10 Facts You Didn’t Know About Hummingbirds

by on March 10, 2021 · 3 comments

in Environment, San Diego

We’ve had two hummingbird feeders on our deck for years and have come to enjoy watching and knowing about the 2 most common hummingbirds in our area: Anna’s and Costa’s. Recently, a Rufus or Rufous hummingbird showed up, a rare occasion for us.

10 Facts You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Hummingbirds

1. They are the smallest migrating bird. They don’t migrate in flocks like other species, and they typically travel alone for up to 500 miles at a time.

2. The name, hummingbird, comes from the humming noise their wings make as they beat so fast.

3. Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards.

4. Hummingbirds have no sense of smell. While they can’t sniff out feeders, they do have good color vision. Some birds like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird prefer orange or red flowers. Despite this, red dye should not be used in nectar as it could harm the birds. Instead, plant naturally red or orange flowers or use feeders that have red coloring in their structure.

5. The average weight of a hummingbird is less than a nickel.

6. Their tiny legs are only used for perching and moving sideways while perched. They can’t walk or hop.

7. Hummingbirds drink the nectar found in feeders by moving their tongue in and out about 13 times per second. They can consume up to double their body weight in a day.

Costa’s female

8. The average number of eggs laid by female hummingbirds is only two. These eggs have been found in nests smaller than a half dollar and compare in size to a jellybean or a coffee bean. Some species, like the Black-chinned Hummingbird make their nests with plant down, spider silk, and other natural resources that can expand as their babies grow after hatching.

9. A flock of hummingbirds can be referred to as a bouquet, a glittering, a hover, a shimmer, or a tune.

10. There are over 330 species of hummingbirds in North and South America.

The Two Most Common species in the San Diego are:

Anna’s Hummingbird – typically found along the western coast of the U.S. These birds are easy to attract to backyards with nectar or by looking in spring blossoming trees and flowers.

Costa’s male

Costa’s Hummingbird – the desert is the favored habitat for the small Costa’s Hummingbird. In Arizona and California deserts, this species nests during late winter and spring, and most then avoid the hot summer by migrating to coastal California and Baja. The thin, high-pitched whistle of the male is often heard over desert washes in early spring. Their diet: Mostly nectar and insects. Takes nectar from flowers, and will feed on tiny insects as well. Often visits desert natives such as agave, chuparosa, desert honeysuckle, and fairy-duster. Will also feed on sugar-water mixtures in hummingbird feeders.

Other Common Species in the US include:

Rufous Hummingbird – these birds are found along the western half of the U.S. ranging from Alaska all the way south to Mexico depending on the season and their migration. Their orange color can be spotted in flowers and at backyard feeders, but only for a short time as this bird is usually on the move. The rufous hummingbird has the longest migration of any hummingbird species. These hummers fly more than 3,000 miles from their nesting grounds in Alaska and Canada to their winter habitat in Mexico.

Calliope Hummingbird – there are bright magenta feathers on this little bird. They can be found across the western half of the U.S. into both Canada and Mexico. This is the smallest known bird in the U.S. with a weight similar to a ping pong ball.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird – found in the high mountain meadow areas, they are known for rose-magenta throats on the males.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird – these green and red birds are found across the eastern half of the U.S. and ranging from Canada to Mexico during migration. This species is attracted to hummingbird feeders or tubular flowers.

Black-chinned Hummingbird – these small birds are known for their green, purple, and black colors. They often perch on bare branches as they travel along the western coast in the U.S. down to Mexico.

More Fun Facts & Trivia About Hummingbirds:

Physical Characteristics

  • A hummingbird’s brilliant throat color is not caused by feather pigmentation, but rather by iridescence in the arrangement of the feathers. Light level, moisture, angle of viewing, wear and tear, and other factors all influence just how bright and colorful the throat may appear.
  • Hummingbirds can be used to scoot sideways while they are perched. These birds have evolved smaller feet to be lighter for more efficient flying. They will use their feet for itching and preening, however.
  • Hummingbirds have 1,000 to 1,500 feathers, the fewest number of feathers of any bird species in the world. Not only do they not need as many feathers because of their tiny size, but fewer feathers also keeps them more lightweight for easier flight.
  • Roughly 25 to 30 percent of a hummingbird’s weight is in its pectoral muscles. These are the broad chest muscles principally responsible for flying.
  • An average hummingbird’s heart rate is more than 1,200 beats per minute. In comparison, a human’s average heart rate is only 60 to 100 beats per minute at rest.
  • Hummingbirds have no sense of smell but have very keen eyesight.
  • Hummingbirds lay the smallest eggs of all birds. Their eggs measure less than 1/2 inch long but may represent as much as 10 percent of the mother’s weight at the time the eggs are laid. A hummingbird egg is smaller than a jelly bean!

Diet

  • A hummingbird must consume approximately one-half of its weight in sugar daily, and the average hummingbird feeds five to eight times per hour. In addition to nectar, these birds also eat many small insects and spiders, and may also sip tree sap or juice from broken fruits.
  • Hummingbirds do not suck nectar through their long bills, instead they lick it with fringed, forked tongues. Capillary action along the fringe of their tongue helps draw nectar up into their throats so they can swallow.
  • A hummingbird can lick 10 to 15 times per second while feeding.
  • Hummingbirds digest natural sucrose—the sugar found in floral nectar—in 20 minutes with 97 percent efficiency for converting the sugar into energy.

Species

  • There are more than 325 unique hummingbird species in the world. Only eight species regularly breed in the United States, though up to two dozen species may visit the country or be reported as regular vagrants. The rest of the hummingbirds are primarily tropical species and do not regularly migrate. They are found in Central and South America as well as throughout the Caribbean.
  • Many hummingbird species, including Anna’s, Black-chinned, Allen’s, Costa’s, rufous, calliope, and broad-tailed hummingbirds, can breed together to create hybrid species. This is one factor that makes identifying hummingbirds very challenging.
  • The calliope hummingbird is the smallest bird species in North America and measures just 3 inches long.
  • The bee hummingbird is the smallest hummingbird species in the world and measures 2.25 inches long.
  • The average ruby-throated hummingbird weighs just 3 grams. In comparison, a nickel weighs 4.5 grams. It would take more than 150 ruby-throated hummingbirds to weigh one pound.
  • The bill of the aptly named sword-billed hummingbird, found in the Andes Mountains, can reach up to 4 inches long, and it can be so heavy that the birds may perch holding their bills straight up. These birds hold the record for the longest bill relative to their overall body size.

Migration

  • A hummingbird’s maximum forward flight speed is 30 miles per hour. These birds can reach up to 60 miles per hour in a dive, and hummingbirds have many adaptations for unique flight.
  • A hummingbird’s wings beat between 50 and 200 flaps per second depending on the direction of flight, the purpose of their flight, and the surrounding air conditions.
  • The ruby-throated hummingbird flies 500 miles nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico during both its spring and fall migrations. You might have heard that these tiny birds “ride” on the back of other birds during migration. This is a myth—they fly this distance entirely on their own.
  • The peak fall migration period for hummingbirds is from mid-July through August or early September, depending on the route and the exact species. Species that nest further north begin migration earlier.

Miscellaneous

  • At rest, a hummingbird takes an average of 250 breaths per minute. Their breathing pace will increase when they are in flight.
  • Depending on the species, habitat conditions, predators, and other threats to hummingbirds, the average lifespan of a wild hummingbird is three to 12 years.
  • Despite their small size, hummingbirds are one of the most aggressive bird species. They will regularly attack jays, crows, and hawks that infringe on their territory. Backyard birders often find they have one dominant hummingbird that guards all the feeders, chasing intruders away.

Resources:

Audubon

the spruce

kaytee

 

 

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Geoff Page March 10, 2021 at 10:29 am

Thanks for this piece! I love these birds, I never get tired of seeing them. I had just moved into my house many years ago and one flew into my kitchen and could not get out. Somehow, I managed to catch it in a towel. I took it outside and unfolded the towel. It lay there for a few seconds, it was gorgeous. I thought it was dead but I was wrong, it flew out of the towel in a flash and across the year. Amazing birds. I would love to have a feeder too but have too many cats.

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Peter Peter from South O March 10, 2021 at 11:42 am

A cautionary note on hummingbird feeders: they can be deadly if not maintained properly. Sugar water (and commercial mixes) are a perfect media for growing mildew and fungus outdoors. They should be cleaned WEEKLY with a weak bleach solution and rinsed thoroughly before refilling. Unlike a seed feeder, don’t wait for it to empty out; stick to a firm seven-day maintenance and keep your birds healthy.
I am fortunate enough to have a couple of Bird of Paradise plants right outside my bedroom window. It doesn’t get much better than seeing a Mom and Pop watching their new baby negotiate the blossoms (with a LOT of vocalizations!).

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Avatar GML March 10, 2021 at 2:06 pm

Thanks Peter. This article is inspiring us to get a feeder and appreciate the additional information.

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