Nesting 1

Helping Hummingbirds - Conservation Action Series

A series about what we can do individually and locally to help hummingbirds

Nesting 1 – Nest construction

Spring supercharges our gardening enthusiasm and there can be an enormous urge to ‘go and tidy up’ after the ravages of the winter. Please exercise extreme caution when pruning. While hummingbirds occasionally nest on man-made objects like windchimes or Christmas lights, most use trees and shrubs.

Fluff 7

Have you found a nest? If so – congratulations! Nests are small, soft cups about the size of a mini-orange. They are very hard to spot. Most nest locations remain a mystery because hummingbirds are masters at hiding their chicks from predators and eagle-eyed enthusiasts. To camouflage the nest, the female uses the stickiest of spider’s webs to attach moss and lichen to the outer surface. These decorations make the nest look like a knot or swelling on a branch. 

A hummingbird nest must be both strong and flexible to contain rapidly growing chicks. Can you guess what construction material is sturdy enough for this task? It turns out to be spider’s webs. They have the perfect blend of stickiness, strength, and elasticity – rather like ‘birdy spandex’. Firstly, the female wipes spider’s webs across a base – often a slender branch. Next, she forms the cup, using packing materials like cattail (known to many of us as bullrushes) fluff, and moss. Both provide good insulation. Mosses hold moisture, so they can stop eggs from drying out in the heat or absorb the excess water from heavy rains. In addition, many mosses have antimicrobial activities and so may also serve a sanitary function. Long fibers are wound through the whole structure providing additional strength. You may even see strands of your dog’s fur; shedding that winter coat has added benefits.

Watch a nest building video.

The chicks must reach full size before they can fledge. Because of its natural elasticity, spider webbing allows the nest to expand with the growing chicks. During the chick’s tenure, the nest will change shape from a tiny, tight cup that holds two small eggs into an open bowl, stretched by the two, eventually adult-sized chicks. This widening of the nest is especially rapid when the chicks stand on the broad rim during flying practice.

What happens to a hummingbird nest after the chicks have left? Building a nest takes a lot of effort and time. The female must find the right materials and then weave them together. Hummingbirds use different energy-saving strategies. For example, after a long flight north, Rufous Hummingbirds often reuse nests from previous years, as it is much less effort to refurbish than build anew. In contrast, Anna’s tend to recycle nest materials, moving them from an old nest to one under construction.

Fluff 1

We can help breeding hummingbirds by ensuring that they have both places to nest and nesting materials to use. Trees and shrubs in your garden can provide shade and shelter. They will also encourage growth of lichens and moss. Like hummingbirds, spiders eat insects. By welcoming insects and not using insecticides, you will increase the availability of spider’s webs (and yummy spiders too). By growing cattails in your pond or just hanging a few cattail heads in a place where you can watch the birds visit, you will have made sure that the female has all she needs to set up home near you. If you find an active nest, enjoy observing (from a distance, of course) the chicks as they grow and keep an eye out for what happens after the fledglings leave. 

Back to Conservation Action Series Main Page


Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top