We have been super fortunate to have had a hummingbird mama build a nest in our pygmy palm right outside our kitchen window a few times now. It is within view when we are inside and we can look right in it when we are outside. We like to respect her fierce motherly instincts and keep the peeping to a minimum, as she is pretty clear with her menacing buzzing around our faces when we go near the nest that she is displeased if we linger by her young’uns too long. At least until they show their cute little beaks and she has to go off and gather nectar for them.
I found the nest when I was getting ready to trim back the palms. She began her impressive kamikaze aerial display aimed primarily at my face and I knew immediately that I needed to inspect very carefully before I did any cutting. She was clearly defending a nest so I did not want to destroy that. I searched and found, buried under a couple of fronds, clinging to the stem of one frond a fragile looking, tiny nest with two perfect little mini jelly bean sized eggs nestled in it. Aha! She has cleverly hidden the nest from view from above, made it difficult for other birds (even for herself) to navigate in to the nest, and has placed it on a flimsy frond that sways in the breeze and would not support a predator’s weight. It looks precarious and fragile but on closer inspection I can see that it is securely fastened to the frond at the bottom with what looks like silky dog fur. Could she have harvested Enzo’s fur from when I brushed him last week on the lawn? Later I am told by my friend and hummingbird expert Nancy that this is actually spider web! They use it to build their nest, secure it to the branch and it expands nicely as the chicks grow. Could that be any more like a fairy tale?
Double blessing for me! I didn’t have to trim the palms and we get to watch the nest. We consider this a real honor and gift and decided this time we are going to document the process and share with our friends because not many people get a look inside the nest of a hummingbird. It seemed like the egg stage lasted a long time. It was probably at most, three weeks, but we were anxious for that fragile stage to be over and for proof of life. Mama was an excellent sitter. She patiently remained there while we did the dishes just feet away, while Enzo frolicked underneath her, when the wind picked up and blew her and the eggs back and forth and when we couldn’t resist any longer and peeked in to see how she was doing.
Then one day she wasn’t sitting. I rushed out to peek in and was horrified to see a couple little black blobs in the bottom of the nest and thought that a predator had gotten the eggs. It looked like Mama had pooped and left. Until one of the poops moved a little. Those little blobs were the chicks! Tiny little babies had hatched and there was no eggshell to be seen anywhere. Not in the nest, the fronds or on the ground. Did Mama take them somewhere else to camouflage where her chicks were? Speaking of Mama, she came buzzing back in a hurry and I was out of there! She had tiny little mouths to feed. Not even long beaks yet, unrecognizable as hummingbirds these little blobs were hungry and had a lot of growing to do, which meant Mama had a lot of nectar gathering to do! She fed them and settled in, still covering them in the nest. There she stayed until her next nectar excursion. It was, for the next few days, difficult to catch a glimpse of the chicks, as Mama was mostly sitting the nest.
One of my favorite things as a child was to interact with the birds in our backyard. We had some bluejays that were particularly motivated by peanuts and became tame enough, or greedy enough to land on my hand and take them. I was later able to look into their nest when they had chicks and witness this process with them and it is something I will never forget. My friend Nancy has a daughter, Avery who is almost 3. We had a chance to show her the babies and she was so perfectly gentle and careful with them and the nest, resulting in this precious moment.
After about a week, Mama was gone more and we could peek in at Thing One and Thing Two more often. They had grown substantially, they were getting a more hummingbird-like beak and each time we peeked at them it triggered their “feed me” response and those beaks opened up to big orange mouths that were so vivid against their little brown bodies. By now, Mama could only feed them and sit beside them on the nest. They had crowded her out and were keeping each other warm and she was spending much more time gathering their food.
Over the next week or so the story remained the same. Mama was busy, the Things were growing fast. We could now see their heads outside the nest like Mama’s used to be when she was sitting eggs. They were almost as big as her now. Then one morning I noticed the gleam of a little color on their wings, and when one of them moved a little I saw that they had almost got their flight feathers. It will be any time now and we will be empty nesters. Sigh. One last picture, a few words of encouragement for them and praise for Mama. Gratitude offered to nature for giving us this opportunity and keeping them safe. The next morning, they were gone!
I can never see a hummingbird without thinking about one of my favorite stories my mom would tell. When she and my dad moved to San Diego from Michigan in the 1950’s she had never seen a hummingbird before. She was out in the backyard hanging some laundry and heard a buzzing sound. I get my unease around insects honestly, from my mom. She looked around frantically to determine what was making that loud buzzing, figuring it had to be some kind of hideous insect. She saw a huge, winged insect with a long stinger headed straight for her and just lost it! Biggest, scariest bug she had ever seen and it was moving fast. She ran in the house screaming for Dad and refused to go back out again until he would go first and she could hide behind him. They looked all over the yard, couldn’t find the beast so he settled down to stay with her while she finished hanging the laundry because, believe me, she was NOT going to be left alone out there until that thing was ENDED. Eventually the sound of the invading force returned and Mom was ready to retreat, all the way to Michigan!! Dad stood his ground until he saw the source of the terror and then ending up taking a seat on it laughing so hard. Mom was terrified of a hummingbird. It’s understandable, really, if you think of the bird as an insect it absolutely is terrifying. Once Mom got over the horror of the idea that it was an insect and wrapped her head around the idea that it was a bird they became one of the most beautiful things to her in her newly adopted city and she planted things in the yard that would attract them. Two things I love best about that story: Mom’s willingness to laugh at herself, and the concept of perception so clearly illustrated.