Culture

Inside Reality Star Spencer Pratt’s Hummingbird Empire

Almost a decade after “The Hills,” the Los Angeles native has found a new fan base in the hundreds of hummers that visit his decked-out home.

It was late Saturday night, March 24, when my phone began to buzz. Setting down my drink, I stared at the screen in bewilderment. Spencer Pratt was FaceTiming me from the West Coast. I hesitated for a moment, ducked into a bedroom, and picked up.

In the early 2000s, Pratt might have spent an evening like this in front of the camera, feuding with Lauren Conrad or his sister Stephanie for MTV’s hit show The Hills. But that life is no more. Today, Pratt simply has no time for drama; he’s too busy caring for a newborn son, four dogs, and the hundred-plus hummingbirds that visit his Los Angeles home.

In case you missed it on social media, now you know: The 34-year-old reality star—or as some would say, reality villain—is obsessed with hummingbirds. And there’s a reason for it. He and his wife, Heidi Montag, were filming another reality show, Celebrity Big Brother, early last year, when they came across a hummingbird nest with two “tic-tac size” eggs in their backyard. Pratt was in awe: He’d never seen anything like it, he says. The next day, the eggs hatched—just as Montag found out she was pregnant. To Pratt, the timing wasn’t a coincidence. “It was a sign from God,” he says. “They were like little baby gifts.”

Over the next few weeks, Pratt became obsessed with the growing hummingbird family on his property. When the rains came, he shielded them with tarps and umbrellas. When a rat devoured one of the babies (which Pratt witnessed from a nest cam he installed), he called the local wildlife-rehab center, which raised the remaining chick in captivity for fear it’d be eaten, too. Days later, the fledgling Allen’s Hummingbird was released behind Pratt’s home. But contrary to the rehabber’s advice, the bird, which Pratt aptly named “Allen,” didn’t fly away. “Allen just sat right where he was born and hung out with me everyday,” Pratt says. “We became best friends.”

Later that year, the couple moved from Carpinteria to Los Angeles. Pratt was devastated to leave Allen behind, but felt relieved when he saw a few hummers zipping around his new backyard. “I knew there was hope,” he says. He started putting out feeders on his deck, and from there, it escalated. Now, the star has no less than 30 nectar stations—and many more birds.

After a few seconds of lag, Pratt’s deck finally appeared on my phone screen. He was calling to show me the “evening rush” at his house. Droves of hummers hovered around the feeders, their iridescent purples, reds, and blues popping against the green bamboo screening the yard. The feeders attract around 150 Allen’s, Anna’s, and Rufous Hummingbirds each day, Pratt says. After spring migration, that number might even double. “I’m actually a little nervous for when they start showing up again,” Pratt says. “Our dog sitter calls it the Pratt Zoo,” Montag chimes in from the background.

The trick, Pratt says, is not just to hang dozens of feeders, but to refresh them often with homemade nectar. (Don’t get the store-bought stuff; it’s tainted with harmful red dye, he warns.) “The [hummingbirds] are really spoiled,” he says. “They just want the purest nectar.”

Pratt's posts on Instagram and Snapchat, which have garnered hundreds of thousands of views, are as entertaining as any reality TV. In some updates, Pratt wears a hat bedazzled with small feeders, made and gifted by his mom. In others, he shows off a pair of nectar-filled sunglasses he DIY-ed himself. More recent videos document hummingbirds as they drink from a well in his hand.

Allen’s Hummingbird. Video: Spencer Pratt

As anyone with a nectar feeder might know, hummingbirds have a high tolerance to humans. Still, some experts say hand feeding might be pushing the boundaries. “Any time you desensitize birds to the presence of humans, particularly with food as a motivator, there’s a risk,” John Rowden, director of community conservation at Audubon, says. Like well-fed ducks at the park, Pratt’s hummingbirds might become too tolerant to people. “What’s the end goal here?” Rowden asks of Pratt's feeding technique.

That’s a good question. Fame is certainly part of it, along with any endorsements that Pratt’s hoping to secure (his birdseed is sponsored by Harvest Seed and Supply). But, as I learned, Pratt also sincerely loves these birds. “From watching how they are in the rain to watching how they are in the fog, they continue to be more and more fascinating, ” he says. “They’re precious like little Peter Pan fairies.”

And if his appreciation isn’t convincing on its own, his commitment should be. He spends hours each day brewing nectar and refilling the feeders. “I’m a pretty lazy person and feeding over 100 hummingbirds every day is a lot more work than a lazy person would usually want to do,” Pratt notes.

After all, the birds have become some of his closest buddies. There’s Robin Hood and Leggy, Purps and Flash, and Tiki, the main attraction. “Tiki is legitimately one of the best friends I have, factoring in humans,” Pratt says. The Anna’s Hummingbird, which he IDs by color and behavior, is the star of many of his Instagram videos and will often land on his hand. (Pratt assures me that only about four of his visiting hummers get this close to him. “They’re definitely wild,” he says.)

From talking to Pratt, it’s hard to deny that hummingbirds are changing his life for the better. Rather than staying on the couch, he now spends hours outside connecting with nature. It’s also meditative, he says, and far cheaper than the cold million he spent on healing crystals. As for his family, they’re hooked, too. The collective patter of hummingbird wings is the only thing that will put his newborn son to sleep, other than nursing, Pratt says.

So I wonder: Can a reformed reality villain be a good ambassador for birds? On one hand, Pratt personifies hummers and may be altering their behavior. On the other, he could be getting hundreds of thousands of people hyped on wildlife. Pratt has also stepped up his game in other ways. He recently purchased window decals to prevent deadly collisions; he encourages fans to make their own nectar; and he brings injured birds to local animal hospitals. What’s more, he’s dropped a few thousand dollars on nectaring plants for his backyard. Taken altogether, Pratt comes off as a true avian ally.

Halfway through our late-night call, Pratt pulled out a hand feeder and stepped outside. Stretching his arm in front of him, he called out, “Tiki, come here.” A few minutes passed. Nothing. “Come on, Tiki,” he said. At this point, I was committed, and so was he; Pratt really wanted me to meet his best friend. Finally, after one final plea, Tiki arrived and began drinking from his palm. It was hard not to be starstruck.

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Want to identify the hummingbirds where you live? Download our free Audubon bird guide to learn more than 800 North American bird species. 

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