Sunday, July 7, 2013

Hummingbird Facts and Fascinating Information

Love Hummingbird Facts? Here's some fascinating ones!

Hummingbirds have a special significance to me. My dad loved all kinds of birds really, but for some reason this particular bird specifically makes me think of him.  I have learned some very interesting facts about these fascinating birds. Did you know that they flap their wings over eighty times per second? It makes a humming noise, and is the reason for their name. That’s just the beginning of the endless amounts of information you can find on these truly amazing creatures. I have tried to group the information in sections so that I can take it all in. Here’s what I found:

There are over 320 species of hummingbirds in the world.  It is difficult for me to identify the right number of these species that can be seen in the USA since different sources give different information. Some say eight while some say twelve or more. Many of them can breed together which makes the species difficult to identify, and probably the reason that different sources give different numbers of species that can be identified in the USA. Now that I know one species is called “Anna’s”, I want to know how to spot it since it has been seen in my state. Apparently they are more common in the Northern US states but they have been seen in the south where I live as well. The photo above is an Anna's species. Other reported USA species include Ruby throated, Allen’s, Magnificent, Broad-tailed, Rufous, Buff-bellied, Blue-throated, Costa’s, Violet-crowned, and White-eared. It would be beyond the scope of this article to pinpoint the origin of the name of each species, but I can tell you since I was interested in Anna’s (because I have a daughter named Anna) that Anna’s are named after Anna Masséna, Duchess of Rivoli. I’m sure each species has an interesting name origin, and I would love to learn each one at some point.

Known as the smallest creatures with a backbone, hummingbirds in general are very small. On average they measure about 8.5 centimeters from the tip of the beak to the tip of the tail. The smallest bird on earth is the bee hummingbird, which isn’t much larger than a bumblebee. The photo above shows this size of the bee species pretty well. You typically won’t see these in North America, even though it is reported that some have been spotted in the US in years past. The smallest one you’ll see in the USA is the Calliope which measures at about 3 inches. Still pretty small and not much larger than the bee species. Facts be known, it may have been a calliope mistaken for a bee species in the USA, but who knows?

The males are smaller than the females in every species, and all the babies are generally smaller than a penny! Reach in your pocket or purse and take out a penny. Seriously! Smaller than that! There is also a species of giant hummingbird that is often confused with a swallow. It’s wing beats are slower than a “regular” species of it’s kind.

Colors & Feathers:
Other than their size and where they can be spotted, colors
are another identifying feature that can tell you which species you are looking at. They are also one of the facts about the creatures that make them so fascinating to see. Early Spanish explorers called them “flying jewels” when they discovered them in the new world because of their beauty. The coloring comes from iridescent coloring like that on a soap bubble or a prism. It is affected by the level of moisture in the air and the level of light. Hummingbirds can flash their colors when they want to, and hide them when they need to. The bright flashing colored feathers on their necks are called a gorget. The photo above highlights the purple gorget of the beautiful bird in the photo. Speaking of feathers, the average size species will have between 940-1,500 feathers which is the least amount of any bird species in the entire world. 

One of the most distinguishing features of a hummingbird is it’s long beak. It’s shaped pretty much like any other bird
beak, but it's longer and the top beak overlaps the slightly flexible lower beak. Some believe that they use this beak as a kind of straw to suck up nectar, but that’s not true. They actually have a tongue shaped like a “w”. Their tongues have tiny hairs on the end that help them lap up nectar and catch insects and spiders to eat. One of the interesting facts about these creatures is that they play a huge role in pollination. Each one can visit up to 2,000 blossoms every single day. Because they have a really fast breathing rate (average of 250 breaths per minute at rest), fast heartbeat (up to 1,260 beats per minute), and high body temperature (average 107 degrees), they require massive amounts of food each day... eating five to eight times per hour. Their metabolism is about 100 times that of an elephant. Cool, huh? Of course they also enjoy the nectar from feeders set out by people to attract them. There’s a myth circulating that if you leave your feeders out too long that it will keep the birds from migrating. That’s just not true. When the days start to get shorter it will trigger hormonal changes in these birds that will signal them it’s time to go. I’d say leave your feeders out as long as possible and enjoy these beauties till they have to leave for the winter. Since we’re on the subject of migration, we’ll cover more about that next. 

Migration /Flying:
Anna’s hummingbirds are the only species that can spend their winters in northern climates and don’t need to migrate. All other species fly to the tropics for the winter, starting from mid-July to late September depending on how far they have to travel. It is believed by many that hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese, when in fact geese don’t even migrate in the same patterns as hummingbirds. No, these little creatures do all the flying themselves, traveling over 2,000 miles two times each year. Not only is that amazing, but over the Gulf of Mexico the little wonder-birds will fly 500 miles non-stop, which takes about 20 hours. Think that’s incredible? What’s more is they are the only birds that can fly forward, backward, up, down, left, right and upside down. This is possible because their wings rotate in a complete circle. They can also hover in mid-air by flapping their wings in a figure-8 pattern. One source of information reads, “A hovering hummingbird has an energy output per unit weight about ten times that of a person running nine miles per hour. If a person were to do the same amount of work per unit weight, he or she would expend 40 horsepower.” Wow! Is there anything these creatures can’t do? Well, yes, actually. They can’t walk very well. Their feet are weak and are used mostly for perching. They also have almost no sense of smell, yet can see farther and hear better than humans can.

Daily Life: 
Would you believe that hummingbirds are really smart? Their brains are 4.2% of their body weight, which is the largest proportion in the bird kingdom. They can remember every flower they have been to and how long it will take a flower to refill! The females do all the work. They build the nests and raise the young without the help of the males.
Speaking of young, a female will lay a clutch that consists of one to three eggs, with two being the most common. She’s pregnant anywhere from 13-22 days only and the babies will start to fly in 18 to 30 days after hatching. These little birdies do not mate for life and as mentioned before may breed with other species making it difficult to identify which species you’re looking at. So how do the males attract the females? Those beautiful colors mentioned before. When a male wants to get the females attention, he flashes that iridescent gorget. Even though males don’t do any work to raise the young or build the nest, one of the notable facts I learned is that they are apparently very aggressive and territorial. If another male is moving in on his territory the male hummingbird will chase him out!

This is one of the most fascinating hummingbird facts to me. When these little guys go to sleep, they actually go into a state of semi-hibernation called torpor. While in torpor, they will lower their body temperature anywhere from 20 to 50
degrees, they slow and sometimes even stop their breathing for a short period of time, and lower their heart rate from 500 beats per minute to as few as 50. This is all to conserve energy. They can do this on particularly cold nights or anytime they cannot find enough food. They prefer thick fir trees to sleep on because those offer a certain amount of protection from the elements. Sometimes they loosen their grip slightly and you can find them hanging upside down. Like a bat! Even with all these measures to protect themselves and this amazing ability to conserve energy, a night that proves too cold or a day that proves difficult to find enough food can be fatal to a hummingbird. If they make it through the night fine, once the sun rises the following day it takes anywhere from a few minutes to an hour for them to get their body temperature, breathing, and heart rate back up to normal before they resume their regular activities.

Life Span:
I’m sad to say most hummingbirds live less than a year, but the life span in general is believed to be about five years. They can live longer, however. The longest recorded life span was determined to be 12 years of a tagged female Broad-tailed species.  Climate changes are now affecting hummingbird migratory patterns, which means some species will be spotted outside of their normal range. This is bad because they may not be able to find enough food and may not make it. It's up to all hummingbird lovers to do their part by setting out feeders for them so they have an easy way to refuel. I know I'll be getting some feeders soon. After learning all of this valuable information, I'm more enchanted with the hummingbird than ever before.

I hope you learned some new facts and information as well, and if you have anything to add, please leave a comment.


  1. I live in NC and we put out a feeder and we were amazed at how many different species we have seen. I loved reading your blog

  2. Wow, hummingbirds are at another level, they're intelligent AND they sound lovely!



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