The only reason I found this nest was because the momma gave it away. On a walk at my local birding patch in mid-March, I observed her continuously zipping between cottonwoods, plucking lichen every couple of minutes, returning to a messy brush pile roughly four feet off the ground. This was a behavior I’d never slowed down to notice, so I followed her path, and found her sitting atop her nearly completed, camouflaged nest.
Anna’s Hummingbirds are permanent dwellers of the Pacific Northwest, making our winters just as bright as spring thanks to their iridescent feathers and constant buzzy presence. Of all the species of hummingbirds along the west coast, Anna’s are the most frequent and familiar. They’re common, beautiful, and an easily recognizable species in the Portland bird-watching scene. Whether you’re new to birding, an expert, or somewhere in between, Anna’s Hummingbirds appear on everyone’s bird list.
Nature adorns every Portland spring with early blooming native plants like Osoberry, Oregon Grape, and Red-flowering Currant, sending signals to our tiniest residents that there’s sufficient food and the nesting season can officially begin. Anna’s Hummingbirds, right alongside Great Horned Owls, are among the region’s earliest nesters.
Over the course of a month, I watched this incredibly industrious mother hummingbird perfect her nest, incubate her eggs, and then dutifully feed her newly hatched and demanding chicks. In awe, I observed the young grow quickly from nestlings to branchlings to fully flighted hummingbirds.
Ten days after I discovered the nest, the first chick’s head emerged, mouth agape, begging for food. At roughly one day old, the hatchlings are blind and without feathers, relying completely on mom for food and warmth. She won’t leave them in the nest unattended for long. Baby hummingbirds require constant feedings (every 20 minutes from dawn to dark!) of regurgitated nectar and partially digested insects.
Just eleven days after hatching, the chicks have nearly tripled in size and the first feathers are beginning to form. Mom, the solitary caretaker, perches on the rim of the nest to insert her long, pointy sewing needle-like bill into the young hummingbird’s mouth for feeding.
The nestlings are two weeks old and quickly outgrowing the compact cup of a nest. At this stage, in between feedings, they spend most of their time snoozing the day away.
When mom returned with food, she would gently poke her babies to awaken them for their next meal. And they were always eager!
The humlets are much bigger and more alert at two and half weeks. Their little black eyes now appear like diamonds, reflecting the world around them. It’s amazing to observe them shifting around in the nest, preening and wing stretching, and taking notice of their surroundings: loud calls from a crow, an insect flitting above the nest, a flower petal gently falling beside them.
At 20 days old on a particularly cold and rainy afternoon, I suspected the hummingbirds were preparing to fledge because they were taking turns really flapping their wings while standing on the edge of the nest. Typically, Anna’s will fledge 18-23 days after hatching.
Because I knew fledging was imminent, I visited the nest two days in a row. I’d previously been monitoring it once every five or six days to lessen my impact, staying only a few minutes at a time. As well as following other recommended nest watching protocols, like staying a safe distance away and waiting for the parent to leave before I approached.
On the 21st day post-hatch, the nest could stretch no more, leaving barely enough room for one bird to sit comfortably. The chick on the right was seemingly the strongest and perched on top of the nest, leaving more space for it’s sibling to remain inside.
On this day, I walked another loop around the pond to give the birds some space, before I visited for what would be my last time. When I returned later, the nestling had become a branchling, clumsily fly-hopping completely out and onto the same branch the nest was affixed to.
And then, right before my eyes, the same baby, rose like a teeny firework, lifting off entirely from the branch, taking short two to four second flights around that messy brush pile surrounding the nest and perching on a low tree nearby.
It was one of the most wonderful breathtaking moments I’ve ever experienced. This must be the feeling that poet Mary Oliver wanted to capture when she wrote,
“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed”.
And I’d never felt so blessed.
Every time I visited this hummingbird family, I thought to myself how lucky I was to be the person getting to witness this deliberate act of spring, the natural world going on as it must. And on that last day, I left the nest site feeling endlessly full of hope and happiness.
By now, the attentive mother has shown her newly on-the-wing babes where to find nature’s nectar and how to forage for insects, before sending them off to find their own way in a vast, new world.