Hummingbirds, From Eggs To Nestlings
Diana Freeman-Baer of Oakland, California recently discovered a hummingbird’s nest in her yard, right outside her door. She decided to photodocument the life cycle of these birds.
Male hummingbirds will have a set territory during mating season and will court females who enter into their space by doing different displays. The shuttle display includes making a buzzing sound with the vibration of his feathers as he hovers in front of the female. The dive display is done by flying to great heights, diving down, and making another buzz with his tail feathers during a barrel roll in front of the female. These displays are performed multiple times before copulation.
After mating, the female chooses a tree branch and begins to construct a nest that is about the size of a ping-pong ball. Once completed, the female deposits her clutch of eggs, which is two white eggs each the size of a jelly bean. Many found materials are used to make the nest, and Diana reports that this particular nest is made from lichen, twigs, spider silk, black hair that came from their dogs, and what appears to be synthetic blonde hair.
The mother will incubate the eggs for about 15-16 days and protect them from predators. She viewed Diana as a threat while she took the above picture and began diving at her to get her to go away.
Once the babies hatch, the mother retrieves food for them. Though adult hummingbirds mostly rely on sugary nectar to fuel their high metabolisms, the hatchlings are also in need of protein to develop muscles and grow. They are fed soft insects including spiders, aphids, or insect eggs. The mother will continue to sit on her babies for protection.
As the birds grow, the siblings begin to feel cramped in the nest and even begin to stretch it out. The mother does not have the room or the need to sit on them anymore, though she continues to feed them.
When the birds become about 3 weeks old, they begin to stand up in their nest and stretch their legs.
A few days later, they fly away to begin the life cycle all over again.
If the nest survives the year, it can be used again during the next breeding season. Many hummingbirds do not make it past their first year of life for a variety of reasons, but both domestic and feral felines are their top predator. Those who do survive the first year will live an average of 5-6 years.
As a bonus: Diana’s boyfriend Patrick Kelleher was able to capture this video of the baby hummingbirds within their first few days of life. The baby birds are eating a lot and they aren’t capable of leaving their nest, so how do they go to the bathroom? Turns out, they just rest their backside on the edge of the nest and let it all go. This projectile poop keeps the nest neat, clean, and disease-free.
Additional pictures of the birds can be viewed on Diana’s Imgur album here. The pictures have been posted here with permission.