Hummingbird species each build their nests differently, yet they share these common hummingbird nest facts.
By George Harrison
Ruby-throated hummingbirds in a nest by Debi Livingston
Like a crown jewel, the nest of a hummingbird is one of the great wonders in all of nature. They are so tiny, yet so perfect.
Few of us have ever seen a hummingbird nest. This is because they are nearly impossible to find. From the ground, they look like another bump on a branch. From above, an umbrella of leaves conceals them. And from the side, they look like a tiny knot, quilted with lichens, plant down and fibers.
Though each of the 17 hummingbird species that breed in North America builds slightly different nests in various habitats, they have much in common. All females build their nests 10 to 90 feet high in trees or shrubs. They all use spider silk as threads to bind their nests together and anchor them to the foundation. They all also build velvety, compact cups with spongy floors and elastic sides that stretch as the young grow.
Most hummingbirds lay two white eggs about the size of navy beans. The females continue to add material to their nests while they incubate the eggs for 15 to 18 days. The young leave the nests 18 to 28 days after hatching.
While these are the basics for hummingbird nests, it is interesting to see what makes each of these species unique. My dad, Hal Harrison, studied bird nests for decades, and here are some of his observations. From the Allen's to the rufous, it's easy to see why these nesting creatures captivate so many people.
Allen's A birder once found an Allen's hummingbird nest decorated with green paint chips peeled from a nearby picnic table.
Anna's The female Anna's hummingbird builds a mere platform as early as December to lay her eggs. Then she builds up the nest while incubating.
Black-chinned The rim of the deep cup of a black-chinned hummingbird nest may be curved inward.
Blue-throated The blue-throated hummingbird often builds its nest on electric wire inside or outside of cabins.
Broad-billed The broad-billed hummingbird will build its loosely constructed nests on clotheslines.
Broad-tailed Broad-tailed hummingbirds often returns to same nesting site year after year.
Calliope Calliope hummingbirds will build a series of two, three or even four nests on top of one another, often attached to a conifer cone.
Costa's Female Costa's hummingbirds will colonize at favorable sites with as many as six nests in a 100-foot radius. The birds are very tame at nesting sites.
Magnificent Magnificent hummingbirds build the largest and highest of North American hummingbird nests.
Ruby-throated The female ruby-throated hummingbird attaches her nest with spider silk to a small twig or branch that slants downward. She covers the outside with greenish-gray lichens. Then she may lay eggs in a second nest while still feeding the young in the first.
Rufous The rufous hummingbird, a western species, is very pugnacious around its nest, often driving away much larger birds.