Nesting of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird: Trochilus Colubris

Nesting of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird: Trochilus Colubris  (1889) 
by Joseph Warren Jacobs


Trochilus Colubris.


The little Ruby-throat is found, during the warm summer months, throughout Eastern United States and some parts of Canada. In south-western Pennsylvania they arrive about the first of May, and before the close of the month nest-building begins.

Many times have I wandered through wood and grove in quest of the downy, little nest, containing the two tiny white treasures. My first successful search was on the 29th of May, 1887. It was Sunday—everything was still—and the heat of the morning sun had not yet sipped up the large drops of dew, which would occasionally drop from the tree-tops and spatter on our hands or shoulders. As we sauntered along, a Woodpecker started from his home in a "stub" and galloped away through the thicket; a frightened ground squirrel sought concealment behind a rock; a Red-tail slowly winged his way over the woods, and a rabbit bounded away through the weeds and disappeared over a little knoll.

Presently the familiar hum of T. colubris brought us to a halt. After considerable search we were at last pleased to discover the old birds building a nest upon a small dead branch of a large maple. For some time we watched the old birds bringing bits of white substance, which they gathered from the under side of the leaves of a sycamore tree that stood near.

After "spotting" this tree we continued on, finding nests of other species of more or less value. Just as we emerged from a small open grove I saw a Wood Thrush (Turdus mustelinus) fly from her nest in a large maple. As I was climbing up to collect the eggs, I chanced to flush a Ruby-throat from her nest on the opposite side of the tree. Looking over, I saw the two pearly-white beauties which had been the object of my search for many a day.

On a neighboring twig, and not eight inches from this nest was an old last years one. The eggs were quite fresh and have not the gloss that most white eggs have. The nest was composed of downy substance, yellowish-gray in color, covered on the outside with small pieces of lichen, which were held in place by a silky substance not unlike the spider's nest. Knowing by good authority that the birds would build a second nest in the same locality, I thought of calling again in a few days. So, accordingly, on June 8th, I returned. A careful search of the tree did not reveal any nest, but far out on the end of a large branch of the next tree was the object of my hunt. On the same branch, and not five feet from the Ruby-throat's nest, upon which the old bird was sitting, a pair of Acadian Flycatchers (E. acadicus) were very busy building a nest.

The nest of T. colubris, which is in my collection, is placed on a slanting twig, and is made of the same material as the first one taken from these birds. Notwithstanding the birds had twice been deprived of their nest and eggs, they determined to rear a brood in this locality, for in ten days they had the third nest built. This time I did not disturb them, but let them hatch their eggs and rear their young in peace.

Visiting this place again on the eighth of June, '88, I found their nest in a maple in the immediate vicinity. Of a score or more nests collected by me, this is the most beautiful, being fastened to the side of the small twig, and from the ground looked very much like a moss-covered basket. The embryo was so large that the eggs were almost ruined in blowing.

As all, who have had experience with the nesting of the Hummer, know, it is a difficult task to reach the nest when it is placed far out on the extremity of a large branch. I will endeavor to explain my method of collecting these and other nests similarly placed. I have, for such occasions, two pieces of very stout twine, with a hook attached to one end of each piece. I toss out the hooks in such a manner that they catch the limb about two-thirds of the distance to the nest. Then I tie the other ends of the strings to a branch farther up the tree.

By so doing the limb will not droop or fall while being cut off and drawn in. However, it must be done with much care, as some branches are heavier on one side. These must be gripped tightly with the hand in order to prevent the heavy side from sagging or rolling over and emptying the nest.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.