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Kansas couple gets rare chance to see hummingbird nesting [The Wichita Eagle :: BC-OTD-NESTING-HUMMINGBIRD:WI]

WICHITA, Kan. - For 3 1/2 weeks, Garry and Pat Porter have hosted an uninvited house guest, one that seldom leaves and who recently showed up with her two kids, too.

But the guest, a thumb-sized ruby-throated hummingbird named, well, Ruby, has been the highlight of the summer at their home in east Wichita. The tiny bird that's maybe 3.5 inches from the tip of her tail feathers to the end of her long beak has continually impressed the Porters with determination, engineering skills and nest site selection.

Ruby built her nest atop some wind chimes beneath the eaves of their house, a few feet from several windows.

"It's all just been so fascinating, that we've gotten to watch it all from the beginning," Pat Porter said. "You wouldn't think on top of a set of wind chimes would be a place where a bird would want to nest, but now I realize it was all pretty smart on Ruby's part to nest there."

Porter said she and her husband came home from a trip to a lake on June 11 and noticed a hummingbird flying around their patio. That's not uncommon since the Porters, self-confessed "bird people," keep a hummingbird feeder filled most of the spring and summer.

But they noticed there was something different about the bird they saw that evening.

"She just kept coming back and forth to the patio, and we noticed she was carrying stuff. I told Garry I thought she was building a nest, and he agreed," Porter said. "She really worked hard on it. It was so much fun to watch how good she was at building it."

Porter said the bird was meticulous in her nest-building task, bringing materials and then packing them in place with her long bill. Several times the bird sat on the nest and squirmed around a bit, as if she were trying to make sure everything was completely comfortable for a three-week incubation period.

Several online sources say the tiny nests usually are made out of small scraps of plant material, and the birds often use spider webs to help hold the nest together. The outside of a nest is usually packed with lichen, a moss-like material found growing on the sides of trees. It's unsure whether the lichen is added for strength or camouflage, but Ruby's nest is covered in lichen.

Ruby worked about four days on the nest, which is smaller than a shot glass. On June 15, she settled over two eggs the size of jelly beans, and the incubation process began.

The Porters knew they were in for a special treat. Neither had ever seen a hummingbird nest. Nick Clausen of the Backyard Nature Center said he and his wife, Cathy, feed and see a lot of hummingbirds around their house near Valley Center, but they've never seen a nest nearby.

Bob Gress, retired director of the Great Plains Nature Center, said Wichita is near the western edge of the nesting range of ruby-throated hummingbirds. Several nests have been found by birders at Oak Park in Riverside. Nests, and ruby-throated hummingbirds, become far more common in eastern Kansas.

Like the nest-building, Ruby was on her own once the incubation process began. Male ruby-throated hummingbirds are pretty much dead-beat dads.

The Porters said Ruby spent most of the day and night atop the nest for the past three weeks, leaving to grab some sugar water at a feeder about 20 feet away. Most times she'd fly away when someone came from the house but was never gone for more than a minute or two.

"She just seems so trusting of us," Porter said. "We could have a bunch of people out on the patio, and she'd hang right in there. It was clear she feels safe where she's at."

As the days passed, the Porters realized the wisdom of Ruby's nesting spot atop the chimes.

"We had a couple of pretty big storms, with like an inch or an inch-and-a-half of rain and some really strong winds," Porter said. "If she'd have been in a tree, that might have made things pretty tough. But where she was, she was protected from the rain and most of the wind. We had enough wind to get the wind chimes moving, but everything seemed to be about perfect for her. She was also out of the way of predators. We figure she was just a really smart little bird."

Last Monday, again after a weekend at Oklahoma's Grand Lake, the Porters noticed Ruby was staying away from the nest more and more and appeared to be feeding unseen chicks from time to time.

Online sources say the little hummingbirds began life small enough to easily fit on a dime and are born with a short bill. About every two days, the little birds double in size.

By three weeks, they'll be ready to fly away with Ruby and leave the nest forever. They may stay in the area for up to two months but will eventually begin a southward migration that may take them on a nonstop flight over the Gulf of Mexico and to wintering grounds in South America.

Before then, the Porters plan on seeing how fast the hummingbird chicks grow and hope to see their first flight.

As well as photos and videos, Pat Porter hopes to keep a memento from the experience.

"I want to save the nest and just hold it in my hand, then keep it around," she said. "(Ruby) was just so meticulous when she made it and had to have everything just so, and then she was such a very good mom through the whole thing. It's all been so much fun."

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