Carroll County Times

Cori Brown: Time for hummingbirds to start making their nests | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY

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It’s very late in the day. There’s hardly any light left to discern the silhouette of birds at the feeders. One stands out, though, as a bit of a shock and joy at the same time.

A male ruby throated hummingbird has arrived in all its tiny glory. Online postings by other bird enthusiasts gave me the heads up that they might be coming, but this is still unexpected.


A few days earlier, I loaded up the feeder with sugar water. Nothing. I figured the seesaw temperatures weren’t helping. I persisted and filled up the feeder again with fresh food. My efforts were rewarded.

I have very few images of these flying jewels arriving this early. Now, we are in the midst of a mini-cold snap as I write and it’s even more imperative that I keep up the food for them.


My garden is not the best one for them to forage in this early in the spring migration. If I had to describe it in a few words, it would be messy happy go lucky. My pansies are perfect evidence of that.

They’ve already had a rough life with multiple frosts slathered on them. Even though they are “hardened” as the gardening term goes, I fear some benign neglect on my part has challenged them even more.

On the other hand, my guess is that my neighbor Lorraine already has a jump start on providing the hummingbirds with flowers as soon as possible. Where mine is messy and disorganized, hers is meticulous and thoughtful in its design and purpose.

Half the time I forget what is coming up. This can lead to accidentally “weeding” perfectly good flowers that the hummies would love. Every year I think about putting up signs of what I planted and every year it doesn’t happen.

Already I am struggling with one flower bed that I know I planted specifically for hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. There are mystery plants popping up that I suspect have no business being there. Now I have to wait to see what they are before I pull them out.

In Lorraine’s garden, this would never happen. Many of her plants are in beautiful artistic pots. They are complemented by numerous sculptures, making her gardens even more attractive not only to birds but to her human friends, too.

She knows what hummies love so pops of red will be everywhere. My guess is she’s probably already had hummingbirds in her yard days before I did. They know hummie heaven when they see it!

Now that they’re here, I’m going to redouble my efforts to try to find a nest. Every year I try to follow them as they zigzag back and forth to the feeder and beyond. It seems like an impossible task.


One thing I do know is that we have an ample supply of one of their favorite nesting materials: green lichen. It’s all over our trees and ripe for the picking. Add some moss and spider silk and you have the essential ingredients for a nest in the making.

Unlike mourning doves, who have some of the worst nests I’ve ever seen, hummingbird nests are tiny sculptural masterpieces, which is why I bet Lorraine has some of them in her garden.

Anyone who watches birds knows that paying attention to detail and having boatloads of patience is key to spotting bird nests. As far as hummingbirds go, their nests often look like odd placed knots on a branch. Thin branches on trees like oak, hornbeam, birch, poplar, or hackberry are particular favorites. Look up about 10 to 40 feet in the air and you might spot one.

I certainly have lots of candidates available for them, including most of the tree species they prefer. They also like dense shrubs.

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In an ideal setting that includes ample water, food and nectar, a male hummingbird can successfully defend about a quarter of an acre of territory. This leaves lots of possibilities on our property though some areas are better than others.

To go nest spotting, it’s best to follow some rules, or what calls a code of conduct. If you follow the code, you can avoid accidental harm to the nest or desertion of the nest by the parents. In addition, you can avoid attracting predators to the nest (and there are many out there from cats to flying squirrels to hawks and raccoons.).


Most rules are just common sense. For instance, bird moms don’t need surprise visits early in the morning when they are busy laying their eggs. It’s also not a great time to visit when the weather is bad as in cold, damp or rainy (even humans don’t enjoy that kind of weather). Then there’s dusk, when most birds are settling in for the night. Just like people, they need their undisturbed beauty rest, too.

Other rules may not be so obvious. Using the same route every time to check nests is not the best idea. That’s because unbeknownst to you, many predators are watching your every move. They will remember how you got to the nest, so vary your route and avoid dead-end approaches.

Avoid handling any part of the nest, including the eggs and young nestlings. There is a persistent myth that birds will abandon a nest because they can smell or sense that humans touched it. This is not true, however, if a mother bird sees you around the nest or notices it has been disturbed, this may be enough reason for her to abandon it.

Do you want to learn more about birds and nesting and how you can help track them? Check out and get self-certified.

Finding a bird’s nest can be an exhilarating experience for both young and old alike. Observing it in an ethical way promotes good bird conservation and a lifetime of special memories. Even if I don’t find a hummingbird nest, just knowing that they are here and they like what they see is enough reward for me.