Sweetness and light: Diary from a hummingbird’s nest

March 2: An Anna’s hummingbird incubating eggs in her nest. Anna’s is one of the most common hummingbird species in coastal California. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond [www.elainemillerbond.com]]
March 2: An Anna’s hummingbird incubating eggs in her nest. Anna’s is one of the most common hummingbird species in coastal California. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
Have you ever had one of those days in which everything sparkles?

For me, that day was March 1. It was my first day out on my own, following a painful injury. It was the day I picked up and freed a pigeon, trapped in the dark corner of a café where I like to write. It was also the day when my friend showed me something I will never forget: a hummingbird’s nest.

I drove home, retrieved my camera, then returned an hour later to take photos of the nest. In fact, I returned more than a dozen times in March and April. Below are my favorite photos from the experience.

Anna’s hummingbirds almost invariably lay two eggs per nest. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond]
Anna’s hummingbirds almost invariably lay two eggs per nest. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

The mother hummingbird built this nest only a few feet off the ground in a camellia sapling near a bustling East Bay street. The nest was about the size of a ping-pong ball. The eggs looked like Tic-Tac mints.

Anna’s hummingbirds’ nests, like this one, are elastic, constructed in part with the silk of insect cocoons and spiderwebs. That way, the nest will expand with the growing chicks.


This mother bird ornamented her nest with bits of green-colored lichens. She also weaved in various forms of fluff: downy feathers and what I think were dogs’ hairs. (A dog grooming business is located only yards away from the nest.)

Gazing upon this delicate creation, I thought about life lived on the level of fibers, the insides of flowers, every tiny thing that’s important to a hummingbird.

Read more photo stories by Elaine Miller Bond on Berkeleyside.

For nearly two weeks, I watched and wondered as the mother bird sat on her eggs. Like other Anna’s hummingbirds, this mother had no male partner to feed her at the nest or to share in the burden of caring for their young, as in some other species of bird.

Still, her work paid off beautifully.


By the late afternoon of March 13 (right after I had left the nest site), a friend phoned me to say that chicks were seen for the first time. I arrived before dawn the very next morning.

March 14: Here the chicks were probably less than 1 day old. Note: According to the Birds of North America online [http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/], Anna’s hummingbird chicks in the same nest can hatch 24 hours apart from one another. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond]
March 14: Here the chicks were probably less than 1 day old. Note: According to the Birds of North America online, Anna’s hummingbird chicks in the same nest can hatch 24 hours apart from one another. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
Egg fragments remained in the nest. And I could see the chicks’ lightly downed bodies, heaving, beating, making tiny movements together.

March 18: Chicks approximately 6 days old. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
March 18: Chicks approximately 6 days old. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

The mother hummingbird “brooded” her chicks, sitting on them to keep them warm. Occasionally, she left, presumably to eat. Her forays gave me a chance to snap a few photos as her chicks grew…

March 21: Chicks at approximately 8 days old. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
March 21: Chicks at approximately eight days old. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

And grew.

Eventually, the chicks got so “big” that mom stopped sitting inside the nest with them. Instead, she perched on the rim.

March 26. Anna’s hummingbird feeding her chicks. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
March 26. Anna’s hummingbird feeding her chicks. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

At this young stage, the chicks seemed to sleep a lot. Their mother tapped them on their heads with her beak to awaken them for feedings.


March 31. Chicks approximately 18 days old. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
March 31. Chicks approximately 18 days old. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

But quickly, the chicks grew bigger and more alert. It seemed I could see a difference from one day to the next.

April 1: Chicks approximately 19 days old. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
April 1: Chicks approximately 19 days old. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

By about three weeks of age, the chicks no longer needed their mom to wake them up with taps on the head. They were hungry, and they showed it.

April 3: Hummingbird chicks begging for food. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
April 3: Hummingbird chicks begging for food. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

By this time, I did not want to miss even one day with this special little family. And on April 4, when I saw one chick perched on the rim of the nest, I knew that fledging was imminent.

April 4. Chicks approximately 22 days old. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
April 4. Chicks approximately 22 days old. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

My father, who joined me that day, had never seen chicks in a nest before. I’m glad he got his chance. By the next day, one of the young birds had fledged.

The remaining chick looked comfortable in the nest, so comfortable that I guessed it would stick around home for one more day. I went home, myself, and dreamt that night about hummingbirds.

Early the next morning, I discovered the remaining chick perched on rim of the nest.

It vocalized — made a soft “ticking” sound — presumably to its mother, who flew in seconds later to feed it. After the feeding, the mother hummingbird disappeared, as she usually did, over the rooftops.

All alone now, the young bird began to take short 2- or 3-second flights in the shadows of the camellia leaves. This was the moment I had dreamt about, seeing its feet lift off…

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April 6. Anna’s hummingbird, moments before fledging. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

And watching it leave the nest, completely.

April 6. Anna’s hummingbird fledging its nest. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
April 6. Anna’s hummingbird fledging its nest. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

After the hummingbird fledged, it perched briefly on a balcony. Then it zipped over the rooftops, just like its mother did after feedings.

A small part of me wanted more time with this little bird. But a much, much bigger part of me felt elated, honored, deeply moved.

For once I knew how an “empty nester” felt — a very happy one. In the distance, I could hear the sound of two hummingbirds, ticking.

MORE ABOUT HUMMINGBIRDS:

It’s believed that the presence of hummingbird feeders and hummingbird-friendly garden plants encourages some hummingbirds to nest close to human activity.

Learn how to attract hummingbirds to your garden — and more — from Audubon:

Adult Anna’s hummingbird in a neighbor’s garden. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond]
Adult Anna’s hummingbird in a neighbor’s garden. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

Special thanks to: Ed Martinez, Bill Harper, Rusty Scalf, John Greenleigh, Claudia Santos

Elaine Miller Bond is photographer for The Utah Prairie Dog: Life Among the Red Rocks (University of Utah Press) and author of Dream Affimals (Sunstone Press) and Affimals (LIT Verlag). Catch up on her other wonderful photo stories published on Berkeleyside.

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