Hangin’ on the Line

By Eilene Lyon

Under our west-facing deck, I have strung some colored lights. The patio below is furnished as an outdoor living room with loveseat, coffee table and two rocking, swivel chairs. The fence lizards love lounging on my furniture, therefore I initially credited them with the mess of poop all over the cushions.

But then, as I was cleaning up one day, or maybe filling my watering can, I chanced to look up and wonder what that ball of stuff was clinging to the wiring for the lights. Wasp nest? No, definitely not. Oh my gosh! It was a hummingbird nest I spied.

I’m willing to bet there is a fair amount of Sterling hair woven into this darling little cup. I noted a hummingbird collecting some of his hair off the ground while we were camping a couple weeks ago. The nests are typically made from downy plant fibers and spider webs (plenty of those on the dangling lights). They also add shingles of lichen on the outside.

At first, peeking at it from under the deck stairs, I thought it was empty—the babies having fledged already. But the mess of mama hummer poo and fecal sacs kept coming.

A week later I noticed patiently waiting beaks poking up out of the nest. Two young’uns are in there after all! It was several more days before I finally spied mama in action. She’s much too cagey to let me get her picture, though, even though the nest is right outside my office window.

My stake-out finally netted this picture of mama on the nest. She quickly gave me “the finger” and took off. Mostly I see her perched on a nearby pine tree branch.

On Sunday, I watched from the window as one of the nestlings stretched its wings, eyes open for a change. (I can look directly down on the babies through a crack in the deck, too, though the photos are blurry.)

Black-chinned hummingbird females do all the work to raise the young. Males are essentially sperm donors. The females tend to nest near valley and canyon floors, while the males stay upslope. (Both sexes swarm our feeders, though.) A favored habitat in western Colorado is piñon-juniper woodland—which our property has in spades.

Incubation takes about two weeks and the nestling phase about three. Once these two fledge, they will learn to forage without help, but will require mom to help feed them the first week. Sometimes a female will breed twice in a season and may start a second nest while still waiting for the first to fledge.1

Note how the red light is covered in cobwebs. The mama bird used some of these to build her nest. We have also observed female birds dipping fluffy seeds into the bird feeder to make them sticky.

These nestlings seem to fill the tiny space to overflowing already, so I expect they’ll be out by next Sunday!

  1. Lyon, Eilene. “Black-chinned hummingbird.” The Second Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas. Lynn Wickersham, editor. Denver: Colorado Bird Atlas Partnership, 2016, 282–3. 

57 thoughts on “Hangin’ on the Line

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  1. Eilene you are so fortunately to have that nest where you can watch it.. I have never seen a humming bird build a nest so out in the open.. I have spots under my trees where I can lie in a hammock and watch for them to go to the nest and most often they will be “Cagey”, when visiting the nest with food, they will light on another branch, and slowly move toward the nest making it difficult to find it.

    Also what you say about the male, he does nothing at all to help, (like a lot of men~!) But he does protect his places of getting food spending more time dive bombing, and watching the little devils at a feeder, though fun, also it makes me wonder of their spending so much energy fighting others off they would not need as much of my sugar water.

    This year the drought and terrible heat has played hell with the flowers and so I have many more at my feeders.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Given the amount of attention I am now devoting to this development, I suspect she will find a better place next year! We started off a bit slow at the feeders this year, but it has finally reached our usual crowd, with the arrival of rufouses and even calliope hummers. It does make you wonder why the males spend so much time in dominance posturing, but that seems to be a fairly common trait in species of all stripes. Also, feeders have really helped boost hummingbird populations, which is a good thing. So many bird species are struggling.


  2. What a surprise to find this nest Eilene. Look at those not-so-tiny beaks pointing upward in the last picture! My next-door neighbor loved hummers and we have the Ruby-throated hummers here in Michigan. She had feeders all around the perimeter of house and missed the hummers in Winter, so I found her a website that is chock full of webcams of various animals and landscapes, including year-round cams of hummers. She would watch Bella and her babies and the other hummingbirds building nests, tending to their young, then the young fledging. I’ll put the site in a separate comment in case it goes to your SPAM filter if you’ve never been to the exploredotorg site before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have seen some webcam sites. Plenty of action here in the real world to keep me entertained, though. The baby birds both have their eyes open now, so if I peek at them from the stairs, they blink at me.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You did such an awesome job caring for the little guy! I took a hummer to rehab (45 minutes away) after she hit our window. Unfortunately, the trauma was too great and she didn’t make it. I work at a bird banding station in the summers. We don’t band the hummingbirds (requires a special permit), but we do catch them in the mist nets and get to handle and release them. They are so amazing!


  3. A complete bonanza that you found! It is so very very difficult to find hummingbird nests, as they are usually very stealthily hidden in foliage, and characteristically tiny. That you came upon this nest and it has little tiny nestlings in it is absolutely astounding. Your photos do a good job, Eilene, of showing the size in comparison to the lights, and I loved your descriptions of the nest and activity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They ought to be flying off very soon. Their feathers are all grown in and they don’t really fit in that tiny nest anymore. I’ve taken some better images with my regular camera. I might share those next week.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This hummingbird and nest story is so precious, Eilene!

    Is the nest the size of a golf ball, tennis ball or baseball? Hoping that you will see more and share with us. Such a sweet find!

    Liked by 1 person

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