Hummingbirds Are the Ultimate Bird Supermoms
A hummingbird mother raises her babies all by themselves! Discover how hard these amazing bird moms work to bring up their tiny families.
Everyone knows of male hummingbirds and their dazzling iridescent hues. But the female hummingbirds wow us in a more practical way: They are among the best moms in the bird world. Male hummingbirds take no part in raising the young, so these miniature hummingbird mothers do the big job all by themselves.
Meet the best bird dads and learn how they help out around the nest.
Building a Nest: The Perfect Cradle
To shelter her cherished eggs, a female hummingbird builds an exquisite nest that is equally as precious as it is practical. She fashions a tiny cup from the ﬁnest plant materials, like the wispy down from dandelions or thistles, and places it on top of a branch, tying them together with sticky spiderwebs. She covers the outside of the nest with tiny ﬂakes of lichen to camouﬂage her masterpiece. The build time is anywhere from a week to 10 days, and the resulting nest looks like a bump on a branch—almost impossible to spot.
Don’t miss these baby hummingbird facts and photos.
A Hummingbird Mother Provides Egg-cellent Care
Once her nest is complete, the female lays two eggs (sometimes only one), each roughly the size of a bean. When incubation starts, she strikes a balance between keeping the eggs warm and keeping herself alive—hummingbirds burn a lot of energy, even when they’re sitting still, so the female leaves the nest frequently to ﬁnd food for herself. During the day, she’ll usually leave ﬁve or six times per hour, spending a few minutes grabbing a meal before returning to settle on the eggs again. In all, she manages to keep the eggs covered for about three-quarters of daylight and all night long.
The weather affects the length of the incubation period. If it’s warm and food is easy to ﬁnd, the female spends more time on the eggs and they may hatch in as little as 12 days. If it’s cold and wet or if the female has to take longer feeding trips, extending the time she’s away from her eggs, they may take up to 19 days to hatch. But the tenacious mother hummingbird keeps on incubating, no matter how long it takes.
Mom Helps Baby Hummingbirds Grow Up
After the eggs hatch, the little hummingbird supermom switches to an even higher gear to keep her youngsters warm and fed. Scrawny and naked, the baby birds look like little space aliens at ﬁrst. The female needs to spend nearly every minute caring for them when she’s not zipping away to get food. Leaving the nest only for brief foraging forays, the female speeds away to gather up nectar, pollen and tiny insects. She feeds these items to the young in a slurry form, jabbing her bill far down the throat of each nestling to transfer the nutritious liquid lunch. Never fear, she won’t impale her babies with that long bill.
The young soon start to sprout feathers. Within two weeks they may sit on the rim of the nest and start to stretch their wings. About three weeks after hatching, they make their perilous ﬁrst ﬂights, whirring away from the nest. After the young start ﬂying, the female continues to monitor and feed them for another week. You may think she deserves a rest, but she’s probably hard at work building a different nest for the second brood while she’s still feeding young from the ﬁrst. It’s just another reason why hummingbird mothers are so amazing!
Next, learn how to identify 15 types of hummingbirds in the United States.