Hummingbird nests are amazing architectural creations that protect and nurture some of the most delicate birds. It may only be 5-8 weeks from the time nest construction begins until the maturing birds leave home, but observing hummingbird nests can be a rewarding and enchanting experience for birders.
Where to Find Nests
Hummingbirds choose safe, sheltered locations for their nests, ensuring that the hatchlings are protected from sun, wind, rain or predators. The most common nest locations are in the forked branch of a tree, along thin plant branches or sheltered in bushes. Hummingbirds are resourceful, however, and may build nests in unique locations including on wires or clotheslines, in porch lamps, on top of wind chimes or even on the top of a cactus. When choosing a nest location, the female bird may land on it repeatedly to test the stability of the perch that, if chosen, must support not only her weight, but also the weight of the nest and her growing chicks.
The height of the nest varies greatly depending on the bird species and what suitable nesting locations are available. Hummingbirds typically build their nests from 3-60 feet above the ground, and the nest may be located up to a half mile away from preferred food sources if no closer sites are suitable.
Hummingbird Nest Construction
Hummingbird nests are built entirely by the female bird – male hummingbirds do not have any part in raising chicks once the initial act of copulation is complete. The female, however, will spend several hours a day for 5-7 days collecting materials to build her nest. The most common nesting materials found in hummingbird nests include:
- Moss and lichen
- Plant down from thistles, dandelions or cattails
- Spider silk
- Cotton fibers
- Small bits of bark or leaves
- Fuzz or hairs from leaves
These materials are woven together into a dense cup that is frequently decorated with moss, lichen or other materials for camouflage. The edge of the cup is curved inward to protect the eggs from tipping out in high winds, and the spider silk used to bind the nest together gives it elasticity to enlarge as the hatchlings grow.
Exact nest dimensions vary depending on the species of hummingbird and the materials used to create the nest, but most hummingbird nests are 1.5 inches in diameter, or roughly the size of a walnut or golf ball.
Nests Over Time
After the eggs are laid, the nest must stretch to accommodate the young birds’ growth. Hummingbirds typically lay two eggs that are roughly half an inch long, but once hatched the birds grow rapidly and the nest must accommodate their changing size, since young hummingbirds will not leave the nest until they are nearly the size of adult birds. The spider silk used in the nest’s construction helps give it elasticity to expand with the birds’ growth, and the female parent will frequently patch and repair the nest even after the chicks have hatched.
Most hummingbird nests last for only a single brood of eggs or for one season if multiple broods are laid, though if the location is suitable the female or her offspring may return year after year to rebuild the nest nearby or even on top of the remains of the previous nest. Old nesting material may be recycled for new construction, and the birds will often steal nesting material from other hummingbirds as well.
Hummingbirds are not cavity nesters and they will not use birdhouses, but they do build sturdy cup-shaped nests that can protect their tiny hatchlings. By understanding what hummingbird nests are made of and how they are constructed, birders can more easily recognize one of these unique constructions and savor the opportunity to observe a young hummingbird family.
Photo – Hummingbird Nest © Brendan Lally