When I last posted about our Dollar Lake Hummingbird the little verdant queen was just beginning the long process of egg-sitting (See “Nest in a Nutshell”). It was the end of May and the next step following a prolonged week of nest construction. I opted to track her progress over the course of the next month and bring the story to its natural conclusion. This posting takes form as more of a photo essay – as opposed to a detailed journal of events – because of the sheer wealth of pictures I was able to snap. Thanks to the aide of an improvised mirror taped to a boat oar and the ability to stand on my shed roof, I was able to gain a number of perspectives on the situation.
The female Hummer was amazingly patient during the process and she “allowed” me close approach without undo anxiety on her part. The same cannot be said for the local bird population. Any bird approaching within a few dozen feet of the nest was dive-bombed. She harassed a Water Thrush, several Robins, and a confused looking Rose-breasted Grosbeak over the course of my sporadic observations.
Her incubation period consisted of short episodes of brooding and frequent trips away from the nest to feed and preen. A mirror check during one of her forays, some 21 days after the first signs of incubation, revealed a naked chick lying next to an un-hatched egg. The hatchling cradled its fellow egg with a wing stub as if to comfort its future nest mate. The second egg remained un-hatched, however, and it was eventually crushed and removed. This single chick would have full possession of the space and the full attention of the female for the next few weeks.
From the moment of hatching the parent bird began a strict regimen of feeding and foraging. When the chick was very small (small being a relative term for such a miniscule bird!) the female added brooding periods to her schedule and she was sitting on her charge as nightfall each evening. Within a week, the wide-eyed chick nearly filled the nest cavity and was covered with a layer of pin feathers. There being little extra room, the birdlet would sit with its neck bent upward and the beak pointing strait up.
The female was no longer brooding her young at this stage ( I think the nestling’s vertically pointing beak having something to do with it!) but was devoted to a twenty minute feeding and foraging routine. Feeding events were short and never lasted more than 15 seconds or so. She clung to the edge of the nest while inserting her bill into the begging mouth of the chick and pumping a pre-digested mix of insects and nectar directly into its gapping maw. The uncomfortable angle required the female to extend her neck to an “unhummingbird-like” length in order to get the tip of her beak into proper position.
As of July 4, and some 12 days after hatching, the nestling sported a full covering of green-tinted feathers mimicking the plumage of its mother. A full set of wing feathers made for a difficult fit into the nest and the place was getting tight. Hummingbird nests are flexible by design and are built to conform to the growing young like a body sock (imagine the normal contingent of two young in such a structure).
The chick was constantly wiggling and turning about (see movie) as the days progressed – spending time preening, peering over the edge, or picking away at flyby insects (a particular blue damselfly was a special temptation). Confined as it was in a tight bag, the young bird instinctively maintained sanitary conditions by periodically waddling it’s posterior over the edge of the nest and forcibly ejecting a stream of dropping into the void.
The time was fast approaching when the bird would itself launch into that void. Bouts of wing stretching evolved into extended stationary flight exercises in preparation for that very moment. On the morning of July 6, the nestling was beating its appendages so vigorously that it nearly lifted itself out of the nest and the effort tired the little bird out so much that it settled back deep into its cup for a long rest.
Testing out the Equipment
I did not witness the actual departure, but I know that the bird left the nest sometime over the course of the 6th. The nest was empty as of 8 pm that evening and 14 days after the egg hatched. My involvement with the hummingbirds ended on that day. I spotted the shadowy form of the female several times as it hovered around the spruce tree located just beyond the shed roof and 50 feet from the nest. I suspect the young hummer’s first flight took it over to the protection of the evergreens and well away from my prying eyes.
The empty nest
There some things I will probably never know about this situation – for instance whether the nestling- turned -fledgling was female or male, or why one of the eggs did not hatch – but being witness to a few weeks a hummingbird life was a fascinating glimpse into one of nature’s little lives.
A Frazzled Female