Hummingbird Nests (Facts, Pictures, Sizes)

While many of us have seen a hummingbird, or even feed them in our yard, few of us will ever spot a hummingbird nest. These well hidden, tiny nests can seem quite mysterious. This leaves many hummingbird lovers with questions about what the nests look like, and how these small birds construct them and raise their young. In this article we will take a look at how and where these nests are built, and many other facts about hummingbird nests. 

Hummingbird Nest Building

Let’s take a look at the nest building process, including location, materials and construction. 

Choosing a Nest Location

The most important consideration to the female hummingbird when choosing a nest location is protecting the eggs.  Therefore she will pick a spot where she thinks would be harder for predators to get to.

Consideration must also be made to a sturdy base for the nest. Strong winds and rain can pose a threat, so a location is chosen where the nest will remain stable even in bad weather. Hummingbirds often choose the connection point or “Y crossing” of a branch to aid in stability. It is believed they test out a locations sturdiness by landing on the site several times. 

Each species has preferences for the type of tree, shrub or plant that they like to nest on, as well as how high off the ground. We will discuss more specifics for common species below. 

Hummingbird collecting nest material from a cattail

Nest Construction

Whereas many birds use twigs, grasses and mud to construct their nests, hummingbirds use downy plant fibers to construct a soft, velvety yet strong cup. They start with a platform on the branch, often using a Y-shaped branch or other small outcropping from the branch as scaffolding or anchor points.

Once the platform is complete, they begin building the sides of the nest up by standing in the middle, and adding soft plant fibers around their body in a circle. Their long thin beak makes a good “knitting needle”. As the sides of the nest get taller, they will use their body to press against the sides and create the cup shape. Using their feet, they will press the fibers into a thicker, wool-like material.   

To hold everything together, hummingbirds will use spider silk that they collect from spiderwebs. This tough and sticky silk will help hold together the soft fibers of the nest cup, as well as anchor it to the branch. By using these soft and stretchy materials, the nest will be able to stretch as the babies get larger. 

The final step is “decorating” the outside of the cup. Perhaps for camouflage or just for added stability, hummingbirds will often place pieces of moss, lichen or leaves around the outside of the nest cup.  

To see this amazing process in action, check out this beautiful video from PBS.

 


Facts About Hummingbird Nests

Let’s dive into some facts and common questions about hummingbird nests.

1. Does the Male or Female Build the Nest?

Females are the nest builders, and take care of the eggs and babies on their own. Motherhood is a full time, one-bird job for hummingbirds!

2. Which Plant Fibers Are Used To Create The Nest?

Many plants produce soft, downy fibers in their flowers, seed pods, flower buds, and seed heads. Some of the most well-known and recognizable examples of this are pussy willow, cattails, dandelion, cottonwood trees and poplar trees. 

3. How High Up Do Hummingbirds Build Their Nests?

This actually can vary quite a bit from species to species. Some can be within a few feet of the ground, while others will be ten to twenty feet over your head. We discuss the specifics for each species in more detail below.

4. How Big Is A Hummingbird Nest?

Size of the nest can vary between the size of the hummingbird species but for the most part, American species nest size is usually 1.5 – 2 inches across and 1 inch deep. Think the size of a golf ball. 

 

5. How Many Eggs Can a Hummingbird Nest Hold?

Most hummingbirds only lay between 1-3 eggs at a time, with 2 being a common average. Many nests have a bit of stretch to them due to the soft downy interior, and will stretch and widen slightly as the babies grow larger.

6. How Big Are Hummingbird Eggs?

Hummingbird eggs are incredibly tiny. They are often compared to the size of a navy bean. Most eggs take between 2-3 weeks to incubate. 

7. When Do Hummingbirds Build Their Nests?

Basically, very soon after returning from spring migration. Depending on the species and how far they have to migrate to get to their breeding grounds, this can start in early spring or not until late spring – early summer. Nesting is complete by late summer so the young hummingbirds can grow to their full size and head south in the fall with the rest of their species. 

8. Do Hummingbirds Reuse Old Nests?

Yes many do. Some species are known to do this more than others such as Costa’s or Calliope. Old nests may be refurbished, built on top of, or just taken apart and the materials re-used for a new nest. 

9. Do Hummingbird Nests Have Predators?

Hummingbird eggs are very small, but there are still plenty of creatures such as snakes, other birds, small mammals and even ants, that would love to eat them. Even the young hummingbirds that have not yet left the nest are at-risk for hungry predators.

10. How Can I Encourage Hummingbirds To Nest In My Yard?

Provide nectar feeders and/or nectar producing plants, bird baths attractive to hummingbirds, and the trees and shrubs they prefer for nesting (which we discuss below).


Hummingbird Nest Facts – 12 Common Species

While there are many commonalities between hummingbird nests, each species does things a little differently. This is often due to the environmental conditions present in different regions of the country. Let’s take a look at 12 of the most common North American hummingbird species.

1. Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Nest Size: 2 inches across, 1 inch deep
Eggs per Clutch: 1-3
Number of Clutches per Year: 1-2

Ruby-throated hummingbird nests are commonly made of thistle or dandelion fibers and held together with spider silk and/or pine resin. Exterior of the nest is covered with lichen and moss. Nest building takes about 6-10 days. Downward sloping, slender branches of deciduous trees are mainly chosen, but sometimes also pine. Placement is about 10-40 feet above the ground. They may even balance their nests on chains or extension cords such as out door string lights. 

Ruby-throated hummingbird building her nest | image by Lorie Shaull via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

2. Rufous Hummingbird

Nest Size: 2 inches across, 1 inch deep
Eggs per Clutch: 2-3
Number of Clutches per Year: 1

Rufous hummingbirds construct their nests of soft plant down and spider silk, surrounded on the exterior with lichen, bark bits and moss. Rufous nests may be reused the next year by any female, not just the original builder. Nests are built both in evergreen and deciduous trees such as maple, birch, cedar and pine. Nests are about 10-30 feet high, and sometimes several nests can exist within a few yards of each other. 

3. Anna’s Hummingbird

Nest Size: 1.5 inches across, 1 inch tall
Eggs per Clutch: 2
Number of Clutches per Year: 2-3

Anna’s hummingbirds look for horizontal branches in trees or shrubs about 6-20 feet off the ground. Common nest sites include oak, eucalyptus, sycamore, sturdy shrubs and sometimes vines. If possible, they will try and build near a source of nectar. Cattail, willow, thistle or even small feathers are used for the soft cup, bound together by spider silk or insect cocoons and covered with lichen and moss. Sometimes small chips of paint have been observed on the outside of the nest. Nest building lasts for about a week. Sometimes they will only build the base of the nest before laying the eggs, then continue to build up the nest while incubating the eggs.

4. Black-chinned Hummingbird

Nest Size: 
Eggs per Clutch: 2
Number of Clutches per Year: 1-3

Observed nests have been between 6 to 12 feet off the ground, however researches aren’t sure if higher nests also exist but are just harder to locate. Nests are often seen on small, horizontal dead branches that are exposed below the canopy. Soft plant fiber, spider silk and cocoon fibers are used, and the walls of the nest are made thicker for cooler environment and thinner in warmer areas. As the babies grow larger, the nest can stretch around them to become a more shallow, wider cup.

5. Allen’s Hummingbird

Nest Size: 1.25 interior diameter
Number of Clutches per Year: 1-3

Allen’s choose a nest site generally 2-50 feet above the ground and like to build near shaded streams. Some common nest sites include Douglas fir, blackberry bushes, cypress trees and eucalyptus trees. It takes the Allen’s female about 7-13 days to construct her nest. For soft plant material, they often choose fibers from willows and sunflowers. Often the Allens hummingbird will build a new nest right on top of an old one, or steal material from old nests when building their new one.

Allen’s hummingbird sitting on her nest | image by Mike’s Birds via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

6. Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Nest Size: 2 inches wide, 0.8 inch inner diameter that can stretch as babies grow
Eggs per Clutch: 2

Since the broad-tailed hummingbird likes to live in mountainous areas, they choose a more sheltered spot for their nest that gets a little insulation from the cold nights. This is often an evergreen tree, aspen tree, willow or alder thicket about 1-5 feet off the ground. Nests are built under an overhanging branch that will help keep it warmer. Spiderwebs and gossamer (fine silk material used in web-making) make up the nest cup, while lichen, moss and bark are used on the exterior. Nest building takes about 4-5 days, and the female may continue to add to the nest while during incubation. Broad-tailed hummingbirds will sometimes reuse old nests, or build on top of them.

7. Costa’s Hummingbird

Nest Size: 1.25 inches wide, 1 inch deep
Number of Clutches per Year: 1-1

Costa’s are often thought of as the “desert hummingbird” of the U.S. southwest. They build their nests in ironwood, acacia, palo verde, cholla and shrubs about 3-7 feet above the ground without much cover. Common nest materials used by Costa’s are downy parts from sunflowers, strips of bark, small leaves and lichen. While Costa’s use spiderweb to hold their nest together like other hummingbirds, their nests tend to be a bit flimsier. They may build on top of an old nest. 

8. Broad-billed Hummingbird

Nest Size: 1 inch tall, 0.75 inch interior diameter
Eggs per Clutch: 2-3

Broad-billed hummingbirds build their nests rather low, about 3-5 feet off the ground on the branch of a tree or shrub. They like to choose a location near rocky outcrops or streams. Their nests may look a bit more like a clump of vegetation than the more cleanly constructed nests of other species. Nest materials consist of grasses, leaves, plant down, bark strips and spiderwebs. Their nests have even been known to be found on clotheslines!

Broad-billed Hummingbird on nest | image by Alan Schmierer via Flickr

9. Calliope Hummingbird

Nest Size: 1.5 – 1.8 inches wide, about 1 inch high
Number of Clutches per Year: 1-2

The calliope hummingbird builds their nest at varying heights of 6 – 39 feet off the ground. Evergreen trees such as Douglas fir, western red cedar and lodgepole pine are used, and the nest is build under an overhanging branch that can help to protect from cold and precipitation. Often the calliope will build the nest on the notch where a pinecone used to be, camouflaging the nest to appear like a pinecone. The well insulated cup is made from downy plant fibers with an exterior of lichen, moss and bark pieces. Old nests from previous years may be reused or built on top of. 

10. Rivoli’s Hummingbird

Nest Size: 2.2 inches across, 1.7 inches deep
Eggs per Clutch: 2

Rivoli’s like to choose a nest site located on a horizontal branch overhanging a stream, about 20 feet or higher from the ground. Nests can be found at a variety of heights, even recorded as high up as 89 feet, the highest of all North American hummingbirds. The nest location is usually closer to the end of the branch than the trunk of the tree. Leaves, feathers and moss are used to construct the nest, and lichen is attached to the outside with spiderweb. 

11. Lucifer Hummingbird

Nest Size: 1.8 inches across, 2.2 inches tall
Eggs per Clutch: 2
Number of Clutches per Year: 1-2

A desert hummingbird where it’s found in the U.S., Lucifer females build their nests 2-10 feet off the ground on ocotillo, cholla and lechuguilla plants found along steep rocky slopes. Nests are made of plant fibers like oak catkins, dried grass, flower down and lichen. Sometimes material is stollen from other Lucifer nests, and nests can be built on top of a previous years nest. 

12. Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Nest Size: 1.5 inches wide, 1.6 inches tall

These gulf-coast hummers build their nests in the fork of small trees and shrubs about 3 to 23 feet above the ground. Like other hummingbirds, soft plant materials are used for the inner cup while bark and lichen attached to the exterior with spiderweb. 

About Melanie

Melanie has been a birding hobbyist for years and loves feeding and photographing birds of all types.