In the US, it is in fact illegal to keep hummingbirds as pets in your home. Whilst this may come as a disappointment to many, there are valid and important factors that determine why this decision was made.
This article will explore the laws and legislations around keeping hummingbirds as household pets in the United States, as well as demonstrate the level of care that is needed to ensure the safety and livelihood of these magnificent birds.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 declared possession of any migratory bird as prohibited.
These migratory birds, which include hummingbirds, are protected under the United States Code of Federal Regulations. In other words, in the US, it is against the law to possess these birds, their eggs, their nests or even parts of their bodies in captivity without a valid permit.
Similarly, this also means it is illegal to trap, hold, harass or control hummingbirds in any way.
This Act protects these birds since it is truly dangerous for migratory birds to live in captivity. Breaking such laws could result in a fine up to $200,000 US dollars! To view a summary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 law, go to: http://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/migtrea.html.
It is possible to obtain a permit, however, by applying through the United States Fish and Wildlife Service – http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/mbpermits.html. Whilst permits do exist for the possession of hummingbirds, these are most commonly held by governmental institutions that place and raise the birds in zoos. Some, albeit very few people, have permission to keep hummingbirds to reproduce them in order to sell the babies.
Why is the possession of hummingbirds illegal?
These regulations against the possession of hummingbirds have been put in place for the safety of the creatures.
Hummingbirds have certain characteristics and requirements that make it unsafe for them to be held in enclosed spaces in captivity. In fact, keeping these birds as pets is potentially life-threatening for them, therefore these laws are in the birds’ best interest.
Let’s take a look at some of these key factors in more detail:
The size of a hummingbird is one of the main factors that make it unsafe for them to become household pets. Hummingbirds typically measure under 5 inches in length and weigh as little as a dime.
Because of their petite size, it may become unsafe for the fragile birds to be held by humans, as too tight of a grasp may end up injuring or possibly even killing the creatures.
Compared to other birds, hummingbirds are extremely vulnerable and are therefore not really able to be treated and cared for sufficiently by humans. They also have very small legs which means they are incapable of walking and hopping like other birds.
Diet and Habitat
One of the most important things to consider in regard to the care of hummingbirds is that, whilst in flight, they have the highest metabolism of all animals (apart from insects).
As they fly so rapidly, they tend to use up a lot of their energy and require constant feeding (around every 15 minutes). It is essential that they are fed frequently and consistently, which makes it difficult to take care of them as they can starve fairly easily.
Additionally, their extremely quick flight speed makes them very difficult to control in a contained environment like a house, and the chance of the birds getting injured is close to inevitable.
In regard to their dietary needs, many people are often mistaken to believe that hummingbirds survive solely on sugar water from wild nectar. Whilst they do tend to consume a lot of sugar water, they also need the protein that is obtained by eating small insects.
They do also tend to get rather particular about the type of nectar they consume, preferring nectar that is only partially concentrated. Whilst nectar and small insects may be difficult to retain, they are perhaps not impossible to source as feeding options for these birds in captivity.
But in reality, these birds eat half of their body weight in food daily. This equates to 1000-2000 flowers and hundreds of insects every day, which is extremely difficult to uphold if they are kept as pets and the upkeep of feeding will be almost impossible for an owner to maintain.
In a more practical sense, these birds are known to have strong, sharp beaks and can be very territorial and defensive. They are therefore likely to harm you if they feel threatened or vulnerable, making it all the more difficult to control them.
As well as being fast flyers, they are also unpredictable flyers and can fly in all directions at rapid speed which again makes it very difficult to contain them in your environment. This could also result in harm for the bird as they are not familiar with flying in and around man-made structures. One of the most important elements of having a pet is the pet’s ability to recognise and understand their owner.
Whilst some birds, such as parrots, have this ability, sadly hummingbirds do not. They are much better suited to an open, outdoor environment where they can be free to roam as they please.
How can I get close to a hummingbird without keeping it as a pet?
Do not be disheartened, however, as there are many things that can be done to get you closer to the magnificent hummingbirds that are simple (and legal!). These birds commonly visit backyard birdfeeders, which is a great way to attract them to your home. Installing backyard bird feeders with nectar placed inside them should be sufficient in drawing them in.
A great way to do this is by preparing a light sugar water solution and placing it in the feeder where it can be easily spotted by the birds. The feeders can be hung on trees or placed near flowers.
The hummingbirds will gather around the solution in the feeders, hovering for a while to allow some time for you to admire them. It is important to clean the feeder daily and make a new sugar solution as it grows thick and may turn the hummingbirds away from your garden.
Perhaps an easier way to draw hummingbirds to your yard is by installing a flower bed and growing flowers that hummingbirds are traditionally drawn to. Hummingbirds are in fact rather confident, fearless birds and won’t be afraid when you approach them and admire them as they draw nectar from your flowers. This is perhaps one of the best approaches to gain close contact with hummingbirds in their most natural environment. Maintaining and cleaning your feeder daily and replacing the sugar water might become a tedious task, therefore a flower bed will help keep the visit of hummingbirds consistent to your garden, particularly during summertime.
Hummingbirds are in fact very intelligent birds that are constantly on the lookout for food. They can be spotted on a quest for nectar and insects in many urban and residential areas across much of the United States, as well as in open woodland areas too.
There is often a high chance of an encounter with a hummingbird without the need to restrain it as a pet.
Do countries outside the US allow hummingbirds to be kept as pets?
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects migratory birds between the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Therefore, it is illegal to keep a hummingbird as a pet in these countries. For more information on this act, or for information about keeping hummingbirds as pets in other regions, it is best to seek advice from your local government authority.
In any instance, these laws are in place in the interest of the birds’ wellbeing, and you must consider whether you are able to provide the proper care these birds require before making the decision to keep one.
What to do if you come across an abandoned baby hummingbird.
If you happen to come across a baby hummingbird, you should still refrain from keeping it captive in your home. However, there are a few things you must do to maintain the bird’s wellbeing after you have found it.
As they do not have feathers, it is vital to keep them warm at all times – this can be done by gently placing them directly back in their nests (if it is available) or making one for them with soft paper (avoid using cotton or cloth).
Once the bird is safe and less threatened, it is then important that you contact the wildlife rescue organization.