Yard work? Be careful, for hummingbirds’ sake. Here’s what to look for

Kersti Muul sent that hummingbird photo with the note, “Little Anna’s on the last stages of building her nest. A welcome reminder for people to check before the zealous spring pruning!” Since the weekend sunshine may have many outside pruning, as well as cleaning up what the February snows brought down, we asked her if there was more to say and show about what and who to watch for. She shared this, photos included:

Anna’s hummingbirds start nesting as early as December and can go through June. They love yards that have bright flowers (this one is in a camellia bush). They also nest where there are feeders because of the reliable, safe and close food source.

Look for tiny nests (see photo of my finger with an old nest for scale) usually on slightly downward facing [often forked] branches over an open space that have cover, but are also accessible to the fast-flying beauties. The nests are very delicate; they are constructed of spider webs, lichen, moss, feathers, and fluffy soft material (this one has dog-toy stuffing). This particular bird has been building this nest since around February 18, and is still perfecting it; now she is deepening the bowl by building up the rim.

The snow storm was catastrophic to many plants and I know people are anxious to get pruning.

Just take a peek around the borders of plants and maybe one to two feet back. They are really well camouflaged, especially before the last stages when there is usually some visible white fluff inside it. Anna’s are extremely territorial and if you are near a nest, they usually will have something to say to you, or may dive at your head. If you see hummers in the area, pay attention to where they travel, perch, feed etc. They just may lead you right to the nest.

Another clue is fuzzy nesting material stuck to their often-sticky beaks, as well as cleaning the beak back and forth on twigs. I watched this one take lichen off a nearby tree trunk to add to her nest.

Remember; it is illegal to tamper with an active nest. If you knock a nest down, try to put it back as close as possible to where it was.

But, Kersti – a community naturalist and conservation specialist – stresses that “if the tree is presenting a hazard, then of course safety should come first.”

18 Replies to "Yard work? Be careful, for hummingbirds' sake. Here's what to look for"

  • Marianne March 2, 2019 (8:22 am)

    Thank you for the reminder, Kersti.  

  • NW March 2, 2019 (9:06 am)

    Thank you for the reminder and educational information. Last weekend walking to catch the bus I spotted a hummingbird perched on the sidewalk which is not normal for hummingbird seemed injured. 

  • Bashie English March 2, 2019 (9:56 am)

    Opened my kitchen curtain this morning and there was a hummingbird flying in place staring at me. In a few minutes it flew away.

    • Randy F March 2, 2019 (10:20 am)

      Bashie! Oh, I do hope you’re doing well!

    • Rob S March 2, 2019 (1:31 pm)

      Our hummingbirds hover outside the window when the feeder is empty, or if the syrup has gone off.   We joke that they have us trained! But if they aren’t trying to communicate, they might just be curious.

    • newnative March 2, 2019 (1:52 pm)

      Bashie English, that’s funny. My ex-husband believed hummingbirds we’re messengers and once a hummingbird visited him in the same manner and he said he felt blessed. 

  • Kersti Muul March 2, 2019 (10:51 am)

    How the nest looks near completion as as well a the progression over three weeks:

    • David P March 2, 2019 (5:24 pm)

      Interesting, thanks for sharing!

  • anonyme March 2, 2019 (10:51 am)

    Thanks so much for this reminder!  I forget to look for hummingbird nests.  My hummers didn’t come to the feeder for a week or so, but now they’re back – and ravenous.  Maybe they were house-building.  I hope so!   Look for joy in the small things (literally, in this case).

  • Hannah March 2, 2019 (11:35 am)

    Thanks for the reminder. I will be pruning the camellias some other time, it looks like. 

  • just wondering March 2, 2019 (11:45 am)

    I like hummingbirds more than yard work so no problem!

  • KM March 2, 2019 (3:40 pm)

    Thank you for the heads up. Our hummingbirds love our camilla and we have a few broken branches from the storm we need to remove. Will proceed with care!

  • steve March 2, 2019 (4:47 pm)

    This got me wondering. What would be some of the better plants or trees to help out the hummingbirds or even bees?

    • Sky King March 2, 2019 (8:57 pm)

      An excellent winter-blooming food source for hummingbirds is Mahonia x media, which provides food for them when almost nothing else is blooming. A commonly available variety in the shrub section of nurseries is Mahonia x media ‘Arthur Menzies’.An excellent spring-blooming hummingbird food source is Ribes sanguineum. A very beautiful variety is Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’, also readily found in the shrub section of most nurseries.Good summer-flowering hummingbird plants include kniphofia, salvia, hardy fuschia, crocosmia, phygelius, penstemon, hyssop and agastache. All are easy to find in the perennial section of any good nursery.For late summer, you can also try clethra and vitex (shrubs).There are many other flowering plants that are attractive to hummingbirds and to bees, as well – those above are just off the top of my head.  And, with a selection of those from each bloom season, you’ll beautify your yard throughout the year, as well!

  • Maria M. March 2, 2019 (8:35 pm)

    This report had  me humming happily all day! Thanks Ms. Muul.

  • Kersti March 2, 2019 (8:38 pm)

    Good job Hannah!

  • anonyme March 3, 2019 (6:30 am)

    Also sarcococca, early rhodies, hellebores, daphne, and some spiraeas bloom early through late winter.  Mahonia does seem to be a big favorite; I have ‘Charity’ and they love it.  I’ve noticed that they seem to harvest a lot of spider silk especially from conifers, as well as from around windows and other areas where webs are commonly found.  Guessing that maybe conifers catch and retain a lot of silk due to textured foliage, but lots of critters that are bird/hummer fodder also overwinter in conifers.  Has anyone ever successfully tried one of the little hummer nesting structures you can buy online?

  • Kelly March 8, 2019 (12:30 pm)

    I came across this photo in an Audubon article. It was taken in Oregon over 100 years ago. It’s amazing how as something things change, others stay the same.Full article here: https://www.audubon.org/magazine/summer-2018/these-century-old-photos-inspired-some-wests

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