The smallest birds in the world produce tiny hatchlings so delicate it’s difficult to imagine how baby hummingbirds survive to become the dazzling, zipping flyers everyone loves.
Hummingbird Gestation / Birthing Cycle
Two white eggs about the size of small jelly beans are incubated in a nest the diameter a penny. The mother bird carefully selects the site. Building near a stream can assist in cooling. Choosing a space beneath thick leaves protects her family from rain. She attaches the materials tightly to withstand heavy winds. The nest is camouflaged with lichens and dry leaves so it appears to be a bump on a tree limb.
Although she lays her two eggs per brood on different days, she doesn’t begin to incubate the eggs until both are in the nest. That way, they tend to hatch the same day. As the tiny birds develop inside the shells, mama bird is constantly busy, rolling the eggs beneath her to keep them turned and viable. Strong neck muscles and a hook on their beaks help the babies peck through the shell to freedom.
Once the naked babies arrive, mama bird removes the shells from the nest and sits on the hatchlings to keep them a toasty 96 degrees. At about nine days old, they can regulate their own heat.
Facts About Baby Hummingbirds
– They incubate for 16-18 days depending on the species and weather.
– Baby hummingbirds weigh about the same as one-third of an American dime.
– They hatch naked except for a few straw-yellow hairs on their dark bodies.
– Their beaks are short and yellow.
– Their eyes are closed.
– Baby hummingbirds are hatched potty trained and release waste over the edge of their nest.
– They build up strength in their wings and tiny, short legs by gripping the nest with their feet and flapping wildly. (Never attempt to pull a baby from the nest as they attach themselves so firmly you can pull their legs off.)
– Their naked skin becomes covered with a layer of fluffy pin feathers, then their regular feathers that appear in dulled colors to protect them from predators.
Bringing Up Baby
Because baby hummingbirds can not regulate their own body heat, their mother sits on the nest whenever she is not out gathering food. She eats pollen, nectar and small bugs, then regurgitates a thick liquid. Young birds feel the fan of their mother’s wings and open their beaks. Mama bird inserts her long slender bill deep into the crop/neck of each baby and releases the meal. To survive, baby hummers must eat about every 20 minutes from sun-up to sun-down. A baby that doesn’t eat for 4 hours can die of starvation.
The babies are fed for about three weeks, as they practice flapping to strengthen their wing muscles. Once the babies can fly, the mother teaches them to eat. She takes them to flowers and feeders and demonstrates.
Bird watchers say she allows the young to eat first before feeding herself. For two or three days, mama assists the babies and will still feed them. Eventually, though, she runs them off and they are on their own.
Many species live in temperate parts of the United States and Canada that will allow time to raise two clutches a summer. That keeps mama busy feeding, sitting babies and building a second nest all at the same time.
How To Care For Baby Hummingbirds If Abandoned By The Mother
Pre-fledgling bird babies of most species are often on the ground. Unless one is in imminent danger from a predator or storm, leave it alone. Mama is probably watching and keeping it safe.
If you do find a baby hummingbird out of the nest and mama isn’t around, look for a nest and attempt to return it. Hummers don’t have a sense of smell and will not reject a baby because it has a human odor. If you have returned a baby to a nest, watch for its mother to return. A mother bird won’t leave her babies for hours, so after two hours and no sight of mama, call someone for help.
Baby hummingbirds are so tiny and fragile that most human beings are not capable of tending one. At night or in a storm, bring the baby inside. Place it in a plastic tub or shoe box (never a metal cage) lined with tissue or smooth paper. Cloth can catch in claws and on feathers.
If found late in the day, you can keep a baby overnight without harm as they don’t eat at night. Keep it warm but not too hot as either extreme can be deadly. You can provide warmth with a heating pad, turned on low and covered with a thick layer of toweling. Place it under or on top of HALF the container. The baby should be able to move into or away from the heat as it needs.
Most state laws prohibit individuals from keeping wildlife. There are licensed, highly trained individuals known as wildlife rehabbers who will accept rescued baby birds of all species. It is smart for animal lovers to locate one before an emergency and have a rehabber on speed dial. Saving critical minutes might save a life.
Some rehabbers are on Facebook. Others can be found by calling government agencies that deal with animals: animal control facilities, humane societies, sheriff’s departments, zoos, parks and recreation departments, Wildlife Resource Agencies, and various rescue organizations listed online. Because a baby hummingbird can starve so quickly and because you can kill one by attempting to feed it, it is urgent you work quickly to get the baby to a trained expert.
Fortunately, most baby hummingbirds go through the cycle from egg to flyer without mishap and migrate south with thousands of their relatives.