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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

An Itsy-Bitsy Hummingbird Present (March 31, 2009)

The hummingbird is the smallest adult bird that I know. Its bright eye is a grain of rice. Its beak is as narrow as a needle. Although it is small, it is fast. Or is it the other way around? Is it fast because of its size, its speed a survival tool? Either way, the hummingbird is fascinating. I have first-hand observations as well as unanswered questions about this animal because of what I discovered yesterday. A tiny bird has built an equally small nest a few feet from our back door.

For about a week, every time I went out our back door, I heard ZZZZzzzoooooooommMM! The first few times it scared me. After a while I must have subconsciously expected it, and no longer was startled. The noise was the very rapid departure of what looked like a hummingbird-sized blur and I wondered why it was spending so much time in the Jasmine vine near our back door. I didn’t see a logical spot for a nest, and peering through the leaves, I saw no evidence of one. Until yesterday.

For the fiftieth time in a week, I went out my back door on the way to the garage door, walking right by the vine. Once again, a bird races away. I decide I will look once more for a nest. Obviously, I won’t touch it, as the bird will abandon her nest if it has been touched by humans. But I’m so curious. I must see!

Sure enough, at about my eye level there is a small nest, the size of half a chicken’s egg. It’s tightly-woven, unlike some of the larger nests I have seen, which are loosely-built of twigs. This one seems much softer. I think the bird has used some of our dryer lint, which the hubby kept near a woodpile in case we feel inspired to build a fire. Since tomorrow is April 1 and the air is warm, fire-building nights are unlikely anytime soon. I say: Bird, have at it. The lint is yours. From my perch atop a chair, I see two tiny eggs inside, the size of Jordan almonds.

I’m no expert on the nest-building requirements of hummingbirds, but it seems to me that a vine near someone’s backdoor is not the ideal spot for a nest. Didn’t the bird do her research? Didn’t she see that we walk past that vine about twenty times a day? Surely there was a more remote spot for her eggs.

This year I’ve seen more hummingbirds in our yard than ever before in the five years we’ve lived here. They love the orange flowers in our yard. Still, after five years with no apparent hummingbird residents, I’m surprised and thrilled to have a mommy and her nest.

The internet provided information beyond my own observations. My search led me to Worldof hummingbirds.com, which is an excellent site full of information. Apparently there are at least 356 different types of species of hummingbirds! I believe our bird tenant is an Allen’s Hummingbird, which spends summers in California (where we live), and does not have unusual coloring, like a ruby-throat or purple cap (which ours does not have). Apparently all hummingbirds share certain characteristics. I was most interested in nest and egg information.

Hummingbirds make small, cup-shaped nests, decorating the outside walls of their nests with lichens and mosses. For insulation, the mother lines the inside of the nest with soft materials such as feathers, animal hair and dryer lint. Spider webs are used as glue, allowing the nest to stretch as the babies grow.

The hummingbird eggs will remain in the nest incubating for approximately 16-18 days before they hatch. Once hatched, the babies will weigh approximately 0.62 grams, one-third the weight of a United States Dime. They are about one inch long and cannot regulate their own body heat. Their beaks are short, stubby, and yellow. The mom will feed the babies approximately every twenty minutes. Within a couple of days, the size of the baby hummingbirds will almost double.
At three weeks of age, the little baby hummingbirds will more like a real hummingbirds. They test out their wings more and more in preparation for flight. In the next few days, these little baby hummingbirds will fly away as real adult hummingbirds.

Discovering the nest has added to my exuberance for spring (which was already major). Amazing how such a tiny thing, a hummingbird, in her itsy-bitsy home, caring for two teensy-tiny eggs, can bring such huge excitement. I’ll keep you posted on the eggs. I can’t wait ‘til they hatch!!!!

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