Since we first moved to the farm, each year, around mid-late winter, I’d occasionally see a flash of copper and green whiz past me in the garden. Only catching a glimpse out of the corner of my eye, I assumed they were simply migrating Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) passing through.
Then last April, every time I walked down the farm road, near a particular live oak, I’d predictably get dive-bombed, and chirped at, by a very agitated hummingbird.
I spent some time watching to see where this bird would land, and eventually she landed squarely in her nest. If I hadn’t been watching her closely, I never would found the nest. It turns out that at least some of these streaks of copper and green weren’t Rufous hummingbirds after all.
The Allen’s hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) is very similar in appearance to the Rufous, sharing the same overall coloration. One key distinguishing characteristic though is that Rufous hummingbirds don’t nest here.
Their breeding grounds are much further north. The fact this bird was nesting here at the farm helped me to distinguish this female was indeed an Allen’s hummingbird.
Sadly, as happens so often here with the farm’s predators, those nestlings did not survive to fledging, and that was the last I saw of the Allen’s hummingbirds last year.
Usually the Anna’s hummingbirds are the most common species sighted here, especially in the summer and fall as they zip around the native Salvias, and Epilobiums.
Over the last two years though we’ve been noticing quite a few more Allen’s hummingbirds, especially in the spring.
Then toward the end of February, just a few weeks ago, as I was heading up to collect the hen’s eggs, I noticed a hummingbird was spending a lot of time hovering around near the office. Every day I’d walk outside, and there she was zipping around, and I wondered if she too might be nesting.
I stepped back a few feet, and stood and watched for a while. My patience was rewarded when after a few minutes she finally flew directly into her nest. I was a little surprised, as it was a full seven weeks earlier than I’d seen the nest last year.
I was also quite surprised to see that this nest was positioned precariously on top of some dead Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum) fronds that had been nipped by the frost this winter. I’d been too
lazy busy to prune the damaged fronds earlier, and now I’m glad I’d left them alone.
The nest isn’t quite as low to the ground as you might expect, as these ferns are actually growing on a step bank, overhanging one of our drainage culverts. That said though, this nest is about at my eye-level, and I’ve never been accused of being tall.
Over the course of a few days I could see she was still building her nest. Each day a few more pieces of foliose lichen were added to adorn the outside, along with more moss. Then one morning, after I’d brushed out some loose cashmere from the undercoat of the goats, it seemed this little hummingbird was bringing in tiny pieces of goat fluff to line her nest!
Why not? What self-respecting bird wouldn’t want a cashmere-lined nest?
It wasn’t long thereafter that this hummingbird seemed to be squarely settled, and presumably incubating eggs. Incubation for this species usually runs between 16-18 days.
After the first 10 days or so I started spying on her regularly through my binoculars to see if there was any change.
Each time I’d find her hunkered down on the nest.
Then on Tuesday this week I noticed she was absent from the nest more often, and flying around, nectaring on the California Bay Laurels that are currently in bloom.
It’s very difficult to photograph the nest in the afternoons as this slope faces east, and gets quite shady. So on Wednesday morning, quite early, I took my camera out to see if I could observe any change.
I didn’t want to disturb anyone, so I left the tripod behind (hence the less than sharp images), but if you squint, you might just be able to make out that she’s feeding her babies in the image below.
I haven’t been able to count heads yet, but typically this species produces a clutch of 2 eggs.
We love that so many hummingbirds call Curbstone Valley home, and that the Allen’s in particular have been observed nesting here for at least the last couple of seasons. Perhaps they’re attracted by the new nectar sources we’ve planted, or that we opened up the area around the orchard. They do apparently prefer to nest at the edge of open woodland. Or maybe they’re drawn closer to the house since we added a water source in the front garden.
Whatever the reason, it’s so much fun to just look up from my computer monitor, look out the window, and see a nest full of baby hummingbirds.
I hope she has more success than the Allen’s hummingbird I found last year. Although she is somewhat low to the ground, she’s so well camouflaged that some mornings it even takes me a second to find her. So, with luck, the predators won’t be able to find her either!