|A female Anna's hummingbird flies in to feed her nestlings. Photo by Kim Michaels|
Nature photographer Kim Michaels discovered a hummingbird nest quite by accident one chilly February morning while on a bike trail in Laguna Niguel.
“I heard the sounds of male hummingbirds that were showing off for some finicky females,” Michaels said. “And this led me to an area where a female was building her nest. “
Intrigued by the tiny bird, she set up her camera. These initial photos led to a six-week project in winter 2013 that would eventually document the successful breeding cycle of the bird. Three to four days a week, she propped herself in a nearby tree for hours to capture the best view of the nest.
By the time the babies fledged, Michaels had taken more than 5,000 photographs and 300 videos, which were edited to create a documentary titled “Hummingbird Nest Story,” a 45-minute multimedia presentation that she shares with community and nature groups.
“I tell the story of a female Anna’s hummingbird, one of nature’s hard-working single moms,” Michaels said. The female builds the nest and cares for the young without any assistance from the male.
Before each presentation, she gives each member of the audience a plastic quarter with two Tic Tac mints glued to it. The quarter is the same diameter as the inside walls of the nest. The mints are similar in size to the eggs.
Her story begins with photographs that show how the female built the tiny nest. Its intricate construction included using spider webs to allow the nest to expand for growing chicks. Designed to regulate the temperature, the nest was built lighter in color and thickness on the sunny side and darker and thicker on the shady side. Final touches of lichen and moss helped the nest blend into the surrounding foliage.
The mother hummingbird incubated the eggs, which hatched about a day apart after 13 days. Michaels watched as the bird removed the eggshell pieces one by one. The mother fed the helpless babies every 20 minutes. Photographs showed how quickly the chicks developed. Pin feathers appeared in about a week and their eyes opened at about 10 days. Because of their large throat feathers, she determined that both chicks were male. These feathers would become colorful gorgets in a few months.
Michaels said she kept her distance from the nest. “I tried not to be an intrusion,” she said. But on several occasions the mother hummer flew directly at her camera as if to say “enough.”
“And that’s when I would pack up and leave,” Michaels said. “It was definite communication.”
Michaels learned much about these remarkable birds over the six-week period of filming. And she had several favorite moments, including the first eye contact and awareness with the older chick and the first airborne moment as he lifted briefly off the branch that held the nest. He then climbed back into the nest completely exhausted, she said.
“Female hummingbirds dictate when the chicks must fledge,” she said. “Mom came up behind the older one and nipped at his tail. It was time and he knew it.”
When Michaels returned to the nest site on the 25th day, the older chick was gone. The younger chick fledged later that day.
And so the story ends with the babies sitting on a branch near the nest. The mother hummingbird took the chicks farther away with each feeding. Finally the birds were gone. Generally, the mother will continue to care for her fledglings for about a week, she said.
For more information and a list of future programs, go to KimMichaels.com, or write to her at Kim@KimMichaels.com.