another sign that a hummingbird may be unwell. Like humans, birds shiver to generate heat and maintain their body temperature. If you see a hummingbird trembling or shaking, it could be a sign of illness or injury.

Drooping Wings

Healthy hummingbirds hold their wings tightly against their bodies when at rest. If you observe a hummingbird with drooping wings or wings that hang lower than usual, it may be a sign of a problem. This could indicate an injury or weakness that requires attention.

Wheezing or Tail Bobbing

Abnormal breathing sounds, such as wheezing or rasping, can be signs of respiratory distress in hummingbirds. Additionally, if you notice the tail of a hummingbird bobbing up and down while it breathes, it may be struggling to breathe properly.

These symptoms should not be ignored and require immediate attention.

Unable to Perch or Fly

If a hummingbird is unable to perch or fly, it is a clear sign that something is seriously wrong. This could indicate an injury or a medical condition that requires professional help. In such cases, it is best to contact a local wildlife rehabilitation center or a veterinarian who specializes in avian care.

Remember, it is crucial to approach injured or sick hummingbirds with caution and to seek professional help whenever possible. Hummingbirds are protected wild birds and should be handled by experts trained in their care.

Diseases that Can Affect Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are beautiful and fascinating creatures, but just like any other living beings, they can be susceptible to various diseases. It is important for bird enthusiasts to be aware of the potential health issues that can affect these tiny birds.

Here are some common diseases that can affect hummingbirds:

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections can pose a serious threat to hummingbirds. One of the most common bacterial infections in hummingbirds is caused by the bacterium Campylobacter. This bacterium can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration in hummingbirds.

Another bacterial infection that can affect hummingbirds is Salmonella, which can cause septicemia and lead to death in severe cases. It is important to maintain clean and hygienic feeders to minimize the risk of bacterial infections.

Aspergillosis Fungal Infections

Aspergillosis is a fungal infection that can affect hummingbirds. This disease is caused by the inhalation of spores from the fungus Aspergillus, which can lead to respiratory distress and even death in hummingbirds.

It is important to keep the feeding areas and bird baths clean to prevent the growth of fungi and reduce the risk of aspergillosis.

Avian Malaria

Avian malaria is a parasitic disease that can affect hummingbirds. This disease is caused by the bite of infected mosquitoes carrying the Plasmodium parasite. Hummingbirds infected with avian malaria may exhibit symptoms such as weakness, loss of appetite, and anemia.

It is crucial to minimize mosquito breeding areas and use mosquito repellents to reduce the risk of avian malaria.

West Nile Virus

Hummingbirds can also be affected by the West Nile virus, a viral infection transmitted through mosquito bites. While hummingbirds are not a primary host for the virus, they can become infected if bitten by an infected mosquito.

Symptoms of West Nile virus in hummingbirds may include lethargy, weakness, and neurological issues. It is important to take measures to prevent mosquito bites and reduce the risk of West Nile virus transmission.

It is essential to monitor the health of hummingbirds and take prompt action if any signs of illness or distress are observed. If you suspect that a hummingbird is sick or dying, it is recommended to contact a local wildlife rehabilitator or a veterinarian who specializes in avian medicine for guidance and assistance.

Providing Emergency Care to Sick Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are delicate creatures that require special care when they are sick or injured. If you suspect that a hummingbird is dying, it is important to take immediate action to provide emergency care. Here are some steps you can take to help a sick hummingbird:

Offer Special Food Blend

When a hummingbird is sick, it may have difficulty finding enough nectar to sustain itself. To help provide the necessary nutrition, you can offer a special food blend that mimics the natural nectar they would find in the wild.

This blend can be made by combining four parts water with one part white granulated sugar. It is important to make sure the solution is cool before offering it to the hummingbird.

Keep Them Warm

Hummingbirds are highly susceptible to cold temperatures, so it is crucial to keep them warm if they are sick or injured. You can do this by placing a heating pad set on low underneath a small box or container. Make sure to cover the container with a soft cloth or towel to provide insulation.

This will help regulate their body temperature and improve their chances of survival.

Allow Plenty of Rest

Rest is essential for a sick hummingbird’s recovery. It is important to provide a quiet and calm environment, free from any disturbances or loud noises. Place the hummingbird in a secure and secluded area where it can rest undisturbed.

Avoid handling or touching the bird unless necessary, as this can cause additional stress and harm.

Avoid Stressors

Hummingbirds are sensitive creatures and can easily become stressed, which can worsen their condition. To minimize stress, keep the hummingbird away from pets, children, and any other potential stressors.

Additionally, avoid overcrowding the area with other birds or animals, as this can also cause stress. Creating a peaceful and calm environment is essential for their recovery.

Consult Wildlife Rehabilitator

If you are unsure about how to care for a sick hummingbird or if its condition does not improve, it is best to consult a wildlife rehabilitator. These professionals have the expertise and resources to provide proper care for sick or injured hummingbirds.

They can assess the bird’s condition, provide necessary medical treatment, and ensure the best chances of recovery.

Remember, providing emergency care to a sick hummingbird requires immediate action and specialized knowledge. By following these steps and consulting a wildlife rehabilitator when necessary, you can help give a sick hummingbird the best chance at survival.

When to Give Up Treatment and Euthanize

When caring for a hummingbird, it is important to know when it is time to consider euthanasia. While it is always difficult to make this decision, there are certain signs that indicate the bird may be suffering and euthanasia is the most humane option. Here are some key indicators to look out for:

Hummingbird Not Responding After 48 Hours Treatment

If you have been providing treatment to a hummingbird for a specific condition and there is no improvement after 48 hours, it may be a sign that the bird’s condition is not responding to treatment. In such cases, it is essential to consult with a wildlife rehabilitator or a veterinarian to discuss the next steps, which may include considering euthanasia.

These professionals have the necessary expertise to evaluate the bird’s condition and provide guidance on the best course of action.

Hummingbird Lapsing Into Unconsciousness

If a hummingbird is constantly lapsing into unconsciousness and is unable to stay alert or responsive, it could be an indication of a severe underlying condition. This could be a sign that the bird’s body is shutting down and that further treatment would only prolong its suffering.

In such cases, it is important to prioritize the bird’s welfare and consider euthanasia as a compassionate option.

Hummingbird in Severe, Constant Pain

If a hummingbird is visibly in severe, constant pain and there is no relief in sight, it may be necessary to consider euthanasia. Signs of pain can include constant flinching, inability to perch or move comfortably, or vocalizing distress.

It is crucial to consult with a professional who can assess the bird’s condition and provide guidance on the most humane course of action.

Professional Guidance Recommends Euthanasia

In some cases, professional wildlife rehabilitators or veterinarians may recommend euthanasia for a hummingbird based on their expertise and assessment of the bird’s condition. These professionals have extensive knowledge and experience in caring for wildlife, and their recommendation should be taken seriously.

It is important to trust their judgment and make decisions in the best interest of the bird’s welfare.

Remember, the decision to euthanize a hummingbird is never easy, but it is sometimes the most compassionate choice when the bird’s quality of life is severely compromised. By recognizing the signs and seeking professional guidance, you can ensure that the bird receives the care it needs, even if that means making the difficult decision to euthanize.


Hummingbirds lead magnificent but fragile lives, and it can be devastating to observe one in distress. However, understanding the signs of illness and steps for emergency care can help you make a difference.

While rehabilitation will not always succeed, your compassion and willingness to help is meaningful. With prompt support and the advice of wildlife experts, some struggling hummingbirds can recover and return to grace your yard again.

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