17 Jaw-Dropping Facts About Hummingbirds
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Discover fun hummingbird facts, like what is on the hummingbird diet, colors of their feathers, if they sing, how far they migrate and how fast they fly.
Watching these tiny marvels at a sugar-water feeder, it’s hard not to wonder how hummingbirds zip around so quickly or keep their feathers so brilliant. Here are the fascinating hummingbird facts behind the answers to common queries.
Courtesy Jasmin Robinson
1. What Foods Are in the Hummingbird Diet?
You typically see hummingbirds at nectar blooms and sugar-water feeders, but they also eat tree sap and small insects when flowers are hard to find in the wild. Nectar is the high-octane nourishment that fuels hummingbirds, but they also need body-building protein. They spend considerable time hunting and eating the small insects, spiders and other arthropods that provide the vital compound. Thanks to the fliers’ amazing agility and the special adaptation that essentially makes their bills spring-loaded sets of chopsticks, hummingbirds snatch insects out of the air. Hovering, they also glean earthbound prey from spiderwebs, vegetation and other places. Sweet oozing tree sap has a high sugar content, not unlike nectar, so it’s also ideal for hummers—but they can’t access it without a little help. Sapsuckers drill holes into trees for their food, creating rows of sap wells. Some hummingbird species then readily feast on the sap from these wells.
Check out the essential guide to hummingbird food.
Courtesy Nancy MacDonald Uggla
2. Hummingbirds Lap Up Nectar and Sugar Water
A casual observer might suggest that hummingbirds use their long, thin, dainty beaks like straws. Their tongues function as a tiny pump to suck the sought-after sweet liquid from feeders and flowers. Each bird has a thin tongue that forks at the tip, springing open to gather fluid; then the tongue retracts as the bill squeezes shut, compressing the tongue and allowing the bird to lap up the nectar. Hummers repeat this 15 to 20 times per second.
Learn how to make hummingbird sugar water.
Courtesy Alicia Casey
3. Do Hummingbirds Return to the Same Place?
If you think the same hummingbirds come to your feeders and flowers every year, you might be right! Banding research shows they are likely to return to the area where they hatched.
Check out 13 questions about hummingbird feeders answered by experts.
4. Hummingbirds Are Long Distance Migrants
An interesting hummingbird fact: Rufous hummingbirds migrate farther than any other North American species. They travel 4,000 miles from Mexico to Alaska every spring. Most ruby-throats spend the cold months between southern Mexico and northern Panama.
Learn more about where hummingbirds migrate in winter.
5. Hummingbirds Migrate Alone
Hummingbirds are solitary migrants, so you won’t see them traveling in flocks. Wintering grounds vary by species. This is why you should keep feeders up for late migrating fall hummingbirds.
6. There Are Hundreds of Hummingbird Species
All of the approximately 340 living hummingbird species are entirely and uniquely North and South American. They live anywhere from Alaska to the southernmost tip of South America. They’re so varied that adjectives from the expanse of the dictionary are insufficient to describe these bird species. However, only 15 types of hummingbirds are regularly spotted in the United States.
Discover the colorful hummingbirds of Costa Rica.
7. What Color Are Hummingbirds?
Hummers vary tremendously in the color and arrangement of their iridescent parts. Even among the handful of hummingbird species that are widespread in the United States, the array of colors is impressive. The male Allen’s and rufous hummers have blazing red-orange throats. The beautiful male Anna’s hummer has an incredible iridescent magenta throat, face and crown. And the closely related Costa’s hummingbird, whose neck feathers taper into long mustache-like points on each side, has a head wrapped in royal purple.
8. What Are the Colorful Patches on Their Necks?
With just a turn of the head, a hummingbird explodes in iridescent radiance. Its gorget (the patch of colorful feathers covering its throat) instantly blazes in shades that span the color spectrum, depending on the species. These dazzling colors come from the feather structure rather than pigmentation. Each iridescent feather has tiny spikes that are densely packed with many layers of microscopic structures filled with air bubbles. These structures reflect light, says Bob Sundstrom, a science advisor for BirdNote, “creating color in the manner of sun glinting off an oily film on water.
Courtesy Nancy Marshall
9. Hummingbird Nests Are Tiny
Even if you know many hummingbird facts, it’s a special treat to find one of their nests. The average nest is about the size of a half-dollar coin. The eggs inside the tiny structure look like mini white jelly beans.
Courtesy Elsie Jones
10. Hummingbirds Build Nests With Spiderwebs
It takes less than a week (about five to seven days) for a hummingbird to build its nest. Built by females only, nests are made of lichen, moss, and spiderwebs.
Check out 10 adorable pictures of baby hummingbirds.
Courtesy Stacy Campa
11. Hummingbirds Are Territorial Birds
Hummingbirds can be very territorial and will try to protect their food sources: both flowers and feeders. They spend a lot of time chasing other birds away.
Learn more about hummingbird behavior.
12. How Do Hummingbirds Choose Flowers?
Another fascinating hummingbirds fact—they have superb visual acuity. They see color even better than we do, with their vision extending into the ultraviolet spectrum. Their eyes are adapted to see warm shades better than cooler shades. This ability to easily pick out orange, yellow and red flowers amid a sea of cool green led to the long-held assumption that they prefer red over other colors. Scientists have since learned that the richness of the nectar matters more than the color of its source. The birds are quick learners, and it is nourishment they are after. With the right flowers and feeders, you can attract them to your yard, too.
13. Hummingbirds Take Quick Breaths
While resting, the average 4-inch hummingbird takes about 150 breaths per minute.
Next, learn where hummingbirds sleep at night.
Courtesy Sal Ahmed
14. Hummingbirds Can Hover and Fly Backward
No other bird can match the hummingbird for agility on the wing. They can hover in midair at flowers and feeders, and they’re the only birds that can fly backward. Their wings move in a figure-eight pattern, which allows them to maneuver with ease. Other birds create the lift needed for flight with each downstroke of their wings. In other words, typical bird flight is achieved by flapping the wings up and down. Hummingbirds, however, rotate or twist their upper arm bones to invert their wings and gain lift from the upstroke as well as the downstroke. The result? It’s a fact that hummingbirds are the most agile birds on the planet.
Discover the truth about common hummingbird myths.
Courtesy Cynthia Bibb
15. How Fast Do Hummingbirds Fly?
Known for erratic and agile movements, hummingbirds beat their wings more than 50 times per second, and even faster in extreme flight mode.
Psst—this is how long hummingbirds live.
16. Some Hummingbirds Sing
Though not as vocal as songbirds, it’s a hummingbird fact that some species, specifically male Anna’s and Costa’s, are regular singers. With other species, the most common sounds are aggressive calls, which resemble chattering or squealing. You’ll hear them when several hummingbirds are gathered near a food source.
Learn more about the many sounds of hummingbirds.
Courtesy Desiree Skatvold
17. Hummingbirds Love Birdbaths
A birdbath with a small mister, bubbler, or sprayer attracts hummingbirds. It’s a rare sight, but they might fly through the mist of a lawn sprinklers, too! Hummingbirds meticulously preen their feathers. In that respect, they are like race car drivers who take immense care to keep all parts of their automobiles in perfect working order. Hummers love to take a shower—or even a bath—using water to help clean their plumage, and they are attracted to gardens with water features, intentional or not. Of course, hummers visit birdbaths and other standing-water features as well.
Learn how to attract birds to use a birdbath.