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A real humdinger: Local birdwatcher finds elusive hummingbird nest
ruby throated hummer
The female ruby-throat hummingbird feeds her eager chick a slurry of insects, pollen and nectar. Newly hatched chicks are born featherless and helpless. photos by Pam Martin
male  hummer
This male hummingbird displays the ruby red throat it’s named for. Hummingbirds, known for their aerial acrobatics, cannot walk or hop, but instead perch or sidle along a branch.

Bird watchers may spend their entire life looking for the Holy Grail of bird nests – a hummingbird nest – and come up empty. For Great Bend resident Carol Schremmer, that search was been realized and as a bonus, the nest is a record for Barton County. 

Through patient observation, Schremmer spotted a ruby-throat hummingbird nest about 12 feet up in her sycamore tree.

“I watched her and watched her, and she always went to the same branch of the tree after drinking at the feeder,” Schremmer said. “Then she would disappear, and that’s when I saw the nest!”

By “her,” Schremmer referred to the female hummingbird that drank regularly at the feeder filled with sugar water located in front of her house. Females are predominately emerald green, while males sport a bright red throat patch.

“Given the size and secrecy of hummingbirds, it’s very difficult to find a nest,” said Mike Rader, expert bird watcher and Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks Wildlife Education Supervisor. 

Female hummingbirds, which are 3.5-inches tall and weigh less than a quarter of an ounce, collect spider web and small plant parts to form a cup-shaped nest about the width of a quarter, located 10-40 feet high in trees. She lines the nest with seed floss, such as dandelion, and adds bits of lichens to the outside for camouflage, making it extremely hard to locate. 

The male does not contribute to rearing of the young.

Fortunately for Schremmer, the nest was only about 12 feet up in the tree and directly across from the feeder. 

“I was so excited when I found it,” said Schremmer, who has been feeding hummingbirds for over 10 years.

She was even more excited to find it was a nest record and has been recorded by the Kansas Ornithological Society.

They’ve probably been nesting in Barton County, Rader said, but they just haven’t been found and documented up until now. Ruby-throats are not uncommon further west during migration, he said, but they don’t seem to nest further west of Barton County, other than one nest record documented for Rooks County. 

Schremmer found the nest May 25 and has been diligently watching the proceedings and researching information on their nesting. Ruby-throats usually lay 2 white eggs about the size of a pea or a tic tac breath mint. She noticed the female had changed her behavior June 4, leaving the nest and zipping back several times. On June 5, the hatching of a chick was confirmed when the female was observed feeding it. 

Looking like a little green dart, the female zips from leaf to leaf collecting small insects, which along with pollen and nectar, she regurgitates and places in the chick’s stomach. After hatching, the chick’s bill is short, growing to the nearly inch-long bill of an adult by the time it fledges.

As of Wednesday, June 12, the chick had pin feathers, making it about 8 days old, and could be seen stretching above the top of the nest, which has flattened out from use and wet weather. It takes about three weeks for the chick to fledge and leave the nest. 

Schremmer, who’s moving soon, intends to watch the chick’s growth as long as possible. A wonderful experience for someone who has provided habitat for the little birds for many years.

By Pam Martin, a retired KDWP education specialist.