A hummingbird’s nest is almost as hard to find as hen’s teeth.
Yes, there are rare occurrences of a mutant short-lived chick with teeth. Although the species lost its teeth about 80 million years ago, they still have the genes.
Fortunately it’s easier to find a hummingbird nest than a mutant chicken.
Birds’ nests are fascinating in their diversity; books are written about nests. Insects have more diversity in the nests they build but avian nests are easier to find; some are Architectural Digest-worthy.
Male rufous hummingbirds have the flash but the females do the nest-building, egg-laying, and feeding and protecting of the chicks.
And they waste no time getting started, usually beginning nesting within three days of arriving on the breeding grounds. They spend much of the pre-nest time eating to reload on energy used during a long migration.
The All About Birds website puts that trip in perspective: “At just over 3 inches long, its roughly 3,900-mile movement (one-way) from Alaska to Mexico is equivalent to 78,470,000 body lengths. In comparison, the 13-inch-long Arctic Tern’s one-way flight of about 11,185 miles is only 51,430,000 body lengths.”
Once recovered from the trip, the female searches for a nest location: a tree high enough to protect from some predators plus protection from wind and rain, up to about 20 feet high in coniferous or deciduous trees, or even tall bushes.
At that point, it’s nonstop nest-building, a race against the arrival of eggs. Researchers report that the soon-to-be mother usually will work about four hours a day on a nest that takes five to seven days to build.
The cup-shaped nest, about the size of a walnut, sits on top of a branch or in a fork in a branch. Building materials are what the environment offers: thin strips of bark, feathers, soft plants (dryer lint works, too), held together by spider webs, with the outside camouflaged with lichen, twigs and moss.
The spider webs not only hold the nest together but allow for some flexibility for growing chicks.
Rufous hummingbirds sometimes reuse a nest but Anna’s hummingbirds rarely do. Although the rufous hummingbird does not nest in colonies, Birds of North America reported that 20 or more rufous hummingbirds nested only a few yards apart in the same tree in Washington state.
(Does anyone know where?)
Although egg-laying is generally a late-February/March activity, a birdwatcher in Seattle’s Wedgewood neighborhood had been watching a female on a nest in a tree about 30 feet from the ground since Feb. 1.
But after three weeks of snow, high wind and torrential rain, it was no longer nesting. She compared it to 2014 and found that egg-sitting happened three weeks later than this year’s early bird.
So how would you find a tiny hummingbird’s nest?
Look up. Hummingbird nests are usually above your head.
Follow the female. Mom is making dozens of trips a day with material for her nest, and then many more trips to feed her brood. That’s a lot of flitting through trees and bushes. Following the same hummingbird and paying attention to her flight pattern will help you narrow down the location.
Repeat. Look at several likely locations. Once you’ve settled on an area, go branch by branch, and then take a different angle and repeat the search. Search the same area every few days. I did mention patience.
Use your ears. Hummingbirds do a lot of chirping, and that may help you focus on the right area.
Look close to home. Hummingbirds have been known to nest in unusual places, including the black-chinned hummingbird that built her nest on a backyard clothesline in Nevada.
Resist temptation. Binoculars are perfect for getting a close-up view. To Mom, you’re a big danger.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or songand firstname.lastname@example.org.