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Story of a Napa valley hummingbird nest

Story of a Napa valley hummingbird nest

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Hummingbird nest

Amid all the gloom surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Gene and I have been fortunate to experience the joys of an Anna’s hummingbird building her nest, sitting on her eggs and raising her offspring. It was definitely a stress reliever to be able to peek at the nest throughout the day.

Our story started around Feb. 19 when Gene noticed a hummer sitting on the gnarled branch that had supported a ceramic wind chime about six inches from a back window. She came and went, constructing her nest of bits of bark, leaves, feathers, plant down, and spider webs, attaching it to the branch with cobwebs and camouflaging it with lichens.

Hummingbird eggs are about half the size of a jelly bean, the smallest eggs of all birds. We could not see into the nest, but because she sat on the nest most of the time, we figured there were eggs, which need about three weeks of incubation. While males go into torpor at night to conserve energy, incubating females generally do not. Day four after the hatching, we could clearly see two tiny beaks open up when Mom returned to the nest. Two is the typical number for hummingbird offspring. Occasionally we could see a fuzzy rounded shape pop up and a tiny poop shoot over the side of the nest. We will definitely need to clean our windows.

One afternoon a male hummingbird started buzzing aggressively around the nest. He chased the female away and they interacted, seemingly fighting. While she was away, he sat on a flower stand, clearly watching the nest. Typically, after the male and female mate, the male has nothing more to do with the female, nest building, or offspring. Finally, with some help from a naturalist friend, we decided that the male’s actions were territorial, related to a nearby feeder. We moved the feeder to the front yard and there were no more such issues.

In the mornings, females are known to gather nectar and later in the day, insects. Thus the nestlings receive added protein late in the day to help them get through the cooler nights. With close-up binoculars, we could see how she worked her throat muscles to force the food into the hatchling’s bill.

Soon the little “hairs” sticking up on their heads became feathers. Occasionally we could see a tiny wing. Once with close-up binoculars I could see a tiny tongue flicking out a slender beak. By about the 20th day they were getting too big for the nest and one would hang over the edge. Their wings and feathers were different colors and we could see some iridescence.

Saturday, April 4, about 22 days after hatching, was a momentous day. It was windy and rainy and one baby had disappeared by early morning. Gene finally spotted it on a nearby tree branch. In the early afternoon just after Mom Hummer had fed the remaining baby, it was gone too.

Hummingbirds are thought to feed the fledglings for two or three days after they leave the nest. And the next few days we did see Mom Hummer still feeding them. We hope that they will stick around but we may never know. They gave us a great deal of pleasure during a difficult time.

P.S. Within two weeks a female was sitting on the old nest. Stay tuned.

Patty List lives in Napa.

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