Jun 3 2012

Roostin’ & Hummin’

Melissa Crytzer Fry

My husband is a saint. For years, the man has built a plethora of platforms to quiet his wife’s frantic squawking.

“But they’re building over there, and their twigs are falling. Can’t we help them?”

Yep. I’m talking about birds and bird platforms (and me doing the most chirping, not the birds).

This is one of two roadrunner platforms that hubby installed in our house-under-construction. The roadies kept building in the rafters on narrow 2x6s, so most of their twigs fell to the ground. They quickly abandoned the first (lower) platform in favor of the rafters again. Finally, after construction of the higher platform (pictured), they built once more and eventually had two baby roadies. Click to enlarge.

Then there was this argument:

“But they’re trying to build in the lights. We have to help them.”

This time it was the orioles stringing their dried grasses throughout the compact fluorescent bulbs under the breezeway (you know … the high-energy bulbs that look like squiggly piggy tails).

So, I asked hubby to build this platform. Though the orioles didn’t take to it, the resident Say’s Phoebes did. They had three babies this spring. Check out their nest. Click to enlarge.

In early May, I was actually minding my business with no intention of intervention as I worked from my own perch in the writing studio on wheels. I noticed a mama hummingbird zipping back and forth, and her frequent rest stops on the outdoor white lights. When I realized she was building a nest (something she attempted in the past, but aborted), I couldn’t resist that urge to “help.” Big surprise.

May 5. This is the spot our girl chose to build her nest (I named her Anna, thinking she was an Anna’s hummingbird, but I confess I'm not sure what she is. She could be a Black Chinned, a Broad Tailed?). Click to enlarge.

Despite my yearning to find some way to stabilize the lights (they really rock when the wind rushes through the breezeway), I decided I would sit on my hands not ask my husband to intervene this time. We’d just see how it went (how do you brace dangling lights, anyway?).

Our hummie mama uses her beak, chin and body to press spider webs (the ‘glue’) into her nest ensuring that each dried paloverde flower and piece of grass goes exactly where she wants it. Click to enlarge.

May 6. What a difference a day makes. Hummers go to great lengths to camouflage their nests, even so much as to find paint chips to match the color of the house. That’s precisely what those tan strips are! Click to enlarge.

May 15. Look at the size and depth of the nest now. To put things in perspective, the nest is still only the size of a walnut! Click to enlarge.

Even though nest-building is complete, she keeps repairing and strengthening her nest. She is pictured here with more flowers in her beak. You can see her first nest attempt to the left. Click to enlarge.

Okay … so, given my past history, you knew I couldn’t sit around and do nothing, right? So – in the midst of Mama Hen’s building, I did some research and came across some cool hummingbird houses:

All the components within the Hummingbird House – includes a little leaf for shade, and materials for nest building (two houses come in the kit). Click to enlarge.

The hummer house screws on to an eave and is positioned this way (though I need to bend the branches back to give her more room to fly on/off her perch). Click to enlarge.

After my purchase (and more research), I realized that Mama Hummie was too far along in the building and egg-depositing process to use the new houses. That means, for now, the Hummingbird Houses will wait until the winter nesting season, which also means, for the first time, I have let nature take its course.

Stay tuned for mama and baby progress reports  and check out our Hummie Cam, which updates with refreshed images every 30 seconds.

For Writers: Hummingbirds and writers have more in common than you might think.

  • A hen is already carrying eggs when she begins the nest-build, and sometimes lays the first before construction is complete. When writers come to a new story or project, they already carry ideas inside them. Some are bursting and ready to be born while others stay in our bellies until we’re ready to build that next special thing.
  • The hen begins building two different nests at once, testing various locations to see which is best (for shade, wind, protection), and then she picks the most favorable. The writer often starts with multiple story ideas, themes, and characters. She might build some of them up and quickly abandon them, testing them along the way … until she picks the one that appears most stable – or shall we say most saleable.
  • When chicks are only days from buzzing out of their nests, mama begins constructing a second nest. She’s a multitasker, just like novelists who finish up one story and are off to the next before the ink has dried on the first. *

In what ways are you like a hummingbird in your writing?

Nest shot from above. Click to enlarge.

*Insight about hummingbird behavior from Dan and Diane True, and World of Hummingbirds.


29 Responses to “Roostin’ & Hummin’”

  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Wow, that hummer nest is AMAZING! I’ve never seen the nest of a hummingbird before. Thanks so much for sharing these great photos. I’ve gotta show them to Jim, he will be fascinated.

    I doubt the bobbing bothers her much; we have watched and commented on the hummers in our yard, who will sit on a wildly bobbing branch and appear perfecty poised and oblivious to a movement that, frankly, would make me sick to my stomach.

    We’ve often speculated as to what their nests must look like, and how TINY they must be (can you just imagine their eggs?!). I’m really thrilled to see this one. The paint chips are a marvel.

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    Melissa Reply:

    You can only imagine how thrilled I was when I saw that she was going to see the project through to fruition this time around. The first year, she tried it on the TINY, TINY bulbs (like the ones on an indoor X-mas tree), but realized, I guess, that the base wasn’t stable enough. I am SO happy to share this delight with others. If you look at the link to Hummingbird Houses in the post, you will see just how TINY the eggs are; a penny is set upon one nest, and a pencil eraser is poised next to eggs and babies!

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    Love this so much!! Adorable!

    After both my young adult kids clearing out of “my nest” just yesterday to take off for summer internships, I’m feeling very much like a mama of fledgling birds…. so I am relating to future-hummer-mama 🙂 I must say that her nest is an amazing and beautiful feat of tiny engineering and I’m so impressed and quite envious. What a lovely sight to watch!

    As for my writing, I am definitely a multi-tasker with something always in the fire, the ink still wet and smudgy and incomplete prior to embarking on the next project.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Do you have any idea what kind of hummer she is? I’m clueless! Ohh… so sorry about the kids leaving the nest again, Julia…

    I agree with you 100%; I marvel at nature’s ability to engineer. The spider webs, I learned, also are helpful as they contract and offer flexibility, allowing growing babies to push on the sides of the nest without busting it open. What genius!

    I actually thought of YOU as that multi-tasker hummingbird writer!

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    Julia Munroe Martin Reply:

    Yeah, I kinda figured about the multi-tasker 🙂 As for the kind, I’m clueless too!

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  • avatar Millivers Travels Says:

    I’m so jealous of your roadrunners!

    I’ve lived in several places that have an abundance of hummers – and we always put feeders out – but I’ve never had the privilege of seeing one build a nest and have babies. How utterly precious! Thank you for documenting this for the rest of us with your camera.

    I love your Hummie Cam! When I first looked the nest was empty. When I went back to that page, Mama was sitting on her nest!

    Your hubby really is a saint, patiently making all those platforms to satisfy your desire to help the birds. Mine keeps the bird feeder stocked with seed so I can watch Birdie TV every day while I write. :~)

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    Melissa Reply:

    It was truly exciting to watch her build! I’ve been dying to post, but wanted to wait till she was all settled in to her new home. Here’s to great hubbies who allow us to indulge in bird-watching :-). Nothing better than Birdie TV — well, except for books ;-).

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    Millivers Travels Reply:

    Melissa, I can totally relate to your excitement about wanting to post … and the patience it took to wait till the right part of the process! You correctly picked up how excited I was to do my Mill Creek Park post. And it almost killed me that I had to wait till I’d shot the park under different weather conditions. Heehee.

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  • avatar Carole Jane Treggett Says:

    Wow, Melissa, fantastic post and amazing pictures. I can’t get over the intricacy of the engineering of that hummie nest. I get my neck stretches in regularly with all the head shaking I do as I continually marvel at the wonders in our natural world! Love how you even managed to tie all this in with writers. Hmm, I think I have at least 2 or 3 half-built ‘nests’ around here meself:D

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    Melissa Reply:

    We are two peas in a pod with our neck stretches, then :-). Yeah, I think we all have those half-built nests, too.

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Goodness, Gracious, Sakes Alive! I’m beyond impressed with the way you provide safe places for nests, and give nature a bit of a boost every now and again.

    Love the photographs!
    Love the live cam!
    Love the comparison to writers!

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    Melissa Reply:

    And I love your exclamation points! Thank you, Laurie.

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  • avatar Donna Says:

    I love this post! We have a nest here that an Eastern Phoebe uses each year, and we all love watching the babies grow until they decide to spread their wings and fly away. We get quite attached to them. How cool that you had a hummingbird nest! Those birds are amazing. We look forward to feeding them each year. The feisty things tickle us with their aggressive defense tactics when it comes to sharing their feeders. Thanks for sharing your amazing photos!

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    Melissa Reply:

    It’s so hard NOT to get attached, isn’t it? Probably even harder when I name every single bird that shows up. Let’s see: there’s Sylvia and Sebastian, Kory, Clarence, Anna … 🙂 I’m always surprised, too, how aggressive those little guys and gals are about defending their feeders! Have you ever noticed hte high-pitched sound they make when they’re dive-bombing one another? So glad you stopped by.

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  • avatar Christine Grote Says:

    I love this. Your husband must be a real sweetie. I’m afraid mine would adhere to the “survival of the fittest” philosophy.

    The hummingbird nest is amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m so going to have to buy myself a hummingbird house. That would be awesome.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Sometimes I wonder if just letting nature take its course is the route I should adopt. This is, after all, how the world works.

    Yes, get yourself a hummingbird house, and then we’ll be checking out your blog next summer for updates!

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  • avatar Julie G. Says:

    Melissa, this is a fabulous post! We are so much alike, I constantly ask my husband to use his construction skills and come up with various contraptions to help the birds and animals. I have yet to see a hummingbird nest, though we have many hummingbirds using our feeders. What a joy it was for me to view your wonderful photographs. I was especially taken with the hummingbirds attempt to camouflage her nest with paint chips … fascinating! Lucky you with so many beautiful birds building nests in your house. Currently, we are in the process of building a house and a Eastern Phoebe couple has decided to make a nest in the garage. The babies were born recently and I am thrilled!

    Outstanding post, fabulous writing, wonderful photographs!

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    Melissa Reply:

    We ARE alike; I just skipped over to your blog. The bird photos … oh, the bird photos! What a bird wonderland — so special.

    Now you need to get your hubby into bird cams. We even had one for the baby roadrunners (though technically inclined I am not. That’s hubby’s forte!)… and you need to position some hummingbird houses so you can watch nest construction/birth – just to add to your lush collection of photos and bird-sighting experiences.

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    I love hummingbirds! I actually had Randy hang a feeder right outside our French doors where I write (and nurse). It is so much fun to watch them buzz and dive-bomb each other. I would love if one made a nest. Now, how am I like a hummingbird? Well, I begin formulating thoughts for other novels while working on one. Sometimes I have to snap myself out of it, or I am tempted to toss my baby out of the nest before it is ready to fly just so I can start a new “nest.”

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    Melissa Reply:

    Their dive-bombing antics are quite entertaining. You need to get yourself a hummingbird house to ensure that they DO nest at your place. Baby girl would like that, too! Oh yes, the temptations of baby-tossing-from-the-nest. I hear you!

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    You just made our night, my dear! Hubby and I pored over this one–now I’ll be checking the Hummer-Cam fanatically! I am so, so impressed. I can’t get over that they find paint chips the same color–I knew they were bright birds, but that’s a whole other level of brilliance. I’m so happy for you!! And we are so grateful for our fellow bird-loving husbands, aren’t we? 😉

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    Melissa Reply:

    I know… isn’t the paint chip thing incredible? I read about one hummingbird (observed by the maker of the hummer houses) that camouflaged one side in one color, based on its position in the shade, and the other side a different color based on position in the sunlight. Brilliant! I raise my margarita to bird lovin’ husbands everywhere.

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  • avatar Jenny Wingfield Says:

    Amazing — amazing — maybe I can learn from you how to attract barn swallows to this farm. When we lived in Arkansas, we had some nesting on the front porch, and we adored them. We’ve never had them here, and I miss them.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Now I’d have to do some research about the barn swallows. Hmm. If they’re a local bird, bet you can find a way!

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  • avatar Stephanie Alexander Says:

    I cannot believe how small those nests are!! we have tons of hummingbirds in our bushes here…but have never seen a nest!!

    I think my writing process is most hummingbird-y when I’m in one of those frantic dialogue writing bursts…zipping between characters like the hummingbirds between flowers…just stopping to hover over a thought for one second before the next catches my attention! xo

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    Very cool! I smiled through the whole post knowing that your bird watching buds on Twitter must be going crazy over the new cam!

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  • avatar Caryn Caldwell Says:

    Wow. That was so, so cool! I loved all those pictures, and how great that you guys did everything you could to help the birds without interfering. May they have many adorable babies.

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  • avatar StoriesAndSweetPotatoes Says:

    That is SO cool! I’ve always been fascinated by bird’s nests. It’s such a unique thing that birds do. Have you ever heard of Killdeer Plovers? They are my favorite bird. They run around on the ground and make nests on the ground and low places. One made a nest in my driveway and I built a little box around it so other animals wouldn’t get to it, and the bird just kept going in and out of there and eventually all the eggs hatched! It was probably the highlight of my entire childhood.

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  • avatar Janice Says:

    Melissa, I’m commenting for the first time after following you on Twitter for a while. Thank you so much for sharing this. Like you, I adore nature and hummingbirds! What a treat to see a hummingbird nest for the very first time here. You’re lucky she chose you. She must sense you’re a kindred spirit. 🙂

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