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Minus 2: Building for the Future

This nest isn't much bigger than a coin, but it took the hummingbird about 5 or 6 days to build it. She started by building a base of down on the branch, stamping it flat with her feet to make the bottom very stiff and secure. Then she laced the downy plant material, bud scales, and lichens with spider silk using a figure-8 motion of her bill. A hummingbird sometimes uses a bit of sticky pine resin to hold nest materials together. She formed the lip of the nest by pressing the nest material between her bill, chin, and chest as she rotated her body.

Q. Hummingbirds build their nests out of lichens, bud scales, thistle and dandelion down, and spider silk. How many reasons can you list as to why these materials are perfect for hummer nests? (Answer below photo.)

A. Lichens are good hummer nesting materials because they are tiny, strong for their weight, easy for a tiny hummingbird to manipulate, and waterproof. Because they provide good camouflage against branches, lichens are used mostly on the outside of the nest.

Thistle and dandelion down are soft, waterproof, good insulation, and easy for hummers to manipulate. Dandelion down is easy for a hummer to find just about anywhere! This material is too white to use on the outside of the nest, but it's perfect on the inside where it is soft against the baby hummers' fragile bare skin.

Spider silk is a good hummer nesting material because it is easy to find, very strong, sticky enough to hold lichens and down together, waterproof, good camouflage, easy for a hummer to manipulate with its tiny beak, and--best of all--it's the stretchiest material available. The stretchiness allows the nest to grow with the babies.

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