How To Find A Hummingbird Nest in California

When Summer comes back to Northern California, it brings back the heat along with one of my favorite animals – hummingbird! There are more than 300 species of hummingbirds, and the most common one in California is called “Anna’s hummingbird”. It’s a permanent resident along the Pacific Coast.

Hummingbirds are skilled foragers and have great memories. They can remember where food sources are along their migration path. In late Spring, I would take out my hummingbird feeders and fill with nectar (1 cup sugar + 4 cup water) to welcome back these little old friends. Because Spring is full of blooms and provides enough food to hummingbirds, they won’t start drinking from the feeders until the weather suddenly becomes a little hot.

We live in an orchard full of walnut trees, which provide a great environment for birds to nest. I found some nests of black phoebe, sparrow, and robin before, but never thought about looking for a hummingbird nest until this year. People say it’s hard to find it as the nest is too small. But guess what? It’s not hard at all unless you know how. I was able to find five nests this year and have learnt three good tips. With these tips, I think you can easily find a nest too!

Before we jump to these three tips, let’s check two things first to make sure you have a suitable habitat for hummingbirds to nest.

  1. Do you have good flowers and enough feeders to attract hummingbirds? We have Red Hot Poker, Autumn Sage and Amistad Salvia in the yard, and they are great plants to attract hummingbirds. I also have 10 feeders in the yard as extra food sources. Do you need that many? Maybe not. But the more you have, the higher chance they would nest nearby.
  2. Do you have leafy trees and shrubs close to your home? Hummingbirds like nesting 4-25 feet above the ground and 0.5 mile from their food sources. If you have some dwarf trees or shrubs within that distance, it’s easier to look for a nest. If there are only some tall trees, hummingbirds would still build nests, but it will be hard for you to see them. Hummingbirds, however, can nest on anything, like an electric wire or a clothesline sometimes. Is that funny? Just open your eyes and go to explore! 

Once knowing the surroundings, you can start looking for a nest.

Tip 1: Take A Walk Slowly Before Sunset

Hummingbird 4Hummingbirds eat all day long because they have high metabolism, but you can see them eating more frequently in the morning and evening time. About half an hour before sunset, they will have their last meal and prepare to roost in torpor for the night after.

When you see fewer hummingbirds flying around before it’s getting dark, time to go for a walk! What you need to do is just walking slowly and quietly around the trees and shrubs. Because hummingbirds have poor night vision when it’s getting dark, they are unlikely flying away unless you are approaching them closely, like 10-15 feet.

If you suddenly hear a whooshing noise or see a hummingbird flying by, there is a possibility a nest has been built on that tree. To protect their babies, hummingbirds usually nest under thick leaves with moss and bark. It looks like a tree knot in a bowl shape. You can start checking each branch of that tree from inside to outside to find the nest.

Tip 2: Look For Poop

This sounds really weird, does it? Nobody likes poop, but think about those expensive civet poop coffee first. Hmm.. feeling better? At least this is not something food related. 😛

hummingbird nest 3

If you cannot find a nest in the evening time, look for hummingbird poop in day time. Once baby hummingbirds hatch, the mother will start feeding them and dispose of their waste over the side of the nest. If you look closely at the leaves and find a lot of black dots, meaning black poop, you may find the nest already, just nearby the poop. If you don’t see eggs or birds inside the nest, it means the babies are probably gone. The nest can get stretched over time when the babies keep growing, and the shape of the nest turns to oval. Most hummingbirds don’t re-use their nests, so you can use abandoned nests for yard decoration. But before that, just remember to clean off the poop first.

Tip 3:  Look For The Mother Bird

If looking for poop is not quite pleasant for you, there is another way to find hummingbird nest in day time: look for the mother bird.

baby hummingbirdWhen the fledglings start growing, they rarely move inside their nest as a defense against predators, so you would not notice them when passing by. If you find a hummingbird flying around above a tree and keeping making some noises, you would know that is probably the mother bird. She is always around and try to alarm her babies and protect them from danger. Check that tree and you may find a nest with fledglings inside. However, you may not be able to find a nest if eggs are not hatched or the hatchlings are still small. Because the mother bird will fly away before you get close to the nest, and it won’t make any noise either. Once you are far away and the mother bird perceives less risk, it would return to the nest quietly.