Sunday, January 31, 2021
Hummingbirds nest in chilly weather
Breeding season has already begun for some of Southern California’s tiniest year-round avian residents —Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds. The nesting season for our non-migratory hummingbirds runs from late October through early June.
“This year, the males have been quite active in their courtship displays,” says Anne Stratton, a licensed hummingbird rehabilitator affiliated with the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach. Our unseasonably warm weather last month might be influencing this behavior, she says.
The males of both non-migratory species are known for their stunning aerobatics. Male Anna’s hummingbirds fly straight up into the air at about 130 feet, then dive at a speed that can reach 60 miles per hour while making its characteristic shrill whistle as the wind whips through their tail feathers. The male Allen’s hummingbird courtship display consists of swooping in a U-shaped pendulum. At the peak of the arch, he may make a prolonged buzz sound. All these acts are performed to impress a particular female.
“Hummingbirds are fierce for their size,” she says. “And they’re very territorial. Males will fight to the death. We often get the losers in these battles, which can be pecked, forced into windows and knocked down on the ground.”
Once a pair has mated, the male’s responsibility for breeding is over. Female hummingbirds build the nest, incubate the eggs and care for the chicks without assistance from the male. She has four or five clutches a year and typically lays two eggs per clutch. The eggs hatch 16-18 days after they’re laid, and babies fledge in about three weeks. Mothers will continue to feed the fledglings up to a month after they leave the nest.
“Mother hummingbirds commonly build their nests close to humans,” Stratton says. “They’re urbanized, so they’ve adjusted.”
They often choose yards with feeders, native flowers and compost piles, she says. In addition to nectar, they eat gnats, fruit flies, baby spiders and mosquitoes.
Hummingbird nests are an engineering feat. The mother collects plant material such as moss, lichens, and bits of leaves and then binds it with silky spider webs. This gives the nest the ability to expand as the babies grow. She instinctively builds the nest thinner on the sunny side and thicker on the shady side. As a final touch, she adds bits of green, which can sometimes be paint chips, to camouflage the nest. These hard-working mothers will reuse nests, so it’s generally best not to remove old ones.
Unfortunately, they sometimes feed from flowers and nest in bushes close to the ground, where cats can easily grab them. “It’s important to keep cats indoors,” she says. “It’s better for the cats and better for wildlife. I love cats, but I’ve seen the devastating injuries they cause.” Missing eyes, broken beaks, and torn and missing feathers are among the cat-related injuries inflicted on hummingbirds. In addition, cat saliva can cause deadly infections, so the birds need to be washed and given antibiotics as part of their rehabilitation.
“Babies can be blown out of the nest in high winds,” Stratton says. “If you must touch a baby hummingbird to re-nest it, the mother will not reject it. That’s an old wives’ tale.”
Babies can also be cut out of a tree during trimming. It’s best to perform tree trimming when birds are less likely to be nesting in the late summer and early fall. But always inspect a tree for bird activity before cutting, she says.
Fledglings can end up on the ground as they’re learning to fly. And not every hummingbird needs to be rescued, so it’s best to reach out for instructions prior to bringing in a bird for rehabilitation. “This advice often makes the difference between life and death for these little jewels of nature,” she says.
A list of wildlife centers and hummingbird rehabilitators located throughout Southern California can be found on Stratton’s website at: ifoundahummingbird.com.
“These little birds have a lot of personality,” Stratton says. “And they’re really smart.”
Contact the writer: Jennifer J. Meyer is a freelance writer from Mission Viejo. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog at jjthebackyardbirder.com.