This article is reposted with permission from CoyoteYipps, a blog about San Francisco’s urban coyotes. We republish it here as an interesting story – and a lesson in how difficult it is to see a bird’s nest even if you are looking for it. (Emphasis added; all pictures copyright Laurel Rose)
We urge all city departments and homeowners to trim or remove trees only in the safe Fall months: September to December
MY HUMMINGBIRD ADVENTURE by LAUREL ROSE
I learned a valuable lesson this weekend: Do Not Prune or Remove Trees in Spring!
Over the past couple years, I’ve been removing a row of unattractive honeysuckle trees along the fence line to let more light into our shady yard and plant some ferns & other foliage. The trees all had long skinny bare trunks with foliage starting at about 15- 20 feet up so all I could see was fallen leaves on top of compacted dirt and 8 pencil-thin tree trunks.
This weekend 7 and 8 were scheduled for removal. After getting 7 out of the ground, root and all, my friend and & I were getting ready to start breaking the trunk & branches down to 4 foot size segments required by the city for the green waste bins. I had a hand saw and my friend was using my mini electric chain saw for the job. I kept a safe distance in a far corner of the yard and we got to work. 2 branches into it, the chainsaw turns off and I hear “Oh Noooo! Oh my god! Nooo!” then, “chirp, chirp chirp”!
The tree had a hummingbird nest camouflaged and expertly woven very securely onto a few twig size branches. Both my friend and I love & respect nature so we were a little frantic and horrified at the thought of nearly chainsawing through this little womb-like nest cradling 2 chicks. I found a little box and cushioned it with soft material scraps and toilet paper and placed the nest inside very carefully. It took a good hour for us to calm down and stop focusing on how thoughtless we had been to choose April to remove a tree. Even ugly trees with sparse foliage provide habitat and serve a s food source. My friend, a somewhat burly guy named Terry but whose friends call him “Bubba” was on the verge of tears telling me, “I searched for a nest before sawing off each branch. . .” . Even if one of us has noticed it, it did not resemble a typical storybook nest.
I called every organization and person I could think of for help on that Saturday evening: Golden Gate Audubon Society, Wild Care, and Janet. I was able to listen to a recorded instructions for caring for a injured chick. I kept them inside for the night in a warm dark spot away from my curious little dog who likes to be a part of everything I do whenever possible. As soon as it was light outside, I placed the box up high in the area where the tree had been. Within 20 minutes, mom showed up and fed her hungry babies and I watched as she gathered nectar from the flowers overhead on tree number 8 (which will stay in my yard).
We estimated the age to be between 2 & 3 weeks and were told that hummingbird chicks leave the nest at 23 days old. A couple days before this happens, a stronger chick pushes the weaker out of the nest and it dies because mom will not feed it on the ground. The reason this happens is because the nest is very small and is needed as a “launching pad”. Once the other chick takes flight, mom will continue to feed her baby for several days, teaching how and where to find all the best nectar & bugs before she chases it away to find its own territory. Since they are in a box, neither one will be pushed out of the nest and mom will continue to feed them both. I’m not sure if this may have any negative or unforeseen consequences but I like that idea!
Day 2: I secured a new box in the other Honeysuckle tree because we were having some very windy days.
Day 3: I wasn’t sure if Mama was feeding her chicks with the new placement of the box with a different type of access, but I caught her in the act (see video below)
Day 4: They changed so much from one day to the next
Day 5: Just before I left late Thursday morning, I went to check on the chicks and snapped this photo. They looked like they were ready to spread their wings. I might have made them a little nervous putting the camera up so close but wondered if they were contemplating their first flight.
When I came home in the early evening, the first thing I did was check the box and it was empty. I stood there for several minutes wondering how such a tiny creature with only 23 days of life can survive on their own. That’s when I heard chirping above and looked up- there was mama with 1 chick shoulder to shoulder on a branch.
Maybe the little guy didn’t feel quite ready, or maybe he wanted to say goodbye. He let me get real close and looked at me with that one little eye as I said some encouraging words and slowly reached in my back pocket for my camera. I snapped one photo and he flew to the branch up above where his family was.
Today would be Day 8. I’ve been seeing what I believe to be this same little chick hanging out in the honeysuckle tree where the box was. A few hours ago, I observed the mama arrive and feed the chick patiently waiting on a little branch.
If you would like to invite hummingbirds to your yard I would not recommend those feeders with sugar water because they must be cleaned every 3- 4 days or they can make the hummingbirds very sick. It’s much better and healthier to provide their natural food sources and plant things like honeysuckle, sage, fuchsia, Aloe vera and other long tubular flowers that provide both nectar as well as habitat for insects that serve as protein. Hummingbirds also need a place to perch during the day & sleep at night that offers some protection from wind & rain- usually trees. You can also hang a perch up high in a tree near the flowers and you can encourage nesting by providing materials by hanging a “Hummer Helper” you can purchase and fill with store bought material or even dog and cat hair — the “Hummer Helper” is actually just a “suet feeder” which you can buy for a lot less. The best time to start is May. The Hummingbird Society has a lot more tips and information on their website.
*One last note about trimming trees- the safest time is in the Fall during the months of September- December