June 10, 2020
Tiny hummingbird builds her lichen-covered nest in a live oak tree


by Mary Reid Barrow

The tiny ruby-throated hummingbird nest, all camouflaged in lichen, sits on the limb of a mighty live oak tree down at the oceanfront.

It’s as if the live oak  simply shared the lichen on its limbs and grew a nest on a twig to accommodate the mama bird!

Had the tree canopy not  been right off the second floor deck in the house where my friends live, the minute nest would never have been discovered.   It would have stayed a secret along with the majority of hummingbird nests out there.

My friend knew something was going on when she started seeing  the hummingbird flying busily in and out and of the tree, day in and day out.  Then one morning,  she spied the nest the little bird must have been working so hard on.

Dead-beat dad hummers, the ones with the dashing ruby-red throats,  don’t participate in nest building or child rearing.  Instead they gad about  checking out the various neighborhood nectar bars, while mom is  chief construction engineer and baby nurse.

And it is said that mama hummer with her plain white throat can take up to a week to build her perfect nest.  No bigger than a golf ball, the little home is shaped like a thimble or perhaps like a demitasse cup, one especially created to hold only a sip of coffee.

With lichen as the exterior, the nest’s interior looks like it’s built and lined with plant fiber and spiderweb silk.  I read that the sticky silk helps hold everything together and that spiderweb silk also has a little elasticity  that helps the nest stretch as the babies grow:


This nest is built under the live oak canopy that helps protect it from the rain and it’s located on the tree’s west side away from the northeast winds that may rage down here.

I visited one day and saw the nest and one tiny egg, so small that if you saw it out of context, you would never think it was an egg.  The eggs have been described as about the size of a white jelly bean or a navy bean. I wish I could have come up with a more magical, less mundane,  description than that, but I couldn’t.

When I visited, mom was flitting around the tree, very visible,  as she probably gleaned insects from the tree branches for dinner.  I read that she leaves the nest for 10 minutes or so every hour.  Fortunately, my friend’s son visited  soon after and took the wonderful photo the industrious little bird  on her nest.

For my friends, watching this powerful spring story of life in a tree is nothing short of a miracle.

For the hummingbird and her partnership with the live oak and its lichen, it’s the simple story of her life played out year after year.

Do you have a favorite tree, a secret tree grove or neighborhood climbing tree that you love?  Let me know your stories about trees,  the critters who live in them and the insects that dine on them.  Send an email to





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