Monday, March 26, 2007

Allen’s Hummingbirds Take to the Air

It was only 20 days from the first tiny hummingbird emerging from its egg to Saturday, March 23 when the pair tried their new wings and took to the air.

Just two days before flying the youngsters were still in the nest.

Allen's hummingbirds 3/03/07 when they hatched, first week, second week.

I’ve watched this transformation from minute oval egg to flying wonder before, but it never ceases to amaze me.

The young ones are buzzing about the yard. They are noticeable by their clumsy landings, their lingering at the feeder, and the fact that their mother still allows them to share a perch near her. By next week they will be hard to distinguish from the other hummers.

Empty Nest

From blueberry-sized pearls
Hatched, naked
Blind, earth babies
Wrinkled brown skin
Scarce tufts of down

Silently they huddled in
Half walnut-shell bower
Waiting for mother's
Blossom-kissed tongue

In a breath of days
Stubby beaks
Grew long and slender
Silken-thread tongues tasting
Leaves and branches

Rubbery appendages transformed
To pulsating wings
Hovering, in first baby-step flight
Then a dip, a dive
A streak across the garden

How quickly life can
Form before your eyes
Lull you into complacency
Leave you hungry for its miracle
When the nest is empty

Copyright Keri Dearborn 2001

Friday, March 16, 2007

Trapdoor Spiderlings and Hummingbirds

Babies, babies, babies. Imagine my surprise when walking through the yard yesterday I discovered an open trapdoor spider burrow. When I looked inside I found 100 to 200 spiderlings.

Down in the burrow there were BB-sized bumps on the wall of the tunnel. When I brushed them slightly with a piece of straw, the bumps moved. A flashlight revealed the ‘bumps’ were the abdomen’s of baby trapdoor spiders.

Here is where the tale gets unusual, the trapdoor that should have been closed and protecting these young spiders had been surgically removed. It was laying intact beside the opening. There did not appear to be any obvious signs of force to open it. It’s silken hinge had just been neatly severed.

About four inches to the left was another trapdoor spider burrow of the same size tightly sealed, its resident safe behind its closed door.

Was the door to the spider nursery removed by a predator? If so, there were a lot of spiderlings that not been eaten. In fact I just checked on them, and 24 hours later, they are still clinging to the side of the tunnel, though some seem to be down lower in the tunnel, probably to escape the heat of the day.

Was their mother eaten? I don’t know. If so, will these spiderlings starve or be eaten without her protection?

Or is their mother living in the tunnel next door? Perhaps this was the nursery burrow. I have noticed that a number of larger trapdoor spider burrows seem to have an equal-sized neighbor right next door.

Perhaps these spiderlings are just big enough be introduced to the world and mom has literally opened the door for them to go. I really don’t know and haven’t been able to find anything that might explain this mystery.

I will keep an eye on them and see if they do start to head out on their own.

Meanwhile the Allen’s hummingbirds are growing. Their feathers are coming in and their beaks are beginning to elongate. (When they hatched and first week)

The spiderlings have been developing all winter, the hummingbirds will be out of the nest in weeks. Amazing what you can run across on a warm spring day.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Two Hummingbird Nestlings !

Yes, there are TWO!

Here you can see there are two nestlings and they nearly fill the nest. Their heads are toward the right and their two little backs with the tiny wings along the sides are pointing down toward the left side.

You can’t deny that spring has come when the baby Allen’s hummingbirds are doubling their size weekly.

Mother hummingbird is working hard to feed her two hungry youngsters, a job made much easier by the rapid blooming of many flowering plants. Last week she was focused on catching a lot of insects, whether that was for protein for the tiny hatchlings or to rebuild her own resources after her time sitting on the eggs, I don’t know. Now she seems to prefer nectar.

Two other female Allen’s hummingbirds are also nesting in the adjacent area.

One of them has her nest hidden in a photinia bush. This morning I saw an unexpected possible predator in the same bush–a one-foot-long alligator lizard basking in the sun on a branch about four feet off the ground. Hopefully, mother hummingbird has placed her nest out of the lizard’s reach.

Two days ago, I watched a pair of bushtits working very hard to pull building materials from a hummingbird nest that was used two years ago. They’ve come back to the abandoned nest several times to gather fluff for their current nest.

Last year’s Allen’s hummingbird nest, from which the hatchlings were taken by a predator, was a site of great interest yesterday for a group of 20 bushtits. Initially, the group of tiny birds scouted out the old nest where their relatives have been gathering materials. Then one at a time, three individual bushtits came down within a foot of last year’s nest. There was a great deal of chatter.

After a short hunt for insects, several bushtits returned to the area above the abandoned nest. Two birds each came down within an inch of the empty nest and looked at it closely. Again there was a great deal of chatter. As the bushtits moved around in the shrubs they got within five feet of the new hummingbird nest. Mother hummingbird had had enough of the visitors. The bushtits are about the same size as the hummer, and no real threat, but she loudly chastised them and chased them off. I imagine within a few days, pairs of bushtits will be back to begin collecting their own building materials from the abandoned hummingbird nest.

Last year’s red-shouldered hawk nest has also been reduced to a thin layer of twigs. The red-shouldered hawks, ravens, crows and band-tailed pigeons have all been pilfering the sticks and twigs to build new or to renovate old nests.
Birds are efficient recyclers. We could learn a lesson from their sustainable use of resources.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Baby Hummingbird Hatches!

The Allen’s hummingbirds have hatched!

Look closely and you will see a yellowish-orange triangle deep in the nest on the right-hand side. This is the beak on one of the hatchlings. There were two eggs. When I went to check this morning, there were no eggs visible.

My first thought was, “Oh, no. The wind yesterday or last night knocked the little eggs out of the nest.” I should have known better. The hummingbird mother would have never left the nest in the night.

Initially, I couldn’t tell for sure if there was anything in the nest. With the camera on macro and holding it at arms length, I was finally able to snap a picture where I could just make out one hatchling.

Is there a second one? I’m not sure.

Remember how small they are. The nest is only an inch and a half wide. The tiny hatchling is about the size of the fingernail on my pinky finger. The nest is nearly an inch deep, so it is possible that there is a second hatchling that I couldn’t see.

Babies are always exciting, but baby hummingbirds are uniquely special. The mother hummingbird was frantically busy all day gleaning insects so she could supply a high protein meal for her tiny ones. Stay-tuned and we will watch them grow up.