Ketzel's Garden

Hummingbirds: Name That Syndrome

I've refrained from mentioning my little "rats with wings" (yes, that's what an NPR colleague calls them, and with good reason, she says) until all the emotion died down. Not your enthusiasm, no, nor your pleas that I get back to plants (which I did), but my own sadness since the morning I woke up and found a syndrome in the place of nesting birds.

The good news is that I got to watch each of my two little tidbits flitter around the nest once they'd fledged, under the strict supervision of Mama. To witness such intimacy, so much flapping to get from branch to nearby branch ...

And the way Mama remained within inches of their every move once beyond the nest! I even got to see her feed them while she hovered mid-air, though in truth her maneuver reminded me of a far less romantic aerial refueling.

fledgling tests wings in nest

Here's one of the last shots I got before big boy here — always the more active of the two — left the nest for good. By next morning, he/she was flying solo, under Mama's constant watch. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

One of the sweetest things I witnessed was when the little guy left behind was rejoined by her/his nestmate after a long, cold day alone (how I suffered for her!). The next day, the proverbial nest was empty, and has remained so. But to my great joy, the family remains in my garden playing hide, seek and eat while enjoying the shelter of my dense Pittosporum 'Tall'n'Tough' as its primary habitat.

head on shot of a hummer

I'm guessing this was fledgling #1 because he/she always seemed to have more personality: more curious, always busy and ever-grooming. I suspect he/she is looking forward to the end of my fascination; posing is such hard work. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

Though I am reluctant to call too much attention to "what the birds have taught me", I have had quite a few more wake-up calls re:turning fantasy and projection into fact. Shortly after baby #2 fledged, I couldn't find any of the birds. Nowhere. Not one. And earlier that same day I'd heard a scream, like a baby but not quite. So I immediately concluded the entire family had been massacred by a murder of crows.


Also, as you might remember, I was all in a flutter that one of the three original babies was dead. Another fearful projection made real. See for yourself, and blame me not! I am, alas, morbidly human.

two hungry mouths

What I first thought were three mouths are in fact only two. The bird on the right has its beak wide, wide open, while on the left, you can only see the upper beak. So much for my powers of observation but wow, what a learning curve. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

Thanks to all of you who have encouraged me to hang with the hummers. I am late to the birding party, but I get it. I get it.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I love my little hummies, although I've never been as fortunate as you to have a nest so close. I have to wait until everyone's out and vying for a position on the feeder. Remember to plant for the little birds to ensure their return.

Sent by Julie Fazlollah | 1:39 PM | 4-11-2008

Thank you for the article. I am in the Chicago suburbs and am anxiously awaiting the arrival of "my" hummingbirds any day. I too wish I had a nest nearby. I think it is in one of my pines trees. You are very lucky. They are just a joy to watch! I had 4 in my yard late last summer!

Sent by sed81650 | 2:45 PM | 4-11-2008

Nice photos. It was a special year in my yard also. We have an eight-foot tall Madagascar Palm which was made home to two nests of hummers this year. The last two babies just left this week. Over the years they have used our yard many times and we couldn't be happier. Looking towards next year...

Sent by Darryl Saunders | 2:54 PM | 4-11-2008

Thank you, Ketzel --- what a wonderful story (and great photos too)!

Sent by John | 5:05 PM | 4-11-2008

how prescious are they !!! .....mother nature is amazing isnt she... =)thanx for a wonderful story to read during my friday afternoon lunch ....

Sent by docm2b | 5:36 PM | 4-11-2008

Here in Southeast Michigan, we have not yet the pleasure of the return of "our" hummingbirds. But soon, very soon, we'll see them outside our kitchen window, peering inside, wordlessly saying "Where's the food?!" Then we'll know it's time to hang up the feeder at that window and enjoy another season of their amazing antics.

Sent by Pat Convery | 6:24 PM | 4-11-2008

I loved your story! I'm in AZ and have had as many as 10 or 11 hummers in my back yard at one time.

Sent by Scott Baugh | 7:58 PM | 4-11-2008

We are so lucky here in Arizona. The hummers come here and stay a month and move north to the follow the spring then return again on their way south. Our joy was that last year one set stayed for the summer in our Yellow Bells bush. Hope we're as lucky this year.

Sent by Don Baird | 9:52 PM | 4-11-2008

Now that you've experienced the wonder of mother baby nesting birds, I encourage you to volunteer at a local wildlife center. They need all the loving help they can get! DF

Sent by DF | 1:43 AM | 4-12-2008

Great story. I have about 50 hummers that visit my 5 feeders every summer. I go through about 200 pounds of sugar. I have never been able to find a nest. You are lucky.

Sent by Eleanor Mosser | 1:58 AM | 4-12-2008

Thank you so much for your photographs & videos. I've frequently found hummingbird nests with eggs and with young and always wondered how they managed to get their long beaks into the tiny eggs. Now I see - they start out like other birds beaks!
The nests get loose & swollen in the rain after the birds leave, so I doubt they are reused, tho' a good site probably is.

Sent by Patsy le Vann | 2:19 AM | 4-12-2008

Good story.The first hummer "scout" showed up here in N. New Mexico on 4/9. I heard him outside this morning amid 3" of snow and frosty feeders. Yea for Spring!

Sent by Peter Barlow | 10:59 AM | 4-12-2008

Dear Ketzel,
It is fitting that you finally get birding-given your name and the gardenig thing.To ease some of your anxiety about your offspring surviving:I once watched two female hummingbirds fighting each other for half an hour hour over a very lush lily plant. By the end of it I almost wished for a stronger screen than the flimsy pole beans that I was stuck behind. When those birds hit each other I could clearly hear it, which is the hummer equivalent of Junior Seau hitting Eli Manning.If only. I'm glad you found birding.

Sent by Steven Valleau | 11:07 AM | 4-12-2008

This si so lovely, Ketzel.The first time I heard the wing-beat of hummingbird, I was in Virginia, dozing on the patio with a book. I thought, "Uh-oh,I'm about to get zapped by the biggest bee in the universe." I opened my eyes to see a little emerald jewel of nature drinking from the lipstick pink petunias hanging in a basket above my head.Saw a mutitude at Hummingbird Hill in Jamaica, a few in NM last year, another in Los Angeles a few months ago and most recently,there was one flitting around on one of my weekly paddles amidst the alligators in Florida. I don't consider myself, a birder, but my travel diaries seem to be punctuated by hummingbirds.

Sent by Beth Surdut | 11:41 AM | 4-12-2008

I get to fed several varieties of hummers year round in San Diego, Ca. but I have never found a nest. What kind of trees do they like and how high do they nest?

Sent by mj Omens | 7:13 PM | 4-12-2008

I too was lucky enough one spring to have a mama hummer choose my little ficus tree in my patio in Glendale, CA in which to build a baseball-sized nest.

The whole process, the minuteness of the eggs and the developing life was simply overwhelming... much to the chagrin of my cat Max who I banished from the patio during that period.

Next came a mama dove that nested inside my hanging ivy pot.

PS: you take great photos as well...

Sent by Ara Gregorian | 7:41 PM | 4-12-2008

when I was 10 one summer in Glendale, my grandfather rescued a hummer from a cat in a bush; a wing was damaged. We kept it for a couple of weeks, feeding it from an eyedropper and I would walk it from my finger, using a thread as a leash. One day, I decided it was tame enough and I didn't need the leash; it had other ideas and flew off into an apricot tree. I still treasure the memory. Now enjoy the hummers who visit the feeder outside my window in VA

Sent by Terry | 10:44 PM | 4-12-2008

Yes, hummers are magical. Years ago, a hummer made her nest right outside my kitchen window. Her net was like the bowl of a corn cob pipe, and her eggs were like white jelly beans. Unfortunately, a gardener did away with this family, but I am still an avid observer of these birds.

Sent by Sarah Wersan | 10:57 PM | 4-12-2008

I noticed that there are little bits of lichen on your hummingbird's nest. I noticed the same thing in Trinidad, half-a-century ago. Lots of hummers, there. ??lso in Oakland, hummers seem to find lichen, somewhere. Decoration, do you suppose? I can't think of any other reason.

Sent by Jim Haughian | 1:25 AM | 4-13-2008

Our front porch is hosting a Mommy Hummingbird who has build her nest squarely and securely on top of our Hummingbird wind chime that hangs right next to another Hummingbird chime. She must know we live on Hummingbird Drive. Her chicks have hatched and one is already trying out his wings. We've moved the Hummingbird feeder next to her nest, to give her the extra energy she needs. There is still so much beauty in our world to treasure and marvel at.

Sent by Helene Joseph Weil | 3:24 AM | 4-13-2008

Dear Ketzel,
I think we all know that it's pigeons who are rats with wings, right? I envy you. Living in Tucson, AZ, one of the hummingbird hotspots, we see and feed many of them, but I've yet to have a next in my garden (to my knowledge). Maybe this year. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

Sent by Glorya Anderson | 2:18 PM | 4-13-2008

for the last seven years I have been feading the majestic little pilots
in the middle of L A what a treat
they even come in the apt. tp inspect my
8x10s of the flowers I photograph .
good things in little packages....

Sent by j.mack. | 5:16 PM | 4-13-2008

Dear Ketzel: We have enjoyed your thoughts and observations on your garden and yard. We live in a part of Alaska without Hummers but have just returned from Chile where Kathy was buzzed and flashed within a fraction of an inch by a Green-backed Firecrown. Evidently a hungry Firecrown because Kathy was wearing a delicious pink rain coat. Thanks for the down-to-earth commentary.

Sent by WILLIAM MAILER | 8:57 PM | 4-13-2008

The response you've gotten on the hummingbird topic has been incredible! I think you should have a bird section in your plant blog, as the lives of plants and birds are so intertwined.

Sent by Conn | 1:49 AM | 4-14-2008

Beautiful photos. I was lucky enough to watch a hummingbird fledge outside my office window one day (years ago). It took such a long time and I wondered what happened to him afterward - the mother left also. I was perhaps less than productive that day. As an aside, I got to watch a perigrine falcon dine on the ledge outside a window at the office in Corpus Christi. Also very cool.

Sent by Carol C | 12:31 PM | 4-14-2008

Ketzel, I just sent your hummingbird article to everyone in my address list. Thank you for an inspiring (and beautiful) essay. I just noticed your picture with a that a German Wirehair? We have one and they are so special.

Sent by Linda Sandstrom | 1:31 PM | 4-14-2008

Wonderful story and photos. Last night our local weatherman predicted a late Spring frost and recommended covering sensitive plants. We have a beautiful quince which was in full and magnificant bloom, so my wife and I wrapped a large piece of plastic sheeting and a couple of bed sheets over it yesterday evening. This morning my wife went out to remove the protective covering and discovered a female ruby-throated hummer inside the 8 foot tall temporary plastic 'tent' feeding on the quince flower nectar! It's time to get the hummingbird feeders out.

Sent by Andy McCord | 1:52 PM | 4-14-2008

Ketzel, Oh how I can relate to your hummer experience. When I moved into my new house there was a hummer nest in a hedge just outside the master bath window. You could stand in the bath tub and have a clear view of the nest. Needless to say many of my friends and I spent a lot of time standing in the tub watching the saga unfold until #2 fledged. Then they were gone. I continue to have hummers here in my West Sacramento garden and at the feeder but I have never found another nest in the yard. Great pictures and thanks for sharing your experience with all of us.

Sent by Ann Burris | 2:21 PM | 4-14-2008

Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience and photos!
I too, am not an ornothologist, but have been recently blessed with 4 baby song sparrows. The parents chose to nest right outside our patio door. My husband and I have watched the process from nest building to (now) feeding the ever hungry lot. I look forward to arriving home to see the new developments after work.

Sent by Jennifer Jenkins | 3:47 PM | 4-14-2008

We too have been blessed with the magic of little hummers. We live in the low desert 20 miles West of Pheonix and each year we have baby hummers nest in our trees and visit us up close. When it's really hot outside, we turn on the misters for evaporative cooling and the hummers come under the canopy of our porch for some respite from the heat. Early in the year, they can be very approachable, and if we're very slow and careful, we can inch our way near them with an outstretched finger while they're resting on a aloe. If we approach them slowly enough without frightening them off, sometimes, not often, but just sometimes, they will alight on one of our outstretched fingers for a few seconds. I can't begin to tell you how magical a moment like that is, but I can tell you that when I die, I can say I was blessed by a miracle of nature landing on my finger.

Sent by Tom G | 4:43 PM | 4-14-2008

I know, it's hard not to get sucked into the birds - and hummingbirds are extraordinarily cute! I also wanted to let you know that the first ever NYC Wildflower Week is now underway! Please check out our website: and let me know what you think!!

Your foliar friend, Drosera-X

Sent by Marielle Anzelone | 3:28 AM | 5-4-2008

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from