Hummingbird Nest Facts – everything you need to know about the hummingbird nesting. Facts, images, videos & how to find them information is included in this article.
Hummingbird nests are tiny architectural gems. Like so many other birds, the hummingbirds, too, show great resourcefulness when it comes to building a safe shelter for their young. Now, tiny as these birds are, the nests they build are even tinier. Most these nest homes are about 1.5-2 inches in diameter and are normally no bigger than, say, a bottle cap or a ping pong ball.
But small though they may be, the nests are no less elaborate for that. A lot of thought and hard work on the part of the mother hummingbird go into making these nests, so her young would grow up safe and comfortable until they are ready to fly away on their own.
So, how exactly do the hummers build their nests and what is it that is so wonderful about them? Let’s go over the subject into some more detail which, we are sure, will make you appreciate the industry and ingenuity of these little birds when it comes to building their nest and raising their young.
Hummingbird Nesting Habits
First of all, we must remember that there are about 17 species of hummingbirds found in the US and not all of these different species have the same nesting habits. The most prominent difference lies in their choice of location for the nest (but more on this later), nevertheless there is not much difference in the way they build their nests and tend to their young.
Commonly, the humming birds prefer thickly wooded areas to build their home. The nest can be built at a height of 5-10 feet above the ground or if there are enough long trees around, the birds may even choose a site as high as 60-90 feet above ground.
However, the height is not so much of a factor. What the birds specifically look for is some place that will be well-sheltered from sun, rain, wind and potential predators. This is why they often prefer dense thickets or areas with thorny bushes, etc. since these places help provide extra protection from elements as well as from predators. The birds normally choose some fork in the branches as the preferred location for the nest.
However, it may interest you to know that not all species of hummingbirds build their nests in the greens. For example, it is a common habit for Broad-billed hummingbirds to build their nests on clotheslines. Again, Blue-throated hummingbirds are known to construct their nests on electric wires. Some other species will also build their homes under eaves of houses or on top of lamps, posts and other pieces of garden decorations. But these mainly happen in urban areas where there are not enough green spaces or trees and shrubs around. For all that, however, no hummingbird will ever use birdhouses for nesting purposes. Similarly, they never use the tree cavities for nesting.
What do hummingbird nests look like?
Unless they build their nest at your backyard or garden, as in the case of Broad-billed or Blue-throated hummingbirds just mentioned, you’ll normally have a hard time finding a hummingbird nest. Not only are they extremely small and kept well-hidden among shrubs, bushes or leafy braches of the trees, the birds also take a good deal of pain to camouflage the nest. So, chances are that even if you happen to spot one, you might not able to recognize it as a hummingbird nest.
And that is no great surprise either considering that these tiny nests look like some knot on a tree branch, at least to untrained eyes.
And the Ruby-throated hummingbirds are especially adept at constructing these camouflaged nests. And since ruby-throated hummers are by far the most abundantly found species in the US, if you ever come across a hummer’s nest, chances are that it will be nest of a ruby-throated mother hummingbird.
However, we are digressing a bit here. So, how do these nests look like and how are they built? The nests are built in the shape of an upside down cup. The birds use plant down, twigs, fuzz or down from leaves, cotton fiber, feather, small bits of bark, plant fibers and suchlike material to construct the nest. They use spider silk as thread to weave together the disparate materials.
The nests are built very practically with elastic sides and soft, spongy floors that allow the nest to expand as the young grow. The wind-facing side of the home is thickly constructed whereas leeward side and the top are made thinner for purposes of temperature control and good air circulation.
Hummingbird Mating / Reproduction / Gestation / Birthing Cycle
Early spring, from about mid to late March, is the mating season of hummingbirds. Once the birds come back to the US from their winter migration, male birds arrive a week or two early than the females. This is since the male hummer needs to establish its territory so when the females come, he gets the chance to woo them. The way a male bird tries to attract a female is mainly through performing a range of acrobatics such as deep dives, zigzag flying and other such curious displays.
Now, if the female is impressed by such displays, she will consent to mate with that particular male. Otherwise, she will move on in search of a more suitable candidate! Now, when the birds mate, no penetration occurs since male humming birds do not possess an external penis. Instead, the male simply presses his posterior opening or cloaca against the female’s. The process takes no more than 5 seconds during which time the sperm from the male bird passes along inside the female bird to fertilize the eggs.
Now, one curious fact about the nesting habit of the hummingbirds is that the females already start building the nest when they are still looking for a mating partner. Now, once the mating has taken place, the nest is all but finished and the bird will lay the eggs within a few days. Depending on the species, the incubation period lasts anything between 2 and 3 weeks. During all this time, the mother sits atop the eggs all day long, leaving them only for about 5 minutes per hour.
The hatchlings stay with their mother close to three weeks, longer than most birds. Once the fledglings are a little bigger and are able to fly, they will leave the nest at times but will come back eventually. But after that three-week or so period, once they are fully developed, the youngsters leave the nest for good and set out on their independent paths!
How to Find a Hummingbird Nest
As we’ve already mentioned, it is extremely difficult to locate a hummingbird nest. However, it is not impossible but you do need a sharp eye, keen ears and bags of patience. The easiest way is to try to follow with your eyes and ears a female hummer once you spot one during the birds’ mating season. You may use a binocular and try to find where it rests. If it’s at a high place in the woods, see if you can get to that level (think high building, watch towers, etc.). Then, if you are lucky, you may get to spot one. Use a powerful binocular or camera and zoom in to get a better view of the proceedings. Some people actually try to climb up a tree to have a close view but we strongly recommend against that. If the mother bird gets wind of the things, there is high probability that she will leave the nest and this will most likely result in the deaths of the hatchlings. So, please respect their habitat and don’t let your curiosity get the better of you.
Tips for Photographing a Nest
Here’s a great post (with some super amazing pictures) on how to photograph a hummingbird nest without in any way disturbing the birds. So, please check this out if you’re interested: http://www.tomarma.com/2012/06/how-to-photograph-a-hummingbird-nest-without-disturbing-them/
How to Make a Hummingbird Nesting Platform DIY
We’ve mentioned that hummingbirds do not use birdhouse for nesting. However, you can put or prepare a nesting platform for the birds on your backyard and with some luck, you may get one of the birds to construct its home there. Get a couple of short dowel rods and attach them crosswise in a “Y” or “X” shape so the rods resemble the forked branches of a tree. Get a leaf-patterned plastic sheath and attach it a couple of inches above the rods. This cover will provide the bird with a sense of shelter. Finally, fix a wad of cotton at some place along the length of the rods. The bird will use the cotton wad as primary material for its nest. Once the platform is complete, hang it at a shady place, preferably under the eaves. Also make sure that you keep intact any spider webs that have grown under the eaves or among the shrubs.
Hummingbird Nests Q&As
How do you get hummingbirds to nest in your yard?
First of all, provide the birds with ample food source. This means nectar feeders but also flowers that humming birds seep from. More importantly, grow shrubs and trees that provide the birds with their nesting materials. A good example is catkin-bearing plants such as birch, poplar, ironwood, cottonwood, alder, witch hazel, etc. Also add plants that have fuzzy seedpods or fuzzy foliage as hummingbirds use these soft, wooly, fuzzy materials to give the inside of their nests a fluffy and velvety texture.
What kind of trees do hummingbirds make their nests in?
Hummingbirds normally prefer large dense shrubs and leafy trees for building their nests.
How often do hummingbirds nest?
It depends on the species of hummingbirds and on how favorable the conditions are for hatching the broods. Typically, migratory hummingbirds in the northern habitats raise a single brood a year, although permanent residents such as the Anna’s Hummingbirds that live in the West Coast may raise 2-3 broods in a single year.
How many babies do hummingbirds have?
Hummingbirds almost always lay two eggs at a time and only on rare occasions, a brood will consist of a single egg. However, a hummingbird never lays more than two eggs at a time. Sometimes though, a mother who is raising her chicks may already lay eggs on a separate nest. However, this is not too common.
Where should I place a hummingbird nest?
In a shady and sheltered area (such as under the eaves) where the broods will receive ample cover from sunlight, wind or rain; and also place it close to the birds’ food sources.
Can you make a hummingbird nest?
You cannot make a hummingbird nest as such, but you can provide them with a support structure that they may use to build a nest for their young. Refer to our DIY Nesting Platform section above. If you lack the time to prepare the structure yourself, you can also buy one at bird supply stores.
Do hummingbirds have a mate for life?
No, they do not. Humming birds are not romantic birds. In fact, the male bird leaves the female soon after mating and goes away in search of its next mating partner. The female bird, on its part, never allows a male around its nest once it has laid the eggs.