One of the most interesting aspects of hummingbirds is their nesting behavior, for the simple reason that we rarely get a glimpse of this aspect of their lives.
While we may see other birds like robins nest in our backyards or find an oriole nest drooping from a tree branch, it’s uncommon to find a tiny hummingbird nest, perched high up in a tree.
Let’s examine some of the most commonly asked questions about hummingbird nests, starting with what a hummingbird nest looks like.
What Do Hummingbird Nests Look Like and What Do They Use To Build Them?
Hummingbird nests are little round cups that are only slightly over an inch in diameter, according to the American Bird Conservancy. Since these tiny birds rarely grow past a couple of inches, it’s no surprise that they build tiny nests.
Like many birds, the construction of a hummingbird nest begins with twigs and plant material, but another key material is spider web silk.
Female hummingbirds use spider silk to hold together their nests. According to the National Audubon Society, it serves as a flexible glue that allows the nest to stretch as babies move around inside while keeping things sealed up.
What Spots Are Hummingbirds Most Likely to Nest In?
Hummingbirds nest high up in trees, often between 10 and 40 feet off the ground, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology states.
Keeping their nests’ diminutive sizes in mind, it makes sense that it’s quite rare for humans to see them. Picking out a nest one inch in diameter from 40 feet below is a daunting task.
Hummingbirds most commonly select deciduous trees on downward-sloping, forked branches, but some species like the ruby-throated hummingbird have become more comfortable around humans and are more likely to nest in less natural areas.
Will a Hummingbird Have Multiple Broods in a Year?
Some hummingbirds will nest multiple times per year – in fact, some will even care for two broods at one given time, research shows.
Research published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology showed that having multiple broods at one time was a “viable breeding strategy” for female Costa’s hummingbirds in southern Nevada.
The ruby-throated hummingbird, the only hummingbird in eastern North America, can have multiple broods in a year in the southern U.S., but the timeframe for that becomes much tighter in northern areas, where hummingbirds are only in the area for a little while.
If a ruby-throated hummingbird’s nest is destroyed, they may build a new nest.
Non-migrating hummingbirds have an easier time caring for multiple broods per year. The majority of hummingbird species are native to Central and South America, so they won’t face the problems with impending winter cold that the ruby-throated hummingbird will in places like Canada, the Upper Midwest, and the Northeast.
How Many Young Do a Hummingbird Have at One Time?
The average ruby-throated hummingbird will lay between one and three eggs at a time measuring about half an inch long and a third of an inch wide, according to All About Birds.
Those eggs will require between 12 and 14 days of incubation and then the clumsy, naked baby hummingbirds born from them will require between 18 and 22 days in the nest, the site states.
Do Hummingbirds Mate for Life?
Like most bird species, hummingbirds do not mate for life. Several hummingbird species are known for their remarkable mating displays as males attempt to impress female hummers each year.
Costa’s hummingbirds, for example, swing back and forth to flash their purple gorgets.
Anna’s hummingbird males fly up in the air and then swoop straight down at highway speeds, zooming in front of females.
Do Hummingbirds Stay In Their Nests at Night? How Do They Have Enough Energy?
Hummingbirds require lots of food – proportionately, at least. They take in between three and seven calories per day, according to the National Audubon Society. While a human would have that intake in a single bite of a candy bar, that’s a lot for a bird that weighs less than an ounce and requires them to be constantly eating.
They need to eat multiple times an hour, so how can they sit on a nest at night without burning through their entire supply of energy?
Hummingbirds go into torpor, a type of hibernation-like state that allows them to drop their body temperature considerably to conserve energy.
This allows them to remain in their nests at night as opposed to eating every 15 minutes in order to survive as they would normally need to.
This cool video uses an infrared camera to show the contrast between a hummingbird’s normal daily temperature and its temperature in torpor. In the beginning, it shows a hummingbird’s high body temperature, but the second bird hardly shows up in infrared because its temperature is so close to the air temperature.
Do Hummingbirds Reuse Their Nests From Year to Year?
Hummingbirds do not re-use their nests from year to year. While they may return to the same place every year, they will build a new nest.
Their tiny little nests aren’t durable enough to make it through a cold winter, meaning that once they return from their wintering grounds for the year, it’s time to start collecting twigs, spider silk, and other materials to get to work constructing a new nest.
How Can You Attract More Hummingbirds to Nest in Your Yard?
If you want to see more hummingbirds in your yard throughout the year, it stands to reason that you must curate a yard that has everything a hummingbird needs to nest and raise its young.
As mentioned earlier, hummingbirds most commonly nest in tall deciduous trees. Planting native trees that provide nesting habitat will also go a long way to providing the amount of food that hummers need to fuel themselves as well as their young.
Insects are at the core of a hummingbird’s diet, though nectar is important too. Planting native plants that allow insects and spiders to flourish will also help provide birds like hummingbirds with the food sources that they need to survive. Consider planting native, nectar-rich flowering plants that will help hummingbirds in multiple ways in addition to putting out hummingbird feeders.
Providing adequate cover from predators like shrubs or bushes and a water source can also help you attract more hummers to nest on your property.
But if you’re doing everything right, it still may not happen right away. There may be other factors like predators in the area, or local hummingbirds may already have their nesting spots selected for the year. Keep trying!
From the smallest bird species in the world, the bee hummingbird, up the line, hummingbirds have interesting nesting habits shrouded in secrecy to the average birdwatcher.
It’s also important to keep in mind that not all hummingbirds’ nesting habits are the same. With over 300 species across the New World, there is sure to be variety in size, incubation period, number of broods, and young in a single brood. More research will be required to find specifics on any given hummingbird species.
With over 300 species to learn about, no time to start like the present!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Hummingbird Species Live in the United States and Canada?
Central and South America are home to the vast majority of hummingbird species, with fewer than 20 hummingbird species regularly nesting in the United States and Canada. And of those species, a handful nest in only tiny sections of southern states like Arizona or Texas.
These include the ruby-throated hummingbird, black-chinned hummingbird, Costa’s hummingbird, Anna’s hummingbird, Lucifer hummingbird, Allen’s hummingbird, Rivoli’s hummingbird, calliope hummingbird, rufous hummingbird, broad-tailed hummingbird, broad-billed hummingbird, violet-crowned hummingbird, buff-bellied hummingbird, and the blue-throated mountain-gem.