Gardens can provide homeowners with their very own slice of nature right on their doorsteps. But while many people will notice the small critters in their yard, other creatures are so tiny that they’re hard to spot. That’s why scientists have issued a warning telling gardeners to watch out for these particularly tiny eggs.
With spring in the air, people often choose to spend more time outside. Some may soak up the sun at the beach, while others head for the park. However, for some, it’s the perfect time of year to carry out home improvements.
And with the sun in the sky, that means sorting out the yard ready for summer. After all, a winter of neglect would doubtless have left many lawns in desperate need of TLC. So across the country, homeowners will pull on their gardening gloves.
Incidentally, horticulture is big business in the United States. One study, for example, found that of all the homeowners in the country, half will have gardened in the previous year. In 2013 alone, in fact, American households spent some $29.5 billion on their yards.
So as spring arrives in 2020, many people have been heading outdoors to fix up their yards. However, they are being met with words of warning from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). That’s because the organization is worried about the impact gardeners could be having on the country’s native wildlife.
The USFWS was formed in 1940 and is dedicated to the conservation of American wildlife and plants. It also looks after natural habitats where native creatures can be found. The agency’s mission is, “Working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.”
In order to fulfill this mission, the USFWS has a dedicated workforce of 9,000 people. The agency’s administrative base is in Falls Church, Virginia. However, it relies on eight regional offices and almost 700 field offices situated up and down the country to carry out its important work.
However, given that most U.S. wildlife and fish habitats exist on private or non-federal state land, the organization also relies heavily on its work with private groups. Through some of these partnerships, the agency promotes restoration and conservation efforts as voluntary endeavors. Furthermore, it also relies on the support of the public to keep wildlife safe.
With that in mind, the USFWS often uses its social media pages to urge people to assist its conservation efforts. The agency has over 600,000 followers on Facebook alone. As a result, the platform provides a great method of relaying important information to the public, particularly on how they can help maintain habitats and protect wildlife.
In springtime, the USFWS turns some of its attention to the protection of nesting birds. Raising their young can be a stressful experience for the creatures. As such, the wildlife agency asks the public to be mindful of their habitats and stay away from nests as much as they possibly can.
In a statement posted to the USFWS website in 2016, the agency explained, “By maintaining a respectful distance from the bird nests, we can help ensure that the birds will not be sensitive to disturbance since if they feel threatened they may even abandon young. We certainly don’t want to detract from the incubation process and we don’t want to interfere with them in their home.”
During the spring months, many North American bird species are in the process of finding mates. And in preparation for raising their young, they create nests that will serve as incubators for their eggs and nurseries for their offspring. Consequently, they are very important habitats indeed.
Given all the above, it wouldn’t be considered unusual for garden owners to come across birds’ nests on their property during the spring. If this happens, it’s important for them to know that many nests are protected by the law. This is because they are considered “active” during the breeding season, according to the USFWS website.
By definition, an “active” nest is one that is currently being used by birds or contains their eggs. Because of the wildlife protections that are in place, it’s illegal for anyone to disturb an active bird’s nest. Furthermore, if you have an exceptional circumstance that requires you to move such an item, you must apply for a special permit.
For some protected bird species, the laws regarding their nests are even stricter. For instance, it’s illegal to tamper with the nests of golden eagles or bald eagles – whether they’re occupied or not. Breaking the law in this instance can result in a fine of up to $500,000 and two years in prison.
Luckily, many eagle nests are hard to miss. Bald eagles, for example, return to the same nest each year. As a result, they create huge, sturdy structures in which to raise their young. According to the USFWS website, the largest known eagle nest had a depth of 20 feet and weighed a mighty two tons.
Given the size of eagles nests, it’s unlikely that someone would accidentally disturb one while tending to their garden. However, other bird species are not so lucky. That’s because their nests are so small, they can easily go unnoticed and perhaps unintentionally end up in harm’s way.
So at the turn of spring, one of the USFWS’ concerns comes in the form of some little eggs. Yes, it has warned gardeners to be mindful of the “jelly bean”-sized objects when attending to their lawns. Special care, it says, is especially called for when trimming back shrubs and bushes.
The eggs in question are curious objects, indeed. No bigger than a human thumbnail, these tiny, white orbs contain something quite magical. They are incubated in a nest the size of a table tennis ball for a little over two weeks, during which time their mother will do her best to ward off any predators, even dive-bombing them in order to keep her babies safe.
Now, although the eggs in question are small, they are nonetheless very important. That’s because they belong to hummingbirds. The species exists throughout the Americas and is, of course, famous for being one of the smallest bird types on the planet.
While adult hummingbirds each weigh between two and 20 grams, the creatures’ eggs can be as light as half a gram apiece. So needless to say, they are incredibly fragile, and expectant birds will often hide their nests in shrubs and trees in a bid to keep them safe.
Typically, female birds will construct their nests between ten and 90 feet off the ground. They use materials such as plant fibers, twigs, leaves and spider silk to each build a small cup on a branch. Thanks to these materials, the nests are stretchy, enabling them to grow with the birds’ families.
However, the resulting structure is still tiny. Usually, a female will only build a nest big enough to hatch two of her minuscule eggs. That’s because she will only tend to lay a pair of eggs at any given time.
Once their eggs have hatched, hummingbird moms will continue to care for their young in their nests. This includes finding food for her babies which will help to sustain them. Hummingbird diets are mostly made up of sugary nectar, which provides food for their high metabolisms.
However, hummingbird hatchlings also require a protein source to bring their muscles along and to help them grow. As a result, their mom will retrieve soft insects such as greenfly and small arachnids to feed to them. Furthermore, she may even steal insect eggs in a bid to keep her offspring going.
While baby hummingbirds grow big and strong, their tiny nest provides them with much-needed shelter from the dangers of the outside world. Their mothers will often perch herself on top of them for added protection. They remain in their nest for 18 to 28 days after hatching, before they graduate to fledglings.
As the baby hummingbirds grow, so too does their nest; females often use spider silk as part of its construction. As a result, the amazing structure has the ability to stretch as its contents expand. The mother bird will also continue to patch the nest up, to ensure it can withstand her flourishing fledglings.
As a result of their size, then, hummingbird nests can be pretty hard to spot. From below, each of the nests will simply resemble a lump on a branch, while from above, a canopy of leaves usually shelters them. From a side view, meanwhile, they each look like a small knot.
Hummingbirds prefer shielded spots to build their nests, so that they can raise their young in safety. They seek particular shelter from the elements – rain, sun and wind – and predators. As a result, optimum locations for their nests include dense bushes and between forked tree branches.
In order to find a suitable location for her nest, a female hummingbird may repeatedly land on a potential spot in order to test if it’s stable. For it to be deemed acceptable, the perch must be able to support the mother’s weight as well as that of her nest and her growing babies.
However, given the tiny size of hummingbirds, many perching spots are strong enough to withstand the weight of a female and her offspring. As a result, it’s not unusual for the birds to pick unexpected places to build their nests. Some of these unique locations include clotheslines and even on strings of outdoor lighting.
According to anecdotal evidence, hummingbirds have also been known to build their tiny nests on top of other everyday items found around the home. These include on top of security cameras, soccer goal posts and basketball nets. They have even been found on cactuses, where spikes provide an extra form of protection.
So it is important to be cautious about disturbing these precious structures, especially when trimming back foliage or moving outdoors items around. However, if gardeners do stumble upon hummingbird nests, they should stay well away. As previously indicated, in spring the law protects birds’ nests, after all.
Remember, messing with nests is actually against the law, because at this time of year the nests are active. Of course, this measure helps protect any eggs and newborn fledglings. This protection is key for all out feathered friends but it is particularly important when it comes to hummingbirds.
That’s because hummingbird populations currently face a number of threats, and almost 15 percent of all hummingbird species now face extinction. It would be a crying shame, then, to lose such a fantastic bird from our skies.
Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures. For example, they are the only birds that can fly backwards, while they have earned their name from the noise that their wings make as they beat at up to 5,400 times a minute in flight. This super-fast beating uses up so much energy that the extraordinary creatures spend most of their time resting in trees.
However, this doesn’t make it any easier for birdwatchers to spot them. They are, as mentioned, among the smallest birds in existence, often weighing less than a nickel. In fact, the tiniest species – the bee hummingbird – is just one inch long and weighs only two grams.
But while they may be small, they are certainly mighty in other ways. Relative to their bodies, hummingbirds’ hearts are actually the largest of all animals. Furthermore, when they migrate, the birds can cover an impressive 500 miles, flying non-stop for 20 hours.
To maintain their energy, then, hummingbirds can each consume twice their body weight in food in just one day. And to achieve this, the birds’ tongues are able to contract and protract a dizzying 13 times every second. That’s bad news for the thousands of tiny insects they can each eat every day alongside their staple diet of nectar.
Hummingbirds certainly are incredible creatures. And with their populations in decline, we as humans surely must do everything we can to protect them. So before you hack away at your shrubs and bushes in the garden this spring, be sure to check for miniature eggs and nests first.