Photo by Lennie Lichter
The Hummingbird Nest Journal
July 1, 2013
This morning I was carrying my spotting scope up to our North Slope when I scared up a female Ruffed Grouse with at least 4 young ones in an area called Aspen Corner. This is the first time in a long time that I got to see a family of grouse here. Then I went on up to the North Slope and just had time to get the scope zeroed in when a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird came back to her nest and fed at least one young one before she settled down onto the nest.
July 2, 2013
I went up there to spend a couple of hours watching the hummingbird nest this morning and the female wasnít seen for the first 15 or 20 minutes. When she finally did arrive at the nest she landed on its rim and fed the two young birds by inserting her long bill almost to the hilt into their gaping mouths. This was repeated for each of the young 4 times or so, with each injection seeming to require her to probe to a lesser depth. She then brooded them for maybe 10 minutes before flying off for more food. I stayed up there long enough to see her feed them 4 or 5 times, and that first feeding was the only time she stayed at the nest at all.
Since yesterday was the first time I had seen the young, I had thought that they might have just hatched. They may be bigger than that though, the way they seem to be crowded in the nest somewhat with one of them reaching a wing over the edge of the cup at one point to rearrange him or herself more comfortably. Between feedings one or the other nestling would sometimes sit with its bill pointed skyward. I was about 50 feet from the nest and though the female did buzz me a few times to check me out it didnít seem to keep her from the regular feedings, but just in case I was a problem for her, I left after staying a little over an hour.
July 3, 2013
This morning I found out how lucky I was yesterday. I sat in the same place for almost an hour and she only visited the nest once and then not long enough to feed the chicks who were left with their bills pointed skyward in disappointment. The female buzzed by me a few times though not aggressively so I'm not sure I was causing her concern, but I left just in case I was. But, before I left, I checked out a branch in a large tree about 40 feet from the nest where I had seen Red-eyed Vireos interacting and sure enough there was a nest there with the female vireo sitting in it about 10 feet off the ground. That was the first time I've found a vireo nest here though we do have quite a few of both the Red-eyed and Yellow-throated nesting around here.
July 5, 2013
I was up there long enough this morning to see the female hummer feed each of the chicks two times, with 2 "injections" each both times. The second time she very briefly settled onto the young and nest before taking off again. The female vireo still seems to be sitting on eggs...
July 8, 2013
It's been a week since I first saw the young hummers being fed and a month since I first saw the nest. I was up there this morning to watch a couple of feedings and saw that the chick's bills seem to be about twice as long as they were when first seen and are being used to preen their pin feathers and/or scratch themselves while they wait patiently for mom to bring more food. I was hearing sounds of young birds coming from the area of the vireo nest too, even though when I looked a little later the female was still sitting tight. I think her mate might be bringing food to their young while also providing a musical interlude occasionally from the trees nearby.
July 10, 2013
Well, the bills of the young hummingbirds have grown noticeably longer in the two days since I last visited the nest. I had to watch them quite a while through the spotting scope before the female showed up with some food. She has to be more careful now when she feeds them since their bills are getting closer to her own eyes when she thrusts her bill into their open mouths. I just stayed up there for two feedings again and both times she fed each of them just once, lingering briefly each time as more food was evidently being transferred.
Between the feedings, each of the youngsters stretched and preened their pinfeathers in the overcrowded nest. They also each exercised their wings once, with maybe a 10 or 15 second session of humming practice, and also lifted their stubby tails above the rim of the nest to expel their personal waste over the side. I am going to continue to check on their progress every two days until they leave the nest. I didn't notice any activity around the vireo nest though I heard the male singing nearby. Before I left I walked over there and one of the adults, presumably the female, was sitting on the nest.
July 12, 2013
What a difference two days makes. The hummingbird chicks look a lot more like hummingbirds now, with their bills getting longer and the feathers on their wings filling in and lengthening. Their wings now are even displaying the typical scimitar shape that possibly helps hummingbirds perform some of their aerobatics. Even as I was lining the spotting scope up on the nest this morning and getting my first view of the day, the female was feeding the chicks. She seemed to feed them more often today so I stayed up there for 4 or 5 deliveries. I couldnít tell for sure because of the lighting but I think she is probably closing the nictitating membranes that protect her eyes when she feeds them now because their bills are definitely long enough to do her some damage if sheís not careful. Because of the lack of space in the nest now, she perches on a handy branch nearby to feed them, sometimes facing me and sometimes with her back to me.
Because of the amount of white on their developing tail feathers, I am guessing that both of the young birds are females. The chick closest to me (providing they are not changing positions in the nest, which seems unlikely due to their cramped quarters) has seemed to be a little more energetic when Iíve been watching than its sibling and spent quite a bit of time stretching its wings as well as scratching various itches with its bill and right foot and also flapped its wings very briefly once as I watched them today between feedings. But it was the other one that had the longest bout of humming practice while I was up there today, its wings a blur for over 10 seconds. It didnít seem to be in any danger yet of levitating even though its wing feathers are pretty well developed. I would think that thatís going to be quite a surprise the first time it does that and actually rises off of the nest. I hope to be able to see that and will start watching them daily now.
The adult Red-eyed Vireo was again sitting on its nest when I checked on it before leaving the area. When I was headed up to the North Slope this morning a pair of American Redstarts with food in their bills were protesting my presence in their territory in Aspen Corner, but I wasn't able to spot their nest. However, I did find an egg on the ground in that same area when I returned to the house. The egg was the right size and color to be that of a Red-eyed Vireo and was punctured on one side, so perhaps a Brown-headed Cowbird has replaced a vireo egg with one of its own somewhere. This was about 200 yards away from the nests I've been watching so raising a foster child will hopefully not be a problem for the vireos nesting near the hummingbird nest.
July 13, 2013
This morningís visit to the hummingbird nest was later than usual due to a storm that looked threatening on radar but never made it over this far. Once again, the female was feeding her young ones just as I got the first look at the nest through the spotting scope. She seemed to favor the one farthest from me this morning and that one got an extra helping during each of the 3 or 4 feedings that I watched. There was also more interaction between the two chicks, maybe because it was a little later in the day and they were more wide awake. This included a little friendly sparring with their bills and maybe some mutual grooming as well, and they didnít seem to be aggressive at all while it was going on. It was while the nearest one to me was scratching its siblingís back that the recipient of the grooming actually seemed to try to change places with the scratcher, but they settled back into their usual spots.
Both seemed to be more alert this morning but while the farthest from me did practice humming once, the record went to the one closest to me, whose wings were a blur for three consecutive sessions of more than 10 seconds each. It was windy enough up there that I was wondering if there was a danger of it blowing out of the nest at that point, but I think it will be another day or so before their wing feathers are fully enough formed for that.
The vireo nest looked to be okay but there was nobody home when I checked on it before I left the area.
July 14, 2013
As I was hiking up Pipestone Trail toward Aspen Corner and the North Slope this morning I scared up an American Woodcock, the first seen here I think since they stopped displaying in late May. When I arrived at the hummingbird nest it was a while after I was set up before the female came and fed the young ones. No longer will I attempt to tell them apart by their locations in the nest now that Iíve seen them successfully change positions. For a while they were both facing me with the backs of their heads touching and their bills pointing in opposite directions. They were pretty active from the start today, but went on full alert when an Eastern Wood-Pewee landed nearby and sang a couple times after he had been unable to capture a moth along the forest floor. I was up there for 3 feedings, one of which left one of the chicks disappointed because it was facing the wrong direction. After that they made sure that they were both facing the twig their mom uses as a perch. There was quite a lot of mutual grooming going on up there as well as probing with bills and tongues at neighboring objects like the sides of the nest and that twig nearby.
My second trip of the day was later on in the morning when Marty showed up as our invited guest for another photo op session. The chicks were very cooperative and she got some great shots of them during feeding time, play time and just before nap time. While we were up there we heard the faint clucks of a female Ruffed Grouse up on the edge of the East Field less than 50 feet away. I got a quick glimpse of her when she periscoped her head up far enough to see us, after which she probably changed her mind about entering the woods and led her brood of young ones off in a safer direction. Marty then took a couple of photos of the hummingbird nest from a different angle that showed how the female hummer had utilized two branches that had fallen from who knows where that had landed in just the right place for her to tie things together for her nest. Those photos are the third and fourth ones below.
Martyís last nest photo for the day was the one she took of the Red-eyed Vireo on its nest. Most books I have seen say that the female does all of the incubation, so Iím going to go out on a limb here and say that she is the one in that picture. Her mate had been heard singing nearby while we were sitting up there.
When I went up there at about 4:45 to retrieve the spotting scope I was surprised and dismayed to see that there was only one chick left in the nest! I immediately walked over and searched the ground under the nest to see if the other chick had fallen out but I could find no sign of it there. I then waited and watched through the scope long enough to see the female come to the nest and feed her remaining youngster. There is a good possibility that the one that left sailed down on its own and is still being taken care of by its mom somewhere nearby. The young did hatch out at least two weeks ago, and that is supposedly the minimum time for this speciesí nestling phase according to some books Iíve read, so perhaps it was time to leave. At any rate, maybe I will learn more about what happened tomorrow.
Here are some of Martyís photos.
Click here for a larger picture.
Click here for a larger picture.
Click here for a larger picture.
Click here for a larger picture.
Photos by Marty Dawley Lohman
Coulee Region Audubon Society
July 15, 2013
Well, I went up to the North Slope at about 8:00 this morning and found the hummingbird nest to be totally empty. I did stay around for almost an hour and at one point thought I heard the hum of an adult hummingbird but wasnít sure. Then a little later I definitely heard one as it passed close by though I was unable to tell which direction it was flying, but a few minutes later I heard and saw one fly away and downhill from just up the hill from the nest. I scanned there with the binoculars and saw what I thought was a young hummer perched on a branch. Even in the spotting scope it looked like a young hummingbird, with an eye, feathers at the throat, the whole bit, though the angle it was sitting didnít show the bill quite right. Unfortunately I soon figured out that what I was looking at was the stub of a small branch that had lodged there in just the right location to resemble almost perfectly a hummingbird fledgling. I didnít make it back up there today but will try again tomorrow morning. In the meantime, Iím guessing that it was just time for the young to leave the nest and all is well.
July 16, 2013
I made it up to the North Slope despite the heat and humidity this morning, but found no sight or sound of any hummingbirds. Hopefully the young ones have moved a short ways away and are still being cared for by their mom. I was finally able to see the bill of at least one young bird in the Red-eyed Vireo nest. This is the last posting I will put here but will continue to check on the vireo nest off and on for a while.
Please e-mail me with any questions or comments.
Here's a list of the birds I've SEEN and heard while observing these nests during the last couple of weeks:
Great Crested Flycatcher