"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Hard-working female hummingbirds

Photo by Jim Dowling
In case you missed my column in today's O.C. Register, here it is:

Life is work for hummingbirds
The mothers do it all for their offspring

      Margaret and Jim Dowling of Orange know just how dedicated a mother hummingbird can be. They had the perfect view of a nest outside their living room window this spring.
      “She built her nest on a string of lights on the patio,” Margaret Dowling said. “I was concerned, because it wasn’t very secluded.”
      But the bird was successful. The Dowlings watched as it laid two eggs then incubated them for about 21/2 weeks. The eggs hatched and the babies grew quickly, stretching the nest to capacity. They fledged on Easter Sunday.
     “She worked hard to keep those plump little bodies full,” Dowling said. “It was amazing.”
     Female hummers are hardworking birds. They build the nest, incubate the eggs and raise the young without any help from the male.
     The nest itself is an engineering feat. The tiny bird uses plant down, thistle and bits of leaves bound by spider webs, which allows the nest to expand as the nestlings grow. She often covers the outside of the nest in lichen or moss.
     The mother bird sits in the nest as she builds, working the sides up around her until the nest is about an inch tall and 11/2 inches wide. It takes about a week for a hummingbird to build a new nest, though it will often return to a previous nest to remodel and reuse.
     Hummingbirds generally lay two eggs, which are about the size of Tic Tac mints. The mother incubates the eggs, leaving only briefly to feed. She provides the correct temperature for her eggs by turning them with her feet and positioning them under her for warmth.
     When the ambient temperature gets too hot, female hummingbirds will beat their wings over their nests to cool their eggs or hatchlings. The eggs normally hatch in about 16-18 days. 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.
     Generally, a mother hummingbird will not abandon her eggs or hatchlings. If she disappears, something probably happened to her. They have a tough life. They can run into windows and get attacked by cats, predatory birds and even praying mantis.
     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, or food storage sac in her neck. Hummingbirds require a large percentage of fruit flies, gnats, small spiders and other soft-bodied insects for protein, as well as nectar for energy. Adults eat about every 10 minutes and can drink up to twice their body weight in nectar every day.
     Babies typically fledge about 21-28 days from hatch date. The mother continues to feed the babies out of the nest for about two weeks.
     Hummingbird nesting season differs slightly among the various species, but typically runs from late November to June in Southern California.

Happy Birding!

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