Joan Carson: Hummingbirds are back in town nesting

Female Anna’s hummingbirds begin building nests in February.
Female Anna’s hummingbirds begin building nests in February. AP file, 2013

The ear-splitting whistle announced that spring courtship has begun — at least among the hummingbirds. A male Anna’s hummingbird has been making his presence known throughout the yard and gardens. It takes only a few seconds of staring into the sky to spot his tiny form as he goes into his dive. A female should be sitting somewhere near the spot where the dive ends. Then he will do it again and again. There’s been a change at the feeder, too.

The syrup is going down like someone is using a straw. That someone, at least one of them, is a female Anna’s. When she sits down and starts drinking, the occasional bubbles rise to the surface. She is being watched by someone other than me. The handsome male has been around all winter and he doesn’t like to share the feeder with other hummingbirds. He spends as much time chasing away intruders as he does feeding. Now things have changed.

The syrup feeder is attached to the kitchen window by two suction cups. This means we can observe the female sitting about 8 inches from the window. It could be my imagination, but I think she is putting on weight. She feeds and then dashes off and always in the same direction. Has she staked out her nesting territory? The male, rather than drive her away from the feeder, just sits in the weeping cherry and watches her. If another hummingbird approaches while she is feeding, he drives it away.

Female Anna’s hummingbirds begin building nests in February. I’ve watched them plucking feathery seeds pods from the clematis. It was quite a shock the first time this occurred. I couldn’t believe they would be building nests in February. Well, they do, and it’s an interesting arrangement. By the time rufous hummingbirds return to the Northwest, the Anna’s are ensconced in their territories and brooding eggs. Their young will be out and about when the rufous start their nesting. It’s a happy arrangement and there is less competition among the females and males when both aren’t courting and nest building.

One way to keep track of how things are progressing is by accumulating some nesting materials for the female. A net bag or any container that can be hung where it is dry will work. Small feathers aren’t easy to come by, but dryer lint is, and the birds will weave it into their nests. They not only use material from seed pods, they pluck lichen from tree branches and trunks. When preparing nesting materials for hummingbirds, it’s important to consider how tiny they are. It’s difficult for us to relate to their small size. Nesting materials must be light and in very, very small pieces. Consider that the female will lay and brood two small eggs that are about the size of a fingernail — a small fingernail.

Dog hair is one of the most popular nesting materials among birds. I’ve watched female song sparrows canvas the entire patio searching for any available dog hair. They look like they are wearing a mustache when they fly away with their plunder. One birdwatcher told me how he would harvest seed pods from fireweed in late summer. Come spring, it was put out for birds and was very popular. The thing is, you have to remember to do this long before nesting season. There is a variety of dried foliage and tiny twigs and grasses available if we look for it. Hung where it stays dry, it can be a way to discover who has started nesting. First come the hummingbirds, then the chickadees, and who knows?

Write to Joan Carson at P.O. Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Or send an email to joanpcarson@comcast.net