Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hummingbird Nest

I am sharing this story with a heavy heart.  Last year I had the privilege to observe a hummingbird nest at the Baylands for over 6 weeks as Mother Anna Hummingbird tended to her nest, her eggs and then her beautiful 2 little children.  Today, the habitat has been eradicated for unknown reasons and this year I have not seen any hummingbirds.  I had so hoped that Mother Anna would come back.... and have visited the Baylands faithfully.  Although the nesting and breeding of the snowy egrets and night herons was fun to follow, I miss these little guys!

So here is my story from Spring 2011:

It is June and today, the world has two new Anna hummingbirds that were the celebrities at the Baylands from late May to the end of June.  Observed by many, two hummingbird chicks fledged from the tiny nest hidden in a pine tree. After keeping her eggs warm, and then caring for the tiny hummingbird chicks for well over a months, Mother Anna Hummingbird perched on her empty nest and one wonders what is going through her mind.  It has been such an incredible journey from seeing her sitting on her eggs to the minute the chicks took flight.  But I am getting ahead….

It was late May that I visited the Baylands with a friend and saw the hummingbird nest first.  An Anna hummingbird had built it in a pine tree carefully crafted on top of a bunch of white-dotted pine cones.  As described elsewhere, hummingbird nests are round, 1.5 to 2.0 in diameter nest and built of very small twigs, lichen and other mosses, and often lined with downy feathers or animal hair.  The nest materials are bound together with spider silk or other sticky materials.  It’s an intricate work of art that is used for one clutch of eggs and then abandoned although sometimes the hummingbird will re-use part of the nesting materials.  For days, I would visit and see her patiently sitting on her nest.  Every so often, she shifted position or left her nest to feed but returned quickly to keep her eggs warm from the often cold wind blowing at the Baylands, specifically in the evening.

Being a busy place with many visitors, soon there were a bunch of photographers and other nature lovers gathering to follow the progress of the nesting hummingbird.  Although well camouflaged by the other pine cones, once detected one can easily observe the comings and goings of the nesting mother.

Hummingbird typically lay 2 white eggs.  What looks like eggs below the nest, are actually the pine cones that support the nest.  The wall is built up and even if Mother Anna is not sitting on the nest, the eggs were not visible and well protected by the downs deep inside the nest.  The incubation time for hummingbird eggs is typically between 16-19 days. 

As her adoring fans watch her every move, she has an audience almost all day long and cameras click to capture the moment of course waiting for the chicks to hedge from their eggs.

And then the long anticipated day arrives in early June and I see 2 small beaks reaching up to Mom as she is feeding.

From that day on, Mother Anna is busy going back and forth between searching for food and feeding her growing babies.

Just for a little while, she seems to rest on a branch from where she can monitor her little offsprings.

As we observe the nest and the chicks and wait for her between feeding, our eyes often go up to her favorite perch since she has just a handful places that she likes to rest.  It is amazing how fast the baby hummingbirds grow and very soon, we see the quills (inner backbone of the feathers) grow and mark the tiny wings.

When the little ones hear the mother coming, they raise their heads with beaks wide open to receive the nourishment.  Every day they grow bigger, more active, and their feathers develop.

Mother Anna approaching the nest.

A week later, they fill the nest like peas in a pod.  Now we often see them looking around at this new world with shiny eyes, and soon they are starting to preen.

And always, Mom is not far away with another meal delivery!
As she approaches the nest she often hovers a bit before settling down to feed.

June 22

June 25 - Mother above the nest.

Leaving the nest, we see her flying high up against the sky and away to gather nectar and pollen for her young brood.

Chicks start to preen

They are spilling out of the nest - it's near fledging time!

Towards the end of June, her success  in nurturing her chicks shows:  The little ones are having real feathers and are starting to flap their wings to practice and exercise their young muscles because soon after they fledge, they will flap their wings 400-800 times per minute! 

 Practicing their wings

June 26
Ever more, when they hear mom approaching, they open their beaks wide and are competing for the food!

As the chicks mature, we observe a mom after one feeding plugging on the downs that line the nest.  Is she already collecting nesting materials for her next nest?  Hummingbird can have up to 3 clutches of eggs during a season although June is probably the latest that she would be breeding during the year.  Of course we will never know.  It is such a privilege to follow the development of this little family!

And then on a Sunday evening, after much practice the stronger chick all of the sudden lifts off the nest and flies for the first time to a branch not far from the nest.  Along the way, it perches on a cluster of pine cones for a tiny rest.  As we observe, we cheer for this is the first time for most of us to observe such an event. 

 The first is leavng the nest - see how it grabs on to the beak of his/her sibling before letting go.

Lift off!!     First Flight

Sitting in a higher branch in the pine tree, Mom now feeds both of her chicks in alternating feedings:  one in the nest and the other in the branch.  After leaving the nest, many birds continue to feed the young until they are ready to fend for themselves.

For the next 2 days, I visit the nest in anticipation of the 2nd chick to fledge.  Tuesday, heavy rain drenches the trees and the world is wet around the nest.  The little one is now more actively exercising its wings but it takes until Wednesday morning that it fledges from the nest and rests on a very near branch:  Mom is there shortly and continues to feed her young.

Next step is a higher branch where mom easily finds it – but then both of them disappear into the thicket of the tree.

2nd little hummer fledged.

And then it is all over!

Before “our” little Mother Anna Hummingbird leaves us to pursue life without the celebrity status that she enjoyed, we see her one last time perched on her most favorite branch high above us.  

We wish all three of them a beautiful and long life!

Til next time, 

All images:  2012 Copyright M. Raeder-Photography