Anna’s Hummingbird Babies: From Eggs to Empty Nest

Anna's hummingbird babies, around Day 19

As I wrote last month, we were extremely fortunate to have had a little Anna’s hummingbird build her tiny espresso cup-sized nest in a rhododendron shrub in our front yard, just steps from a window. In February, binoculars and camera in hand, we watched and photographed as she finished her intricately woven and structurally sound nest, carefully and lovingly camouflaged with lichen. On February 20 it appeared that her beautiful nest was complete and egg incubation had begun.

About 18 days later (on March 8), I saw her perched on the edge of her nest, apparently regurgitating a mixture of nectar from nearby native currant flowers and partially digested insects or spiders (high in protein) into her babies. I couldn’t actually see them at that point since the nest was about eight feet off the ground and they were so small. At this early stage she would feed both nestlings (hummingbirds almost always have two), fly off, and come back with more food within 60 seconds. After she and the nestlings had been fed adequately, she’d return and stay on the nest awhile, since they were nearly naked and in dire need of warmth.

Later that week we saw her offspring for the first time, with their dinosauric-looking heads and just the start of future feathers. Even at this age, still completely helpless and blind, their instincts are strong: they were able to wriggle their little bottoms toward the edge of the nest and squirt a little poop outside of it!

Anna's hummingbird babies, around Day 7

Anna's hummingbird and one of her babies, around Day 7

 

Later, about ten days after they had hatched and when their barbs began to look like feathers, Mom no longer stayed on the nest—during the day, anyway—most likely because they were rapidly filling up the tiny nest and she was not too keen on having her underside poked by pointy bills!

Ann's hummingbird and her babies, around Day 12

Anna's hummingbird babies, around Day 13

 

We continued to watch her feed them, first pumping food up into her throat, then aiming her long bill into their gaping orange mouths and straight down their throats. She resembled a sewing machine needle as she repetitively pushed food into them, never spilling a drop. Ouch!

Anna's hummingbird feeding her babies, around Day 18

 

References state that Anna’s hummingbirds fledge within 18 to 23 days after hatching. On the morning of what I believe was Day 23, I watched as one of them sat on the edge of the nest and flapped his/her wings with such gusto that I thought the time had come. A rainstorm came and went, but they remained in the nest, sitting with their bills pointed directly upwards, nearly vertical; occasionally they’d shake off raindrops but maintained their pose. Brave and undaunted, they also endured fairly heavy wind and a short but pounding hail storm.

Anna's hummingbird babies, around Day 22

 

On what was probably Day 24 I saw one of them, for the first time, venture out of the nest and onto the branch right next to the nest. Surely they are leaving now, I thought!

Anna's hummingbirds babies, around Day 23

 

They left the nest on Day 25. I could be wrong about the day they hatched, or perhaps they loved Mom’s meals and enjoyed watching the world go by from their safe little nest so much that they stayed an extra day. Or the experts are wrong. When they left I was, disappointingly, in the shower at the time. Just before they left I noticed them preening their breast feathers meticulously, perhaps to make themselves more aerodynamic—notice the fluffy white down feathers in this photo, the last I took of them.

Anna's hummingbird babies, around Day 23

 

Experts say that Mom feeds them for several days post fledging, so they are on their own by now. I still look for them in the garden and high in the trees, but it’s hard to say who’s who—they may almost resemble adults by now. Reportedly, the siblings often stay together until autumn, when they separate for good (they are not social birds). Have a good life, sweet babies!

Anna's hummingbird babies, around Day 20

UPDATE: March 29, 2017
It’s been two years since I wrote the above post. This year a mama Anna has again built a nest in the same shrub, although the nest is harder to see as it’s a little higher up and has more leaves partially blocking our view. I’ve watched the nest as best I can, and judging by what looked like pumping (feeding) movements, I believe one of her babies hatched on March 6. Photographing them has been very difficult due to the nest position, and the plague of unusually cold, wet weather. In that early part of March I watched her as she searched for insects everywhere in the yard and she spent more time away from her nestlings than the mom two years ago did. This made me wonder if she might be having trouble finding protein (in the form of little insects and spiders), which are essential for the babies’ development, as well as her health. Sugar water is not adequate!

After about 10 days had passed, I could just barely make out a beak in the nest reaching skyward toward Mama, who was ready with food. I never saw more than one mouth at a time, which I thought to be a little odd, and wondered if both eggs had hatched. At Day 12 my husband, Rick, managed to get some photos of Anna feeding them, and there is evidence of two mouths, although one is in poor focus and looks like it may not be fully open, even though Mama looked ready to deliver. I was relieved to know that there were two hatchlings, but I continued to see her feeding only one at a time; this worried me because two years ago both of her young were visible during each feeding (as the photos above show).

A week later, on March 25, Rick was again photographing and grew concerned when he repeatedly saw her feeding only one baby. He put his cell phone on a stick and held it horizontally above the nest while Mom was away and managed to get a short video of the nest. I’m very sad to report that there was only one baby present; the other must have died from lack of protein due to the shortage of insects during the non-stop cold weather. I do not know if the mother, sensing that one was weak and knowing she couldn’t feed them both adequately, chose to stop feeding the weak one so that one would survive, or if the baby just couldn’t gape to receive food and eventually died. It’s also slightly possible that the baby was stunted from the beginning (possibly due to too small a yolk). It’s impossible to say for sure, but regardless, it was heartbreaking for this animal lover to realize that someone starved to death right outside her house. But I do accept that nature can be harsh and I’m glad that the baby didn’t die due to direct human disturbance.

As I write this, the brave little baby that’s endured so much still sits alone in the tiny nest that should be filled with a brother or sister. Mom no longer stays on the nest, but she still feeds him/her about every 20-30 minutes. Waiting is the hardest part … waiting for the day that s/he feels strong enough to take to the air and discover the world. I hope I get to see that flight, and I hope it’s on a warm, sunny day.  –ES

The baby fledged the next day, which was a fairly warm, dry one. Since then I’ve noticed a smallish single hummer in my yard on occasion, and once, while I was walking around the back yard with my little cat in my arms, I stopped to watch this bird feeding at blueberry blossoms. S/he grew very interested in us, and circled around us, just 18 inches away from our faces! 

Curiosity got the best of us. A day after the baby had left the nest we placed a ladder under the nest to inspect it, now that no one would get distressed at our nosing around. Sure enough, there was the baby who had died, a dried up little body barely an inch long. 

There is another Anna’s hummingbird nest now, in a neighbor’s small tree close to a stairway that leads to our back yard. I can’t be sure, but I think it is the Mama who nested in our yard, doing her best to raise another couple of healthy chicks.


© 2015 Eileen M. Stark

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31 thoughts on Anna’s Hummingbird Babies: From Eggs to Empty Nest

  1. Eileen
    Thanks for this post. We have a nest under the eave of our porch. Chicks hatched May 6 & 7 respectively. Mom has been attentive. Have taken 3 photos. Hope to get more. Have to use remote trigger as mom is very wary. Looking forward to watching them grow to fledglings. K

    Reply
    1. And then you’ll get to watch them zoom around your yard together! Thanks for your note. -Eileen

      Reply
  2. That was lovely. I enjoyed it very much! I am wondering where you have heard that Anna’s hummingbird siblings stay together until the fall. That is what I was wondering about when I did the search that brought me to your posting. I am pretty sure that I have been observing a pair of young birds hanging out together in my yard. Sometimes they chase each other, sometimes they perch near each other, and they are the only 2 hummers that I’ve seen use my feeder at the same time. Can you give me a reference or citation on this topic? Thanks for sharing your lovely photos & story.

    Reply
    1. You are welcome! I found that info at http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Calypte_anna/
      and they site two sources. After “ours” fledged there was a lot of chasing going on, which I attributed to playfulness, although in late spring a rufus hummingbird added to the rivalry (they have it very tough since the Anna’s are already established when they return from an arduous migration). The two you’re seeing could very well be siblings—do you know their genders? Occasionally I’ve seen two female Anna’s feeding simultaneously at my feeder during the winter, but they are likely not related since siblings would have split up by then. The males aggressively keep the females from the feeder while they’re there—so territorial! Thanks for visiting, Lisa.

      Reply
  3. Thanks for posting these amazing shots! We were fortunate to experience some of own babies this winter. Babies hatched on 12th and 13th of Jan. and just flew away today (Feb. 6 2017).
    It was a beautiful experience!!! We sure are going to miss them :/

    Reply
    1. Wow, that’s early (although I’ve read that they can start nesting as early as December). Congratulations! Did you see them actually leave the nest? Thanks for your note.

      Reply
  4. I have Anna’s hummingbirds around my yard. It is not common that I see more than one on a feeder at the same time, but maybe once every couple weeks on average, and generally at dusk. In fall of 2015 I had a feeder that got very heavily used and I saw multiple Anna’s feeding on it frequently, and once saw FOUR feeding on it at the same time (using all of the four holes in the feeder). I never have seen a nest, though. I think they are trying to make sure they are far enough away from where the human comes around.

    Reply
    1. Wow … 4 at a feeder at once! The most I’ve seen is two, and both were females. The males are very territorial and will often guard “their” feeder fiercely. I have two feeders right now because of it, but as soon as the red-flowering currants start blooming I’ll take them away and let nature take over. I hope you see a nest one day, but they are very hard to spot since they’re so tiny and camouflaged, just the way they want it. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  5. Hi, I have nest right now (3-24-17) NW Seattle on wires under house eves. This is the 3rd year a hummer has built nest there. I believe she started to build about 3-16-17. Every so often, she turns around, seems to straighten nest, pokes at it, maybe moves eggs around too. I’ll know they’ve hatched when she leaves nest frequently, returns. Last year I watched fledging of 1st sibling. Does take a long time for them as they seem to get up courage. That fledgling then returned to nest area & seemed to be urging the other to try it out. I notice that before they take the plunge, they definitely react with interest to all the “food” flying by. (tiny insects) I missed fledging of 2nd. Hummers buzz around my yard like bugs; whizz right bt my face sometimes. I seem to have more of them than any other bird species. Love your photos; my camera not good enough. Wish I had a good video camera! Also, every time I go in and out, I look up at mamma, sitting there. I say something encouraging! She knows I’m there, will come to feed very close to my hand. She’s of course extremely territorial with other hummers who try to come to feeder. I believe she even chases other birds that come too near. I’d never even seen a hummer nest in nature before this. I do have 2 other feeders in yard. Wonder if your hummers ever returned to same spot? Thanks again for posting!!

    Reply
    1. Carol, thanks so much for your report! The nest in my post was in 2015 and the next year there was nothing there. But now, 2 years later, there is another nest in the same shrub and almost the same spot (but not as easy to see), so I suppose it could be the same female, but who knows. I wonder if it could be the same mama at your site each year, although I would think they would vary the location to prevent possible predation. I recently posted an article on my FB page about egg turning: most birds are thought to turn their eggs (with their feet) by shuffling them around the nest, and they do it quite frequently, the median is twice an hour (and through the night!). There was a very handsome but bossy Rufous hummingbird who was hanging out in our backyard for just 4 days last week; apparently he stopped at our yard for a rest from his long migration but had further to go. While he was here he kept Anna away from the feeder in the back, but luckily there was one in the front, so she used that. Now that the red-flowering currant shrubs are in bloom I’ll take the feeders in so she and her babies can get better nutrition from real nectar (altho they do eat a lot of insects/spiders). My best to the little wonders in your yard!

      Reply
  6. I have a female hummingbird, most likely an Anna that is putting the finishing fluff inside her nest soon to lay her eggs! She’s right outside our sliding glass door so the view is amazing.

    Reply
    1. Fantastic! If there are no rust colored feathers on her sides then she’s an Anna’s. My best to the mom!

      Reply
  7. Hi, love your story and pictures. We have a nest on our patio and have been watching her for weeks now. She appeared to be feeding babies for the past week. But when I came home last night, she was not on the nest, didn’t see her return at all and this morning she was still not there. Are the babies dead? :( Will she come back you think? I’m so worried and so sad.

    Reply
    1. Amelia, I hope everything is OK. If she’s not coming back I’d definitely look into the nest … if the babies are there and you’re positive the mom isn’t around, then take them to the nearest wildlife rehabber immediately–they can’t go long w/o food. If there’s no one in the nest then a predator probably got them. Please let me know how things work out.

      Reply
      1. Thanks for your reply. Unfortunately she is still not back – it has now been since Monday morning. I watched for over 1/2 hour yesterday evening but she never came to the nest. I also listened for any chirping from the nest as I read that means they are starving, but all is totally silent. I didn’t dare look into it – partly because I was afraid to make things worse by upsetting her if she is around and also partly because I’m afraid of what I’ll find. :( But I will try and look in there – it’s quite high but with a ladder I think I can manage it. What is extra peculiar is that we always have tons of hummingbirds in our yard – I have two feeders and lots of plants they love and they are constantly buzzing around. Since whatever happened on Monday – I have not seen a single bird! Isn’t that odd?? Like something scared them all away??

      2. The young need to be fed very frequently, so they are dead if she hasn’t been around since Monday! But perhaps you are wrong about their ages and they’ve fledged already? If the nest is very high then you may not have noticed the feeding during the first week or so. Checking the nest will put your mind at rest. It’s possible that a predator came around and scared them all off, but I have been seeing very few in my yard lately, so it may be natural for them to disperse this time of year. Also, if you keep up feeders, be absolutely certain that they are changed and cleaned every few days–in warmer weather the sugar water can go bad very quickly and kill hummers. It’s always best to feed them with native plants that can’t possibly go bad :-)

  8. Thanks so much for your reply, Eileen. I would so love to think they have already fledged, but judging from your photos they would have be quite large and we never saw anything like that in our nest. I never actually saw a baby at all – just the mother sitting on the edge regurgitating food into the nest so I assume there was at least one baby in there she was feeding, which makes me think it was still very tiny. And as of this past weekend the mother was still sitting on the nest a lot and if they were large enough to fledge, she probably wouldn’t fit on the nest still, would she? I am afraid something bad happened – I will be brave and check the nest. Yes, I do change the food in my feeders every weekend – I make my own sugar water as I don’t like that red coloring they use in the store bought food. They always seem to really love it. It hasn’t been hot here the past several weeks, so I sure hope it didn’t go bad. :( I’d be devastated to think I had hurt them in some way with the food. :( They do seem to eat the plants mostly but some of them, especially my Rufus like to just sit on the feeder, being “in charge.” :) He’s quite the character! I’m not sure if the mother hummingbird was a Rufus or an Anna? She was just gray in color. There was a pesky crow hanging around the other side of my yard where 2 morning doves are nesting, I chased that crow away and the doves did return to their nest that morning – I sure hope the crow didn’t go to the patio later in the day and bother the hummingbird instead. :(

    Reply
  9. I have had Anne’s hummingbird in my yard now for a couple of months building a nest and swooping around but now I have noticed they are not in the nest or anywhere flying in the
    yard. Will they come back this summer or are they done with my yard and I will see them
    next year. I have read they don’t reuse their nest. I’m new to hummingbirds and I love the colors
    in the Anne’s Hummingbird.
    Great pictures.
    Thanks for sharing

    Reply
    1. Thanks for your comment. No, they don’t reuse their nests (altho they may reuse the nest materials), but you should see them again this year, especially if you have tubular flowers (natives are especially good). It’s not unusual for them to disperse and check out other areas for food. Even though my red-flowering currant flowers are just now winding down and the Oregon grape is beginning to bloom, I’m only seeing one or two, so they must be elsewhere. If you use feeders, be sure to clean them and change the sugar water every few days, especially as temperatures rise–sugar water can go bad very quickly.

      Reply
      1. Your photos are wonderful!!

        I had an Anna’s build a nest on a windchime outside our kitchen window this winter in S. California. We had a lot of wind and rain during that time, and eventually the nest was abandoned before any eggs were layed. The nest became very broken down by more bad weather spinning the windchime in circles. This week, many weeks since the first nest was built, I came home to find the same nest being quickly remodeled and looking neat amd pretty. I couldn’t believe it! I don’t know if it’s the same Anna’s, but this one has spent the majority of today sitting in the nest. I don’t know if there is an egg or two in there. And since I spend a lot of time near that window overlooking the nest (outside the kitchen sink), I may end up frightening her away. I hope not. It’s such a joy to see!

      2. That’s great! This shows how resilient these birds are. I would guess that it’s the same mama since they’re quite territorial. And I read recently that it’s not uncommon for her (or her offspring) to build a nest nearby or even on top of the remains of the previous nest, using recycled nesting materials from the old nest. She’ll incubate her eggs for about 16 days, so hopefully she’ll get used to your gaze by the time they hatch. Enjoy!

  10. I just bought some fucshia starters and hope they will bloom soon to see the hummingbirds
    return. Thanks for the information I will keep you posted.
    Amy

    Reply
  11. I’m really sad right now. This morning both babies were in the nest that was made on a wind chime outside my bedroom slider. I can lay on my bed and watch mom come and go. However, this afternoon I was in the backyard and noticed there is only one bird in the nest. They both looked healthy this morning. I can’t say for sure when they hatched because I didn’t see the nest for the longest time as I was looking for it on the patio cover. I just hope it’s okay. Mom came back and in my mind she seemed concerned.

    Reply
    1. Did you look for the baby below the nest (in case it fell)? Or was it old enough to fledge? Sometimes one will leave the nest ahead of the other.

      Reply
      1. I’m beginning to think it took off on its own. The other baby left two days ago. Now I really am feeling the empty nest syndrome.

  12. Once everyone is out of the nest is it OK to trim and prune the plant that the nest was in? It is really dirty looking on the fern branches. Like sprays of black sticky stuff.

    Reply
    1. That’s shouldn’t be a problem … the nest typically isn’t reused (altho I’ve read that the nest material is sometimes “recycled” to build a new nest); it will probably fall apart fairly soon.

      Reply
  13. Hi
    I have a hummingbird nest that has a dead baby in it. Can i take it down and bury it? There are flies around the nest and dead baby. 😢

    Reply
    1. Oh, that’s too bad. Is there another baby still in the nest? If so, I don’t see why you couldn’t take out the dead one, as long as Mom is away (to prevent stress to her).

      Reply

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