Hummingbird nests are one of nature’s engineering miracles.
There are many exciting things to know about hummer nests, such as how they are made and what materials are used for construction.
So today, I am going to provide SEVEN interesting facts that I have recently learned.
Before we begin, I have a question to ask:
Do you want to watch a live hummingbird nest?
Try pressing play on the above video. You will be watching a LIVE nest camera, located in California.
Ok, let’s talk more about hummingbird nests!
Fact #1: You will (probably) never find one.
If you’ve been in the vicinity of a hummingbird nest, odds are you’ve walked right by and not even noticed it. Their nests are tough to find due to their tiny size and ability to blend into their surroundings.
From beneath, there is almost no chance of spotting one unaided by other clues. The nests are thoroughly camouflaged and look just like the branch to which they are attached.
Hummingbirds typically pick a spot with plenty of overhead cover so that rain is deflected away. This fact also makes their nests almost invisible to spot if you are looking from above.
Also, hummingbirds prefer to be surrounded by leaves and branches that hide the side view. Thorny bushes are often used for both the protection provided and the visual interference.
So how do you find a hummingbird nest?
Well, it is probably going to take a lot of work on your end, and there is no guarantee you will actually find one. But here is a technique you can try:
First, you have to go out into the habitat where hummingbirds ordinarily build their nests, such as areas with plenty of nectar sources and their preferred types of trees. Bring a chair and find a beautiful spot to sit quietly and enjoy being surrounded by nature.
When you see a hummingbird appear, follow it as best as you can. If the tiny bird disappears into a brushy area, go to the last point you saw it and look around for a nest inside the foliage. If you can’t find anything, sit down again and wait for it to come back, and then follow again. Repeat this process until you have been led to the nest!
Of course, there is a 50/50 chance that it’s also leading you away from its nest! If you are lucky enough to find one, PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB. Observe for a few minutes one of nature’s miracles and then move on your way.
Also, don’t tell anyone else where the nest was found; this needs to be your little secret. 🙂
Fact #2: Nests can be built in weird locations.
Most hummingbird nests are built in forks of small trees or bushes, which provide support to secure the nest against winds and other movements.
But hummingbird nests have been found in all sorts of odd places!
Some alternatives include wind chimes, light fixtures, on top of security cameras, garden decorations, on top of cacti, and strings of holiday lights, to name a few.
Have you found hummingbirds nesting in any weird spots?
Fact #3: Hummingbirds will never use a birdhouse!
Hummingbirds are NOT cavity nesters, which means they don’t want to be enclosed inside something when nesting.
This fact is essential to know, so you don’t get ripped off. Please never buy a birdhouse made for hummingbirds. They will never use it!
The manufacturers that make these products are just trying to make a quick buck off you.
Fact #4: Females do ALL the work.
Females always build the nests. Males mate and immediately leave, offering no support for the resulting eggs or hatchlings.
Females try to build their nest in places that are difficult to access. They want to avoid having to defend their nests from predators!
While female hummingbirds are sitting on their nest, they usually follow a schedule of incubating the eggs for fifty minutes, then leaving for ten minutes to feed. Then repeat.
Fact #5: Hummingbird nests are incredibly small.
Their nests are generally only about the size of a ping pong ball!
And if you are surprised by the size of their nests, you may not believe what I am going to tell you about the size of their eggs!
Hummingbird eggs, on average, are only about the size of jelly beans!
Fact #6: The building materials will surprise you.
Hummingbirds use many conventional building materials in their nest construction, such as twigs and leaf bits.
These tiny birds also use plant fibers from cattails or anything that has a fibrous or fuzzy component, like willows, cottonwood, witch hazel, and so on.
Plant fibers are used because they make the floor soft, spongy, and flexible, but more importantly, they allow the sides to stretch. As the babies grow, the nest can accommodate their increased size with ease.
Fact #7: THIS secret material makes the nests strong!
Hummingbird nests are only in use for about 35-56 days, but they are quite durable, and can easily be re-used.
So why doesn’t the nest disintegrate from all the stretching and abuse?
Well, hummingbirds use a natural fiber that is SUPER strong – spider silk! Hummer mothers take spider webs and wrap them around their nest, which gives them remarkable strength and resilience.
Using spider webs in the nest construction provides other benefits too. For example, the sticky silk allows for easy attachment of other material that is used for camouflage. Flakes of lichen or bits of moss are attached, which disguises the nest and makes it look like part of a tree.
Hummingbird Nest Species Guide
Below is a list of common hummingbird species seen in North America, along with their preferred habitat for nest building.
This species prefers an oak, sycamore, or eucalyptus tree branch, between 6 and 20 feet above the ground, near a source of nectar. This West Coast species have also been seen to use tall shrubs.
The female starts with a mostly flat platform and builds up the walls around her to fit her body. She makes the cup primarily out of plant down, reinforced with spider web.
After she lays her eggs, she will decorate the outside with lichens and moss. If it looks too monochromatic, she will collect or break off paint chips from houses to add some color. If materials are in short supply, she may steal bits from other nests.
This species likes conifers for nest construction. They try to choose a limb with a substantial sheltering branch overhead, which protects from precipitation and makes the nest more difficult to spot from above.
As usual, local materials like lichen, bark, and moss comprise the camouflage. Females often build their nests in spots where pine trees used to grow, and sometimes she even attaches it to an existing pinecone for additional structural support.
Found in California, Nevada, and Arizona, this species is very social, and you’ll often find as many as six nests within a 100-foot radius. The nests are built close to the ground (3-7 feet) in shrubs like acacia, cholla, gray thorn, ironwood, and palo verde. The female typically builds a very loosely formed nest that you might almost call “sloppy” in contrast to most other hummers.
Sunflower down, strips of bark, lichen, and small leaves are used to make the nest, which is then reinforced with spider silk.
These hummers can be seen across the eastern half of North America. They like meadows, orchards, perimeters of forests, edges of streams, and backyards.
Their nests are so small they would fit on the end of your finger like a thimble. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds build directly on top of the branch rather than at a fork. Their favorite building materials are the down from dandelion or thistle, held together with spider silk. Interestingly, this species also uses pine resin as glue when the nest is built.
The females use lichen and moss to camouflage the nest from predators.
Rufous Hummingbirds are quite fierce and are known to drive off birds much larger than themselves when defending their nests.
Their primary building material is soft plant down held together with spider web. Like other species, females prefer lichen, bark, and moss as camouflage.
While finding a nest in the wild can be quite rewarding, as we mentioned earlier, it is almost impossible to find one in the wild.
If you want to observe hummingbirds, my recommendation is to focus on building a hummer friendly backyard environment. Seriously, check out this live camera from California to see what can happen!
If you want to start attracting hummingbirds to your backyard, I have two recommendations to get you started:
1. Buy a nectar feeder and keep it supplied with fresh sugar water.
2. Plant as many native flowers as possible that appeal to hummingbirds.
Thanks for reading!