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Hummingbirds On-Line!

by Dr. H. Ross Hawkins
Founder and Executive Director

June 28, 2009
Issue 2009-02

In this issue:
Nest building in my PATIO?
Agastache–one of the best plants for hummingbirds
New Hummingbird DVD reviewed

Why did they build a nest on my PATIO???

Hummingbirds are fascinating to watch at our feeders and flowers, but witnessing their nesting process is really fun. Unfortunately, many people have never seen a hummingbird nest. This is not surprising, considering the nests’ tiny size: a quarter will just fit inside a new nest. In addition, the nest is camouflaged by the nest design, as shown in this typical Black-chinned Hummingbird nest in a Sedona sycamore tree.

Nests are always so hard to find–sometimes they are found on our porches, patios, and similar man-made structures. Why in the world would a female hummingbird choose a location so close to human activity? To answer this we need to understand her priorities: food, bathing, and shelter.

(1) FOOD: Hummers typically eat as much as twice their body weight (!) in nectar a day, so the nest must be close to dependable food sources. Later, when two chicks also have to be fed, proximity to food sources becomes critical.

(2) BATHING: Poking her bill in flowers and feeders for nectar is a sticky business. Mother will need a place to bathe several times a day—usually in shallow, moving water or a spray.

(3) SHELTER: With food and bathing issues settled, she’ll choose a location that wards off rain, sun, and wind. In a tree, she’ll look for a canopy of leaves to keep off rain and sun nest.

This is where you come in. Your patio, where you’ve hung the wind chime Aunt Sally sent you last Christmas, may be just the ticket. Being in a covered patio, the sun and rain won’t be a problem, and wind will be greatly reduced. Located 6-9 feet high, the nest will be pretty much inaccessible to cats, snakes, and squirrels, the third priority for the mother-to-be. The tiny nest can fit on most wind chimes easily, using sticky spider’s web to attach it. Look at the examples pictured below.

Black-chinned Hummingbird Nest in J-Hook, by Jeff & Michelle Bierman

Black-chinned Hummingbird chicks in nest on Fish wind chime, with missing chimes.

Anna’s Hummingbird nest on wind chime in Tehachapi, CA

In addition to wind chimes, I’ve seen nests on patio chandeliers, light fixtures, doorbell buttons, clotheslines, and even the “J” hook from which a wind chime is hung!

And people? Most hummers are amazingly tolerant of our presence, much more so than other bird species. They usually don’t see us as hazardous to their nests.

If you spot a nest quickly enough after it has been started, you’ll get to witness the whole process: nest construction, brooding the eggs (2 weeks), and feeding the chicks (three weeks). Holding a mirror above the nest, you’ll be able to see the two tiny, white eggs that are no bigger than small jellybeans, then watch the two hatchlings grow, test their wings, and finally, leave the nest. It is first-class entertainment, and you’ll have a ring-side seat.

Remember that food and water are mother hummer’s first criteria, so encourage her to nest near you by providing feeders and flowers, as well as a very shallow bird bath with moving water, or a spray mister. Putting out nesting material (more in a future story) helps, too. If you are successful, take some good pictures and share them with us! (But please send us small images, not big ones that fill up out mailbox quota; if you’re not sure how to do this, upload your images to and send us a link.)

Agastache: One of the BEST perennial plant families for hummingbirds!

Both serious and amateur gardeners often consult the familiar lists of flowers that attract hummingbirds because of their nectar content. For the most part, these lists are reasonably good, but many of them completely fail to mention the genus Agastache (pronounced Ag’ us STACK’ kee). This is a glaring omission that we here at the Hummingbird Society are working to correct.

Many species of Agastache are native to different states within the US. You can consult the Web or your local county’s cooperative extension to find out which ones do well in your climate. Beyond these native plants, however, you’ll find a rich selection of cultivars in colors of pink, magenta, orange, etc.

Rufous Hummingbird at Agastache X "Desert Sunrise"

Hummers like Agastaches for their rich nectar content. Gardeners like them because they are (1) self-dedheading, (2) require little water, (3) have long blooming time [mid-summer to fall], and (4) have great fragrance, even in winter. The whole family is unbelievably heat-resistant and prefers only a weekly watering. Some sample species that work well with hummingbirds include A. cana (Double Bubble Mint), A. rupestris, A. aurantiaca (mixed yellow/orange).

Another characteristic that makes me personally love this genus is that they are mints–brush against the leaves and you’ll get a sensory delight!

New Hummingbird DVD — One of the Best Ever!

"First Flight: A Mother Hummingbird’s Story" by Don and Noriko Carroll. $19.95.

Many videos have documented the process of a hummingbird nest, many quite competently. But NONE with the skill that Don and Noriko brought to the project. They had just moved from Manhattan to their new home in Las Vegas, and discovered a hummingbird nesting on a clothesline in their new patio. Don immediately saw an opportunity for documenting the nest with his camera (he’s a pro), and Noriko’s skill in storytelling and writing coupled with these images resulted in their book, First Flight, which has been very successful. Rather than resting, the next year they repeated the process with HD video.

This video has amazing scenes. Watch the mother actually lay the egg! Watch the process by which the chick emerges from his shell by skillfully perforating a ring around the egg, then stretches to push the two halves apart. And so on. You feel like you’re right there, experiencing the process. And the music!! The music chosen for each segment skillfully reinforces the mood of the moment–one of the best couplings of images and music I have seen.

This DVD is being reviewed in the June issue of our member newsletter, The Hummingbird Connection. We notified the Carroll’s about our rave review that we were planning to publish, and they offered to donate 10% of all sales back to the Society, provided they could identify the source of the purchases. If you’d like to benefit the Society when you make a purchase, just go to

Dr. Hawkins is founder and Executive Director of the Hummingbird Society, an international organization dedicated to teaching about hummingbirds and working to prevent their extinction.

Copyright © 2009 The Hummingbird Society. All rights reserved. Contact us for rights to reproduce any information contained herein. The offices of the Hummingbird Society are located at 6560 Highway 179, Suite 204, Sedona AZ 86351 USA.
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Telephone numbers: (800) 529-3699, (928) 284-2251; Fax is the same.