A Piece of the Puzzle


Last spring, a Costa's Hummingbird built her nest in a tall bush not ten feet away from my back door. In one sense, she picked the perfect location – my house protected her nest from the howling winds that persisted throughout late winter and spring. I wondered, however, why she chose a location so close to human activity. I worried that back patio dinner gatherings, hanging laundry on the clothesline, or my husband's backyard exercise routine would disturb her.

I checked on our new neighbor every few days, peeking through the tall green branches for a view of her nest. It was amazingly small. Was it possible that a nest that tiny could accommodate a soon-to-be growing family? Time would tell.

As the weeks went on, I saw the empty nest fill with two small eggs. I felt relief every time I spotted the female sitting on her nest, reassured each time that our everyday activity had not scared her off. I then watched as the eggs became hatchlings, hatchlings became nestlings, and nestlings became fledglings. Soon the two siblings could be seen zipping around my backyard and heard calling back and forth.

From what I could tell, the nest's close proximity to our house didn't have a negative effect on the new family of hummingbirds. Which made me wonder if the female built her nest close by because it offered some sort of protection or benefit? As it turns out, someone is studying this very question.

Erin Chin, a grad student at California State University at Fullerton, is conducting research on whether human visitation and distance from anthropogenic structures affects nest success. Erin will be coming to Borrego Springs to present a research poster of her findings at the Sonoran Desert Research Symposium, beginning November 2, 2013. So there's no doubt I will be at the poster session to hear the results of her study and learn more about her hummingbird research.

But Ms. Chin's work is not the only poster I'm excited about. Other topics presented at the poster session will include burrowing owls, butterflies, Sahara Mustard, mosquitoes, a giant land tortoise, lizards, and many more. Each of these topics are tiny pieces of the puzzle that make up our desert ecosystem and I am eager to see how they all fit together.

Photos by Janene Colby