I manage the staff and operations of Noah’s Ark at the Skirball, so responding to a lost child or a spill on the gallery floor is no problem. Knowing what to do with two tiny, helpless birds unable to feed themselves or fly? That is not in my handbook.
So, when I was at my desk recently and heard that two hummingbird babies were found in the grass near the rainbow mist arbor, I groaned. The Skirball is situated right in the Santa Monica Mountains, so living amid wildlife—snakes, lizards, spiders, foxes, raccoons—is expected. It’s not unusual to encounter a family of deer standing majestically in the arroyo garden when I’m heading out to my car after work. I kindly leave them alone, and they kindly leave me alone. But when we encounter an injured animal right in our backyard, we can’t very well leave it alone.
Quite fortuitously one of our Noah’s Ark gallery educators is a trained, licensed wildlife rehabilitator. When faced with an injured animal, she’s been kind enough to oblige and whisk the animal off to safety until she’s done teaching. But this doesn’t make for good practice, and I knew that we needed to take her off the hook for responding. Coming up with a protocol had been on my to-do list, but I had not yet thought it through. So here I was, groaning because it had come up… again.
On this particular day, our educator/rehabilitator wasn’t scheduled to work, and so other folks took action. I hadn’t even stepped out of my office when I heard someone shout “Find something soft!” By the time I got down the hall, someone appeared from our art studio with materials left over from (if you can believe it) a nest-building project: super-fluffy cotton filling and a pressed cardboard container.
Now what? Our Head of Family Programs, who has also had some experience with animals—it’s hard to escape animal lovers when you work at a place called Noah’s Ark—advised that we place the “nest” on a wide ledge outside his window. That way, if the mother was still around, she could easily find and feed her little ones. We took his advice and watched… just long enough for me to start worrying. By leaving the nest within reach of Noah’s Ark visitors, aren’t we tempting them to touch these irresistibly darling creatures? Who will guard the nest during the night when we’re gone? The family of deer?! What happens if we show up tomorrow and the babies are missing… or worse? Maybe we should fashion a nest in a tree?
It was too much for a worrywart like me. We moved them to an upper ledge and waited. All the while, we were in awe of their sweetness.
Soon, the mother appeared! She floated softly around, as hummingbirds do, and occasionally landed on the nest to check on her young and feed them. Work around the office came to a halt. All of us were excited to host this precious, newly reunited family. We were hopeful. But we also knew that the birds couldn’t stay on the window ledge for long, and the day was waning. Anyone we could call?
In fact, there was. We left a thorough, rambling message with Los Angeles Hummingbird Rescue. Soon enough, the phone rang. It was Terry from Los Angeles Hummingbird Rescue. I excitedly briefed her on the situation: that we had built them a home, that we had positioned them outside, that their mother was feeding them. So far, so good! As it happened, Terry was nearby, and she could come by soon. Los Angeles Hummingbird Rescue—to the rescue!
“Oh, yes,” Terry remarked when she arrived, “these chicks are quite young. I will need to take them.” It was the news I wanted to hear, but it also made my heart sink a bit. Naively, I had begun to imagine the hummingbirds staying in our gardens, flitting about, under the good care of their mother. Terry explained matter-of-factly that if she took them, they would definitely survive, but if we tried to take care of them here, the outlook was not nearly as good. Think wind, predators, and curious visitors and over-eager staff. There was no guarantee that the mother would even be able to stay close to take care of them.On the other hand, Terry could provide a safe, temporary home for mother and chicks and would eventually set them free so they could occupy a new garden and make nests of their own. In Noah’s Ark, we often talk about finding one’s home, making new friends, and having the opportunity for second chances—and here was Terry, who could help these hummingbirds thrive and enjoy a new beginning. We knew they had to go.
It was a new beginning for us, too. We were renewed in our desire to “hatch” a protocol before another injured animal showed up at our doorstep. Our Operations team was on board, too, since they had all too often served on the frontlines caring for broken-winged birds and more. I’m proud to say that we now have a list of local wildlife rehabilitation facilities at our fingertips for just this sort of emergency. And so, just like the visitors who explore our gallery and care for the animals aboard Noah’s Ark, we have a plan in place to care for animals outside the gallery— big, small, and especially tiny—in the best way we know how: as a community.