|Hummingbirds generally lay two eggs, but not all are viable. Photo by Tyler Thayer|
An Oceanside couple watched in awe as a mother hummingbird built its nest just outside their courtyard window.
The female hummingbird sat in the nest as she built it, working the sides up around her until the nest was about an inch tall and 1½ inches wide. The tiny bird used plant down, thistle, and bits of leaves bound by spider webs, which allows the nest to expand as the nestlings grow. Hummingbirds often cover the outside of their nests in lichen or moss. But instead, the Oceanside bird used green paint chips from a peeling patio set.
It took about a week for her to finish. Finally, she laid two eggs about the size of Tic Tac mints. She continued to sit through wind and even a cold rain, keeping the eggs warm with her little body. About two weeks later, one of the eggs hatched. The couple became concerned when the other egg failed to hatch two to three days later as expected. Eventually, the single nestling became large enough to cover the egg.
“Normally, the mother would push it out,” said Monique Rae a hummingbird rehabilitator from south Orange County. “But it’s best not to disturb the nest. The mother knows best,” she said.
Depending upon the species, hummingbirds can have up to four clutches, or nesting attempts with eggs. But not all eggs hatch and not all babies survive.
“We have a very long season here,” she said. “We’re in the second wave of babies now. Then there’s a third where we can see fledglings into July,” she said.
Female hummingbirds build the nest, incubate the eggs and raise the young without any help from the male. “She’s the only one, so she’s very tenacious,” Rae said.
New hatchlings are fed about every 15-30 minutes. The length of time between feeding increases as they develop. She feeds them nectar and insects by regurgitation, which is stored in her crop, a food storage sac in her throat. Hummingbirds require a large percentage of fruit flies, gnats, small spiders and other soft-bodied insects for protein as well as nectar for energy.
Generally, a mother hummingbird will not abandon her eggs or hatchlings.
“The only reason she doesn’t come back to the nest is if something happened to her,” Rae said.
Hummingbirds have a tough life. They can run into windows and get attacked by cats, predatory birds and even praying mantis.
Babies typically fledge approximately 21-28 days from hatch date. The mother continues to feed the babies out of the nest for about two weeks. If you’re lucky enough to have hummingbirds nest in your yard, don’t remove the nest when the birds are gone. Female hummingbirds often repair and reuse old ones.
For information on orphaned hummingbirds and rescue, go to hummingbirdsrescue.org.