Small but not Fragile

I’ve been hearing a lot from friends and family about hummingbird sightings this winter. When an Arctic blast brought snow and days of frigid temperatures to the normally mild Northwest, my sister taped handwarmers to her hummingbird feeders to keep the nectar from freezing.

Here in the Sonoran Desert friends have reported high volumes of hummingbirds at their feeders as well. Surely some are winter visitors, but mostly we see the native Costa’s hummingbirds, and resident or visiting Anna’s.

Today I noticed this nest, constructed on the frond of a date palm, right about eye level. It is just two feet from the walkway through our side yard. Already the female is sitting on the nest, and her two eggs rest cozily inside. Notice the perfect symmetry, the straight sides, and tight weave!

January 19, 2022

The spider webs that bind the nest permit it to stretch over the coming weeks, to accommodate the growing nestlings and mom. She chose a protected site, snug between our house and a block wall. Both our yard and that of the neighbor hold blooming native and non-native plants. Our giant chuparosa is loaded with cherry red blooms and several bottle brush trees are just now unfolding their spikey magenta flowers. Fairy dusters and aloes flower on both sides of the wall. These convenient nectar sources allow the female to save energy while foraging.

Baja Fairy Duster

I’ve consulted A Guide to Southern Arizona Bird Nests and Eggs by Pinau Merlin. Although both nests are super tiny, just one inch in diameter for a Costa’s and one and a half for an Anna’s, the Anna’s nest is slightly deeper, thicker and more tightly woven. These birds begin breeding in December and the eggs and nestlings may have to withstand storms and cold fronts. The miniscule structures are so well insulated they can be 40 degrees warmer than the outside temperature.

Merlin says Anna’s construct their nests with downy plant material, animal hair and small feathers, binding these bits and pieces together with spider webbing, rodent hair and fibrous plant materials. Lastly, the nest is decorated with lichens and bits of leaves.

You can see that this nest looks to be located in the tropics, attached as it is to droopy dark green palm fronds. When I peek out there to spy on mama, the fronds sway easily in the breeze and the sun warms the surrounding air. The nest is tucked in below several other branches that provide diffuse shade and shelter.

The young will be born naked and helpless after a two week incubation. Just three weeks later they will have grown their feathers and developed enough to fly. Mama raises the nestlings on her own, regurgitating a mix of nectar and small insects to fuel their growth.

See Mom in there?

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