Little Wonders in Nature!

By Marilyn N. Dudek, Master Gardener

What a surprise for us this summer – finding a Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest! A discovery in nature that I had always sought to find. Success this summer! What joy experienced for everyone who viewed the nest, watching this miracle of nature, viewed from the cottage porch.

The hummingbird is a unique bird that everyone is enamoured of in seeing. They are seldom noticed sitting on a branch, but rather beating their wings 53 times a second, hovering, doing acrobatics, and for the mating game, flying in big upside-down arches. At our cottage, in the boreal forest of Ontario, a hummingbird feeder, filled with a sugar syrup solution of one part sugar to four parts water, with no red food colour added, is busy with hummers from May to mid-September. Hummingbirds require this simple syrup, along with bloom nectar and tree sap, to give fuel to their bodies. Protein from insects is needed too in their diet to build body strength. The boreal forest is an ideal location. filled with Tiny insects can be picked off branches, or caught mid-air with the hummingbird’s flying agility and long sharp beak. The sap from native birch, spruce and pine found in from the sapsucker holes, complete their food requirements.

How did we discover the nest? My husband noticed a hummingbird frequently flying into a birch tree, which was very unusual as over the years we have become attuned to the habits of hummingbirds. After methodically looking at the branches he found the nest on July 21, 2021. A tiny lichen-encrusted nest the size of a large thimble made on top of a downward branch. I learned that hummingbirds specifically choose this type of branch in a deciduous tree with an excellent leaf canopy.

Throughout the days we frequently monitored the nest noticing that she did not leave her nest very much. On July 29 we noticed the female had moved position in her nest and was sitting a bit higher. Had the eggs hatched? Monitoring constantly to see when she left the nest, we saw her feed for the first time on that same day.

The next day we fortunately saw her feeding two young.

Photographing a hummingbird nest is not without challenges, especially with this birch on the lake side of the cottage open to wind and blowing rain, plus heavy smoky days, all of which I experienced in my photography attempts. Patience and perseverance is definitely required. I will take you on a photo journey of the progressing days of the nestlings.

8 days old

11 days old

As you see the nestlings are filling the nest at 12 days.

It was always thrilling to photo capture the female hummingbird feeding her young. Interestingly, the young always stayed in the same position and on the same side of the nest except for one day.

12 days old

Everyday the increase in nestling size was amazing.

13 days old

And then there was only one.

I saw the first one fly out but so quickly that I could not photograph it. Fortunately I caught the second fledgling flying out but not without some drama from the mother trying to push the last one out of the nest. She fed the nestling first then hopped into the nest alongside it gently trying to push it out. “No mom, I like it here!” She attempted again by sitting on the nest edge and nudging the nestling with no success and finally flying away.

Mom in nest

Mom pushing nestling out

Surprisingly, throughout the days of monitoring the nest, I noticed that one nestling was more aggressive than the other. Although on flying out of the nest the aggressive one was more cautious and was this last one to remain. I watched as it stood on the edge of the nest for quite a while exercising its wings and preening, or possibly removing the down from its feathers, before taking flight onto another close by birch. Fortunate for me!

And my journey comes to an end with this gift of nature wrapped in lichen!
Published: September 2021