Hummingbird nests are very hard to spot because they are so small and so well camouflaged. Both animals and people can easily look right at a hummingbird nest and think it is just a small knot on a tree limb. You may have to search high and low, but the easiest way to find a hummingbird nest is to follow a female hummingbird.
Building a hummingbird nest is complicated business. Every year after migrating to breeding grounds (for those hummingbirds that migrate), a hummingbird's first order of business is to eat. After refilling their energy supplies and meeting up with a fella, the female hummingbirds will immediately start to build a nest.
When building a hummingbird nest, the female hummingbird must choose the perfect location. Female hummingbirds do not like to use regular bird house as they are too confining. She is looking for a place that is well off the ground to prevent predators like ants, snakes, and predatory birds. Plus, the nest must be sheltered from wind to prevent baby hummingbirds being thrown from the nest in a wind storm. She will need a good sold base like in a "Y" or crossed branches of a tree or bush. You may see her test the strength of a prospective nest site by repeatedly landing on it and clinging to it. A place with leaves over top to shelter from rain and sun is ideal because if the nest gets above 96 degrees Fahrenheit the little hummingbird eggs will be too hot to hatch. Since temperature is such an issue in raising baby hummingbirds, many female hummingbirds may prefer higher altitudes and locations close to bodies of water where the weather is cooler.
There is a way to help your local hummingbirds find that perfect nesting place with a Hummingbird House. If you place one of these Hummingbird Houses in a safe location that is sheltered from the wind your Momma Hummingbirds may decide to set up shop right before your very eyes. We recommend the Hummingbird House over trying to make one on your own. A homemade one may work just fine; however, the Hummingbird House has taken into account the shapes, angles of the branches, and the dimensions that have proven to make nest building were extremely desirable for hummingbirds.
Female hummingbirds will need nesting material to make her nest. She likes to use nice soft material like moss and lichen. She also likes to use cotton fluffs, bits of willows, soft plant pieces, dryer lint, and leaf hairs. She will bring these items back to her nest a little at a time, gluing it all together with spider webs. The spider webs make terrific glue for the nest, allowing the nest to stretch and be flexible as the baby hummingbirds grow. The spider webs also make it easier for the mother hummingbird to repair the nest when damaged or when kids do what kids do. While building the nest, the female hummingbird will try to camouflage it as much as possible by using small sticks, seeds, and plant pieces to shade the outside of the nest. She will make sure the lighter parts of the nest are in the sun, while the darker parts of the nest are in the shade, blending it in with the surroundings.
Don't be surprised if you notice one female hummingbird stealing nesting material from another female hummingbird. This is common practice among hummingbirds. Don't worry, the original hummingbird will most likely go and steal supplies from the other as well.
When a mother hummingbird is gathering the materials for her nest, she will carry the items in her beak. When she arrives at the nest, Momma Hummingbird will painstaking tuck the material into the fork of the branches to make the base of her nest. When she carries the spider webs to the nest, you will notice them all around her beak, under her chin, and across her breast. She will use her chin and body to press the spider webs and material into her nest so that every piece will go exactly where she wants it. When using a Hummingbird House that is against a building you may even notice the mother hummingbird gathering paint chips to help camouflage the nest against the building.
A mother hummingbird will sit in a nest and use a wing to press the nest against her body to mold it into the perfect shape. She will press her rump into the center of the nest and against the walls to round the inside. She also uses her feet. With one foot hanging onto the nest and the other stomping the nest, she will compact the material to make a solid sturdy nest bottom.
The bottom and wind side of the nest are usually thicker than the top and leeward side of the nest. This will help regulate the temperature inside the nest. On colder days, the mother hummingbird will wiggle down further into the nest to help keep the baby hummingbirds warm, while on days, cooler air can blow though the thinner sides of the nest, keeping the baby hummingbirds cool. For the same reasons, nests that are built in the spring are deeper than nests built in the warmer summer months.
Mother hummingbirds will usually work on a nest for about four (4) hours per day, making approximately thirty-four (34) trips for materials per hour. The entire nest will take anywhere between five (5) to seven (7) days to complete. All the while there are little eggs growing inside her.
Most hummingbird nests look like a small cup about the size of a walnut shell and the diameter of a penny to about an inch and a half (1 1/2) when done. Some hummingbirds (Hermit Hummingbirds) will build nests that hang from branches and other vegetation. These nests are cone shaped attached to something above to support it.
Sometimes mother hummingbirds won't have a chance to finish a nest before the eggs are ready to be laid. When this happens, the mother hummingbird does the best she can to both finish off the nest and incubate her eggs.
Some hummingbird species have been known to reuse nests if the nest survives the winter without being destroyed. Others do not reuse nest and prefer to rebuild a new one every year. Sometimes mother hummingbirds will build a new nest right on top of an old nest. Some female hummingbirds have been known to build more than one nest at a time, choosing the best one and abandoning the others as time goes on. This happens more often where there are Hummingbird Houses around.
When you find a hummingbird nest, it is best not to touch it. The hummingbirds will not be able to smell your scent, but the predators can. By touching the nest, you can lead a predator right to it. If you find a hummingbird's nest, take a picture, but leave it alone. A hummingbird may want to try to re-use the nest. Not to mention the laws protecting everything hummingbird.