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Hummingbird House Development

How the Hummingbird House was Developed

A hummingbird house seemed so improbable, that thought never entered my mind, even though I had photographed hummingbirds several years in the US, Canada, and Mexico and authored a major hummingbird book. It took a trip to the Bahamas to film the Bahama Woodstar to open my eyes to the possibility of a hummingbird house.

At a British garden party at a banker's home next to the ocean near Nassau in February of 1997, I finished my hummingbird slide show presentation to about 60 members of the Bahamas National Trust, an organization similar to our Audubon Society. Finger snacks, wine, and schmoozing among the guests followed my speech. One guest, a Paradise Island contractor, asked where he might order hummingbird houses to install on his condominiums. My silent reaction was, "what a bizarre idea". I couldn't imagine a hummingbird entering a birdhouse. Incredulous as it sounded, I also maintain a personal philosophy that nothing is impossible...difficult maybe...but not impossible. Humorously I told the contractor that if he experimented, don't put a roof on anything intended to be a hummer house. The whole idea seemed so unlikely I dismissed it from my conscious mind. My unconscious mind, however, didn't let go so easily. Thirty days later, after I was back home in Clovis, New Mexico, I was getting out of bed one March morning when out of nowhere the design for a hummingbird house flashed through my mind.

Too excited to eat breakfast, I went into my shop and fashioned a "Hummingbird House" prototype out of brass welding rod, a washer I was sure the little hen would nest on, and cardboard. The "house" was really a platform with the washer at its center. The platform was open on all sides under a cardboard roof and aimed a mounting in trees. That prototype would have never "worked", nor did a dozen or so other subsequent designs cranked out and tested in New Mexico, Florida, Arizona, and California throughout the summer. Disappointed that I hadn't quickly discovered a design hummingbirds liked, the project had me hooked. Designing a successful hummingbird house took over the lives of my wife Diane and I..
Back at the drawing board, armed with magnifying glass and calipers, we studied and measured architectural details of forty or fifty real hummingbirds nests. The most common feature the little hens used for nest location was a fork in a branch, a branch averaging 1/4" in diameter. After a lot of measuring, and re-measuring of how the little hens anchored and built their nests we shaped and tested more designs. By August, with no hint of success and the breeding season about to end, we reluctantly became mentally prepared to shelve the project until spring. That August, our last hope for success was to attract a hen that would nest for the third time in one season. The chance of that was extremely slim, especially on the flat prairieland of little Clovis, New Mexico. But with nothing to lose, we forged ahead. And lightening struck.

We had finished welding up prototype Number 15 that was aimed a installing under an eave. We planned to show Number 15 to a lone Black-chinned hen coming to our feeder. As I studied the hot, smoking work, I said out loud, "If I were a mom-to-be hummingbird I think I would like an anchor stub here." Diane suggested that I follow my instincts. I put my welding hood back down, added the stub, and plunged it into cooling water. Diane painted the design "hummingbird gray", and with undaunted enthusiasm we installed our latest prototype under an eave where winds would be minimal. Three days later, the little hen started building her nest on our Hummingbird House. Her nest was centered exactly where the stub had been added. Note: a major element in the Hummingbird House's success is that it be placed out of the wind. In other words, the device must placed more for the hummer's convenience than ours, even though such a location may not be the best for us to watch from our favorite "watching" window. Inside corners are excellent.

That first successful design was based on a "C" shaped spine, with the "C" a perfect half circle. We noticed that the hummingbird stretched her nest from the stub anchor point and the fork in an attempt to attach its edge to the spine's curve, even though that was difficult for her. To make it easier for her to follow her building preference, we reformed the spine's back into the shape of a square "C". From its first offering, hummingbirds have attached their nests to its upturning back of the square "C" spine, as we sensed they would. The added stub, the reshaped spine, and the fork became the heart of our Hummingbird House. Further tweaking of the design has resulted in a nesting platform superior to what a hummer can find in the wild. The Hummingbird House also offers mom-to-be hummers the bonus of getting her little family out of the weather, and at the same time, away from predators. As a result, it is probable that more hummingbird chicks survive in hummer house nests than in nests located out in trees equipped with roaming predators.

Since that first success we have continually added improvements to the Hummingbird House, improvements born from analyzing the way hundreds of hummers have attached their nests to our device. Our most successful test in the addition to our kit of the green "foamie" cut in the shape of a maple leaf. In the wild, little hen hummers almost always select a nest site under the protective umbrella of a large leaf. In 2001 we offered our test site hens 30 Hummingbird Houses with a foamie umbrella "leaf" and 30 with out. Every hen chose sites that had the foamie "leaf". In other words, the umbrella lead was preferred by the hens 100%. That was our most successful test, and worth many high fives. In a subsequent test we doubled the "leafs" size. Overwhelmingly the little birds preferred the larger leaf, which was added to our kit. This spring, 2003, we tested a light green "leaf" against the original dark green. 80% of the hens chose the light green umbrella "leaf". That shade is now packed in our kit.

Eave mounted Hummingbird Houses have allowed observations of nesting hummer habits that would otherwise take years to see in the wild. For example, in early March of 2001, we watched three separate hummer hens inspect our Hummingbird House. Each little bird appeared to "measure" the device against her building ability by pretending to build on the House. In other words, the hens made nest building "dry runs", working their empty beaks around, over, under, and across every element of the house. A couple of the hens went through this process more than once through the course of an hour, as if to be absolutely certain that if she selected the Hummingbird House for her nest site, 1) she had the ability to place building material precisely where she wanted, and probably more importantly, 2) that once placed, her nest would be solidly anchored and secure against wind and gravity. After seeing that, we suspect female hummingbirds with nesting urges go through the same selection process in the wild, flitting from branch to branch or tree to tree until she finds a match for her nest site search image. Watching these three build nests as neighbors was an eye opener into the personality of female hummingbirds.

When one hen hummed away from her construction site to gather building material, one of the other hens would dart over and quickly steal material. After the hen that had stolen material hummed away to get new material on her own, the returning "borrowed from" hen would dart to her neighbors nest and steal material back. With that behavior, it's no wonder that it takes the little birds 4 to 5 days to complete a nest. Occasionally one hen would attack a hen that was busy working on its nest by darting in and whacking the worker on its head with its beak, then dart away. New arrivals on the nesting grounds would sometimes inspect an under-construction-nest whose owner was momentarily away. It struck us that the new arrival may have been either evaluating the semi-finished nest for a possible "takeover", or inspecting the nest to learn building techniques.

If you enjoy watching these little birds in action around a feeder, you'll enjoy watching their nest building antics and subsequent raising of chicks on a Hummingbird House at your house.
HummerDome-8 oz
Description: Constructed of super-tough polycarbonate with sold brass fittings, the HummerDome can stand up to years of abuse, is UV resistant, and can be easily cleaned in your dishwasher. This feeder can be used with any type seed, fruit, bread-crumbs, mealworms, and/or just about every type of nectar available. Attracts birds year round and is easy to fill and clean. Comes with cleaning brush. Polycarbonate dome, built-in ant guard, leak proof, and bee proof. Generous 8 oz capacity.

Hummerfest Hummingbird Feeder-12 oz.
Description: The 12 oz. Hummerfest Hummingbird Feeder is a complete feeder kit designed to complement the backyard of any nature enthusiast. Made of a dishwasher safe, high-impact polycarbonate, the 12 oz. Hummerfest with built-in ant moat. Lifetime Guarantee.
Dimensions: 8-3/4" W x 8" H

Hummerfest Hummingbird Feeder-8 oz.
Description: The 8 oz. Hummerfest Hummingbird Feeder is a complete feeder kit designed to complement the backyard of any nature enthusiast. Made of a dishwasher safe, high-impact polycarbonate, the 8 oz. Hummerfest with built-in ant moat and rain deflectors, also comes with a post cleaning brush and a post mount ant moat. Lifetime Guarantee.
Dimensions: 8-3/4" W x 8" H

Nectar Pot
Description: Comes with 3 interchangable colored knobs to identify which nectar is stored. Heat it, pour it, and store it. 2 liter.

Window-Mount Hummingbird Feeder-16 oz.
Description: Molded from durable poly-carbonate. Includes built-in ant moat, window bracket and feeder. Can be used as a window seed feeder when not dispensing nectar. Comes with a one year warranty.

Hummingbird House

The Hummingbird House* kit includes instructions, plus a small bundle of natural cotton for the mom-to-be hummer to gather material from to use in building her nest. When you observe her taking fluffs of cotton, you know her nest building is in progress.

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