Hummingbirds: From Birth to First Flight

If you have followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that Hummingbirds – or more specifically, Hummingbird photography – has been my nemesis. A better camera has helped. More amazingly – after years of frustration – the universe paid me back with the gift of a hummingbird nest right outside my door.

I almost mistook it for a wasp’s nest when Mama – a Black-chinned Hummingbird – first started building it on a string of white lights in the alcove. Thankfully, I procrastinated my impulse to remove it. Over the next couple of days it started to take shape.

Mama was constantly bustling about.

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Hummingbirds usually look for a “Y”-shaped tree limb in an open space, but below a canopy of leaves – away from predators and the wind. While the choice of a string of lights seems odd, she carefully selected a section where one light forms a “Y” – and the strand is protected from direct sun and wind under the eaves. Black-chinned Hummingbirds are supposed to be one of the most adaptable of their kind. Mama certainly was ingenious in her nest placement, especially given the number of other birds, squirrels and other predators that travel through our backyard.

Day by day she delivered plant materials and spider silk from webs which she carried across her chest and pressed into place, gluing the nest together and attaching it firmly to its flimsy anchor. I confess to helping her shore it up a little by anchoring the light string with a couple of wires.

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After about three weeks she had created a perfect tiny, teacup bowl just a little bigger than a golf ball.

The only thing she did not properly calculate was the traffic in and out of our back door. The solution was simple enough. Much to my husband’s disgust, I banned the entry. Hubby, dogs and guests were made to use a side entrance for what would become a VERY long time.

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Once the nest was complete, Mama took to sitting. And sitting. And sitting.

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Unlike our Mourning Doves who share parenting responsibilities, Mama Hummingbird does all the work. The eggs – which are the size of small white jelly beans – take about two weeks to incubate. They have to be kept at 96 degrees, so the warmth of the day allows her to go feed and drink. We have flowers, a feeder and ample water in the backyard – but she clearly samples from the neighbors as well.

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When the babies peck their way out of their shells, Mama really gets to work. Her disappearance and return every 20 minutes or so signaled their arrival. I got on the ladder and snuck a peek. They were barely the size of the tip of my pinkie finger. They have no feathers; just black skin and a few bits of down, all snuggled down low in the nest.

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With eyes born shut, the breeze from Mama’s wings (and her chirping) signal her return.

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Beaks go up, and she performs an act that looks a little like a sewing machine needle – churning up her stomach contents of nectar and bugs which she distributes down their tiny throats.

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This goes on for roughly three weeks. The nest stretches and expands as they grow thanks to the elastic spider silk. Each day, the beaks get a little taller over the side, and the down gradually turns to colored bumps and then tiny feathers.
Day 5:

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Day 7:

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Day 9:

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You wouldn’t think that they could fit in that tiny cup of a nest, but they were snug as bugs.

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We were hit with a heat wave as they grew, with temperatures over 105. I placed a fan in the area just to circulate the air, and made sure there was extra fresh water for Mama to drink from. By Day 13 they were looking back at me –

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and Mama was clearly annoyed with my picture-taking. She took to sitting on the wires above and chirping angrily at me.

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Occasionally, if I got too close, she would fly over and flap her wings at me.

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I thought that was a little rude given all of my accommodations for her little family. I tried like the dickens to get a picture of her feeding them. Hummingbirds see farther and hear better than humans. I shot from inside of the house, thinking she wouldn’t see me. Wrong. One day, I crouched behind an outside planter and waited for 90 minutes. She just sat on the wire and waited. As soon as I left, she swooped in, dropped off their meal and was off.

By Day 14 they were showing signs of the beautiful iridescent green on their feathers. One was clearly larger than the other, but generous with its space sharing.

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And by Day 17 , I was having a hard time figuring out how they were balancing on that nest! You can see that one is a boy (darker throat) and the other a girl.

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Day 18: Sister’s full feathers appear ready for flight.

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On Day 19, I took this picture of the in the morning. It would be their last together.

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At 4PM, little brother was on his own.

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Mama came squawking at me as I took his picture.

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And out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blur; big sister on her maiden flight.

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She rested on a wire above looking still tiny in comparison to Mama.

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On Day 20, brother flew the coop as well. I can hear Mama off in the distance and tiny chirps in her vicinity, but she is staying out of sight. She’ll watch over them for a few days and show them how to find food and drink, then they’ll be off on their happy lives.

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Stay safe, little Hummingbirds. I wish you well. What a gift you have shared with me.

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“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” ~ John Keats

45 comments

  1. I almost signed off for the night when I saw your post come up on the reader. WOW!!!! You must feel like the luckiest person on the planet to receive this beautiful gift of miracles! I loved reading about the progress of the Mother hummingbird building her teeny sweet nest on, of all things, a strand of Christmas lights. LOVE IT. I’m so excited for you! Thank you for sharing your beautiful photographs. 🙂 This made my week!

  2. sara

    Oh my goodness, amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your little Hummingbird family! I’ve seen “used” Hummingbird nests on the ground, but have never seen a nest in use. And having one in such a visible and accessible spot is just incredible! Your pictures are fantastic. I just love this!

  3. As always, a beautifully written post with amazing pictures! The new camera has only enhanced your talent! I love reading this as I too delight in watching our birds come and go each year, building a nest under the eaves of the porch. The second group of this summer hatched two days ago. I love coming downstairs in the morning, peeking out the window and looking at the changes that have taken place from the day before. It’s definitely something to behold, very magical and you gave captured that magic. Thank you!

  4. THANK you for this!! Such a tender and moving journal of these amazing birds. A few years ago, I was blessed to have a family build a nest in a niche created at the top of the chains of a hanging plant-pot under my patio . . .

  5. Cindy Towne

    That was amazing. I love the little hummers in our yard and love watching them always wondering if I could catch a peek of a nest and or babies. That really was a wonderful gift you received there. So glad you were able to get the photo shots – they were adorable. Thank you so much for sharing your special moment with all of us.

  6. Run A Muck Ranch

    The pictures don’t give the tiny-ness of the nests justice! I’ve seen them as small as a quarter. Amazing!

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