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Hummingbird Anatomy: Why These Tiny Fliers Are Amazing

There's much more to hummingbird anatomy than you know. Discover the fascinating physical traits that make hummingbirds tick.

Shutterstock 278092409Jimmy phu Huynh/Shutterstock
Rufous hummingbird 

All About Hummingbird Anatomy

No fliers are as well-equipped to drink nectar as hummingbirds. With long, thin bills and tongues that lick up to 13 times a second, their mouths alone make them extraordinary. But the wonder doesn’t stop there—they are among the few birds with the ability to hover and even fly backward, allowing them to easily zip from flower to flower. Learn more about why hummingbird anatomy is so incredible.

What makes hummingbird feathers so shimmery?

hummingbirds have disappearedCourtesy Cynthia Evert Mattsson
Ruby-throated hummingbird


These birds have a keen sense of sight. Their large eyes pick up as many colors as human eyes do, plus ultraviolet light.

Check out even more jaw-dropping hummingbird facts.

Hummingbird, Calliope, ArizonaTom Walker/Getty Images
Calliope hummingbird


Lead edges of hummingbird wings create tornado-like vortexes to help with hovering. The smaller the hummingbird, the faster its wings beat. But it’s not the speed of its wings that allows a hummingbird to hover—it’s the structure of its wing joints. Hummingbirds can rotate their wings as they flap. This lifts them into the air on both the forward and backward strokes.

Did you know—the hummingbird heart rate is unbelievably fast!

252419022 1 Jeri Lampman Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Jeri Lampman
Female ruby-throated hummingbird on a feeder


Hummingbird tongues act as thin pumps that contract to draw in nectar from flowers and sugar water from feeders.

Find out what foods, how often and how much hummingbirds eat.

Bnbhc18 Elisa Taylor Godwin 5Courtesy Elisa Taylor Godwin
Costa’s hummingbird


Their weak, dainty feet are used for perching only; hummingbirds don’t walk or hop. Learn more about how bird feet work.

248418012 1 James Leonard Bnbhc20Courtesy James Leonard
Anna’s hummingbird

Body Temperature

An Anna’s hummingbird‘s body temperature is typically 107 degrees, but it can drop down to 48 degrees when it goes into torpor, a kind of deep sleep, during cold weather.

How much does a hummingbird weigh?

Male Broad-tailed hummingbird in flight in ArizonaMary Ann McDonald/Getty Images
Broad-tailed hummingbird


Sturdy tail feathers are used like rudders to make hairpin turns. Additionally, research shows that the male Anna’s stiff tail feathers make songlike sounds during courtship displays.

Next, learn everything you need to know about hummingbird nests.

Lori Vanover
Lori Vanover is the senior digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor's degree in agricultural and environmental communications from the University of Illinois. Lori is certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener and is also a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.