How do you make a teeny hummingbird chick comfy?

by on March 28, 2013

 
A black-chinned hummingbird nest. Photo: Patrick Dockens.
 

 

 

What’s that up in the sky?!  It’s a bird,  it’s a … yep, it’s a bird!

Look upward at this time of year and there’s a good chance you’ll spot some male hummingbirds zooming around and putting on quite a show for the ladies. One thing leads to another and before you know it, the babies arrive!

 Hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world and only live in the Americas.  To make their golf-ball sized nests, they forgo hard and pointy materials like twigs, and go for maximum comfort for their delicate chicks: spider silk, plant down, moss, feathers, pieces of leaves, and lichens (for camouflage).

 Have you ever wondered why baby hummingbirds seem packed just-so in their nests? It’s because as they grow and move around, the nest is able to expand thanks to the elasticity and strength of the cobwebs that bind the nest material together.

 It’s close quarters, but these little birds aren’t stuck in there for long.  About 18 to 30 days after they hatch, they take flight and like a baby learning to walk, they’re not always successful with the first try.

“People often call us about fledglings they find on the ground,” says Susan Heckly, wildlife rehabilitation director at Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek.

Heckly said it’s good to move them out of harm’s way, but not far (Contrary to popular myth, a mother bird will not reject a chick if a human handles it. But keep contact to a minimum to avoid the spread of disease).

 “These hummingbirds are still learning to fly and mom’s probably somewhere nearby keeping an eye on them,” she says. “If the bird seems okay otherwise, try to put it somewhere up off the ground, preferably a tree, where it can perch.  Then back off and keep an eye on it for about an hour. Mom should be back to feed her baby every 20 to 30 minutes.”

 Spring tree trimming and cats are the primary reasons hummingbirds are injured and brought in for rehab.

“People are surprised when they learn that cats can pluck these speedy little birds out of the air,” says Rose Britton, animal care director at Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward.  “But hummingbirds hover near flowers, sometimes very close to the ground, and that’s how they get caught.”

 Flowers, however, are still preferable to hummingbird feeders.

“If you decide to put up a hummingbird feeder, it’s really important to clean it every few days,” says Heckly.  “The sugar solution will quickly ferment, mold, or attract mites, all of which can make hummingbirds very sick.  Feeders can also spread disease in bird populations if not cleaned properly.”

 Yuck! Rather than put up a feeder, it’s best to look to grow a hummingbird garden.

 “If you want to attract hummingbirds, it’s best to grow things they like,” says Britton. “You can start by going to a native plant nursery and asking what attracts hummingbirds.  I have hummingbirds in my yard year-round because of what I’ve planted, and I don’t have to bother with cleaning a feeder all the time!”

These Anna’s hummingbirds were brought into rehab because the tree limb their nest was in was cut down.  Photo: Sulphur Creek Nature Center
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These Anna’s hummingbirds were brought into rehab because the tree limb their nest was in was cut down. Photo: Sulphur Creek Nature Center
These rehab hummingbirds are only a few days old, probably anticipating their next feed. Photo: Sulphur Creek Nature Center
Caption
These rehab hummingbirds are only a few days old, probably anticipating their next feed. Photo: Sulphur Creek Nature Center
Before they can fly, baby hummingbirds have to be fed every 20 minutes, from sunup to sundown.  Photo: Sulphur Creek Nature Center.
Caption
Before they can fly, baby hummingbirds have to be fed every 20 minutes, from sunup to sundown. Photo: Sulphur Creek Nature Center.
Anna's hummingbird, a Bay Area native, and a bull thistle at Bodega Head State Park. Photo: David Hoffman.
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Anna's hummingbird, a Bay Area native, and a bull thistle at Bodega Head State Park. Photo: David Hoffman.
Rufous hummingbird, a Bay Area native. Photo: Rick Leche.
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Rufous hummingbird, a Bay Area native. Photo: Rick Leche.
Costa's hummingbird, a Bay Area native. Photo: Christopher Fritz.
Caption
Costa's hummingbird, a Bay Area native. Photo: Christopher Fritz.
A black-chinned hummingbird nest. Photo: Patrick Dockens.
Caption
A black-chinned hummingbird nest. Photo: Patrick Dockens.
Black-chinned hummingbird, a Bay Area native. Photo: Clinton & Charles Robertson
Caption
Black-chinned hummingbird, a Bay Area native. Photo: Clinton & Charles Robertson

Constance Taylor is a Bay Nature editorial intern. 

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3 comments:

Doyle on April 3rd, 2013 at 11:38 am

Ultimate hummingbird experience. Wearable Hummingbird Feeder — hummingbirds feed right in front of your eyes, right between your eyes, about an inch from your nose. Two min youtube clip here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8twCvJJtT0A and photos here http://heatstick.com/_eYe2eye.htm Made in California by Cottage Industry. Enjoy!!!

Do Hummingbirds Reuse Nests? « Bay Nature on February 7th, 2014 at 11:56 am

[…] Read more about hummingbird nests here.  […]

Judit on February 17th, 2014 at 12:43 pm

A hummingbird has built a nest in a little tree right next to our house and practically on our deck. Every time I walk outside he/she flies off. I worry that this does not bode well for hatching and raising the young. Do they become bolder once they have eggs in the nest or should we encourage the little thing to relocate?

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