Hummingbirds are among the most intriguing avians to watch, with their iridescent feathers, high-speed hovering powers, and expert ability to extract nectar from even the tiniest flowers.
They’re an unforgettable sight in the wild, but is it possible to keep a hummingbird as a pet? Keep reading to learn about laws relating to hummingbirds and whether they can be raised in captivity.
It is against the law to keep hummingbirds as pets. They forage across a wide range and cannot survive in an enclosed area. So it’s far better to admire them in their natural setting, as any attempts to keep them in captivity will be both illegal and unlikely to be successful.
Some specialist zoos house small collections of hummingbirds in purpose-built environments, designed to replicate their natural habitat as closely as possible. However, no attempt should ever be made to take a hummingbird into captivity or to keep one as a pet.
To learn more about the ins and outs of the laws about keeping hummingbirds as pets, and if there are any exceptions, please read on.
It is completely illegal to have a Hummingbird as a pet
Hummingbirds forage across a wide range on a daily basis and will not tolerate being kept in an enclosed space. Their tiny size makes it difficult to care for them and to ensure they are kept securely.
Some hummingbirds are known for their record-breaking long-distance migrations and high-speed flights, reaching a maximum pace of up to 98 km per hour (60 miles per hour). It would be impossible for them to reach such speeds in an enclosed shelter.
Hummingbirds are active birds that thrive when they have free access to a wide range of different plants and flowers, rather than being restricted to a limited landscape or artificial habitat.
They have an incredibly fast metabolism, and their nutritional requirements are highly specialized, making them an unviable option as a pet.
Rufous Hummingbirds have one of the most impressive migrations
It is totally illegal in every part of the United States to trap a wild hummingbird or to keep one in captivity. Hummingbirds are wild birds, with very specific feeding needs and habits, which cannot be replicated in a captive environment. They are protected species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Permits exist for wildlife rehabilitation centers, where injured hummingbirds must be taken within 48 hours of discovering them, and it is an offense to try and rehabilitate a hummingbird in your own home without a special license.
Bee Hummingbird in flight - the smallest bird in the world
Hummingbirds do not live in the wild in the UK or anywhere else in Europe: the continent’s climate conditions and native flora do not support hummingbirds’ very specific habitat and nutritional needs.
In the past, the only place to catch a glimpse of live hummingbirds in the UK was London Zoo, although their current status is unclear.
Keeping hummingbirds in zoos or controlled environments is not particularly common as it can be quite a challenge to provide the flying space and diversity of plant life required for their ongoing healthy survival.
A pair of White-bellied Woodstars in flight together
It is illegal to buy or sell a hummingbird. Illegal trade in hummingbirds carried severe penalties, with fines from $15,000 to $200,000 if prosecuted. Hummingbirds cannot be bought or sold at pet stores, and any illegal trade in these birds or their eggs is a federal offense.
According to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act it is illegal to hold a hummingbird or trap one to take into captivity. There is no issue at all about feeding hummingbirds in your yard, with purpose-built sugar water feeders, and you may find that you get to identify regular repeat visitors.
With patience, it may eventually be possible for a hummingbird to become used to human presence and unafraid of being in close proximity to people, especially near feeders stocked with nectar or sugar water.
With encouragement, hummingbirds may briefly pause on an outstretched finger near a backyard feeder, but any closer contact than this should not be attempted.
Close up of a beautiful Fiery-throated Hummingbird (Panterpe insignis)
Hummingbirds cannot be kept in an aviary. Firstly it is illegal to keep a hummingbird in captivity, regardless of the type of enclosure you use. Aviaries are entirely unsuitable environments for hummingbirds to live in.
Hummingbirds need a large space to forage and a wide range of plants and flowers to visit, and will not survive well in an aviary or cage.
The simple answer to this question is that the best care for an injured hummingbird is to call an expert. Rehabilitation centers for injured or abandoned hummingbirds operate under license granted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
According to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, if you discover an injured or abandoned hummingbird, you must seek help within the first 48 hours or risk facing a hefty fine.
Close up portrait of a White-tailed Hillstar Hummingbird (Urochroa bougueri)
If you find a baby hummingbird that has fallen out of its nest, it is perfectly safe to handle it with great care, and return it to the nest.
One commonly held belief is that a female hummingbird will reject a nestling that has been handled by humans, but this is untrue.
Hummingbirds have no sense of smell and will be unable to tell that their chick has been touched. As tiny, delicate birds, baby hummingbirds are incredibly fragile and handling should only be undertaken with extreme care.
As well as being illegal to buy and sell live hummingbirds, the same is true for the eggs of hummingbirds. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is a criminal offense to take hummingbird eggs from nests or to even simply have them in your possession.
If you come across an unattended hummingbird nest, the best advice is to leave it alone. As well as it being against the law to interfere with a hummingbird nest, it is also highly unlikely that you would have any success in hatching the eggs in an artificial environment.
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