Q. For the past three years, I have had an Anna’s hummingbird build a nest in an olive tree outside a front window. It has been heartbreaking to see her lack of success in raising her chicks to adulthood. Year one, she built her nest, but it was immediately torn apart by what appear to be lesser goldfinches. I watched them descend on the nest, and one finch did the dismantling while the other one cheered him on.

Do finches normally destroy hummingbird nests? Is it a territory thing, or are they simply stealing nest materials for their own nests? Do you think that the finches are injuring chicks when they are pecking at the nests to destroy them?

A: That hummingbird mother really has had a run of bad luck, but it’s not uncommon, sadly. Studies have put the mortality rate for baby hummers at up to 59 percent.

There are several reasons for this. A sudden cold spell or storm kills some of the newly hatched chicks. Poor nutrition gets others, and predation from larger birds, squirrels and even frogs and insects account for deaths among all hummingbirds, babies and adults.

I don’t believe the finches can be blamed with killing or injuring the chicks. They aren’t known to prey on other birds and are primarily herbivores, eating a wide variety of seeds, grasses and fruits. Bigger birds — hawks, owls, crows, scrub-jays, orioles, gulls, herons, grackles and roadrunners — are the main avian threats to hummingbirds. The finches will, however, raid other birds’ nests in search of building materials.

Finches tend to go after old or unused nests, but nests under construction are considered fair game.

I can’t say what’s gone wrong in past years, but the mom might not have been able to find enough food for the babies, leading to their demise. The infant formula for hummers is complex, but it consists mostly of insects, not nectar. You and your neighbors can help support the hummingbirds by getting rid of or greatly reducing the amount of pesticides being used. You might also want to put out nesting materials for the finches so they’ll be less likely to raid the hummer’s nest.

While it seems the mother should find a better location for her nest, we have to trust nature. Despite the lack of success in rearing offspring, Mama Hummer still considers your olive tree a viable location. If she didn’t, she would build elsewhere.


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