The first time I saw a hummingbird was when my family moved into an old house near downtown Austin, Texas. My brother had taken our dog outside because she’d been barking too much all day, but after looking around for several minutes we couldn’t find her anywhere.
We went inside only to discover that there were hundreds of these small flying creatures flitting around the backyard. We learned later they live year round in this part of town — which isn’t so surprising considering that Austin has some of the most pleasant weather in the country during the summer months.
While my parents’ discovery taught me the basics of how hummers work as far as behavior goes, everything else I’ve ever known about them comes from watching videos online or reading books written by people who care deeply about the topic.
And while the internet might be full of information about what makes them tick, not everyone knows exactly where every type of hummingbird fits into the grand scheme of things. That could explain why you may see some folks calling different types “mockingbirds” instead.
With that being said, here are interesting facts about these fascinating animals. You might never think about hummingbirds again once you get through learning about them!
- 1. They’re one of the smallest bird in the world
- 2. Their diet is extremely specific
- 3. Hummingbirds have enormous stomachs
- 4. Hummingbirds have huge brains for birds
- 5. Male hummingbirds have long tongues
- 6. There are more than 350 species of hummingbirds across the world
- 7. Hummingbirds sleep sitting upright
- 8. Hummingbirds mate via deception
- 9. Hummingbirds beat their wings 600 times a second
- 10. Hummingbirds hover effortlessly
- 11. Hummingbirds land on their tails
- 12. Hummingbirds sing differently depending on location
- 13. They’re active during dawn and dusk
- 14. Their favorite food is nectar from flowers
- 15. Hummingbirds have a unique song — they don’t hum
- 16. You can see their nests in trees
- 17. It takes two years for one to mature enough to mate
- 18. Males get aggressive when trying to woo females
1. They’re one of the smallest bird in the world
As if having wings didn’t make them cool enough already, hummingbirds also boast another distinction among avian counterparts; they’re the smallest birds in the United States, Canada and Mexico combined. In fact, the average size of a hummingbird is less than half of an American robin’s. Most adults weigh between 4 ounces and 8 ounces (113 grams to 226 grams), though some larger ones occasionally reach 14 ounces (366 grams).
Related: How to Attract Hummingbirds
2. Their diet is extremely specific
This next tidbit will blow your mind. While many birds eat seeds and insects, hummingbirds exclusively feed off of sweet liquid called nectar found within flower buds. Nectar is basically sugar water made by plants that serves both humans and pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and moths, making it very important for biodiversity.
Nectar is usually gathered by opening a special pore located at the base of a plant’s stem (called a spadix) to let it flow down into tubes shaped like drinking straws. This process enables hummingbirds to extract just the right amount of nectar without wasting any.
3. Hummingbirds have enormous stomachs
When we talk about their appetite, we mean it literally. Compared to other birds, hummingbirds have incredibly large stomachs filled with food that needs digesting. Some species consume 1/10th of their own body weight every single day, meaning that a fully grown female hummingbird would need to consume approximately 200 worms at once.
If you thought hummingbirds ate only nectar, guess again. They’ll actually swallow anything they can fit in their mouths, including bugs, ants, spiders and pollen grains. One study showed that honeybees produce roughly 3 pounds (1 kilogram) worth of sugary saliva every minute, meaning hummingbirds often take advantage of this delicious resource.
Some experts believe that this habit evolved due to the challenges posed by certain prey items. For example, since cicadas tend to congregate together in groups rather than laying dormant throughout the winter, hummingbirds must wait patiently until one group emerges before feeding upon them en masse. If hummingbirds fed on eggs however, the babies wouldn’t develop properly.
4. Hummingbirds have huge brains for birds
One way that hummingbirds stand apart from other feathered critters is their brain mass. At least twice the size of those belonging to chickens and pigeons, their heads contain two times as many neurons as an owl’s. With such advanced cognitive ability, hummingbirds aren’t afraid to take risks when hunting, swooping down from trees to snatch up tasty snacks. But don’t worry, unlike bats, they can still hear well enough to avoid danger thanks to tiny ear openings.
5. Male hummingbirds have long tongues
It turns out that while male hummingbirds do have impressive stamina, they’re not immune to getting a case of the sniffles. During mating seasons, males practice “kisses” to ensure that they won’t miss out on any opportunity to impress potential mates with their suave looks.
To accomplish this task, males extend their upper beak upwards to form a sort of hook that allows them to snag hold of the female’s throat membrane. Once they lock lips, the male begins to vibrate his lower jaw back and forth rapidly to create vibrations similar to those produced by air escaping an oboe pipe. By doing this, he mimics the sound created when the female opens her mouth wide to accept him in her nest.
6. There are more than 350 species of hummingbirds across the world
In addition to differing greatly in appearance, the 350+ kinds of hummingbirds alive today come in various sizes, shapes and coloring. Many are quite small, measuring only 5 inches (13 centimeters) tall, while others tower above 9 feet (2.7 meters) high.
Most hummingbirds hail from Central and South America and parts of Asia and Australia, but migratory varieties exist in places like Hawaii and California. As if their diversity wasn’t impressive enough, researchers recently discovered yet another new species in Costa Rica.
7. Hummingbirds sleep sitting upright
Unlike songbirds, hummingbirds spend the majority of their days perched atop branches waiting for opportunities to snack on nectar and bug juice. When sleeping, however, they sit completely vertical and straight up. Why? Because their legs are used mostly for steering while gliding and pumping blood toward the heart. Since their bodies lack muscles specifically designed for walking, standing or running, hummingbirds rely solely on their hearts to pump blood into their legs.
8. Hummingbirds mate via deception
A lot of birds engage in courtship displays to show affection towards prospective partners, but hummingbirds do something entirely different. Instead of wooing potential mates with flashy moves, singing or elaborate dances, they try to trick them into thinking they’ve gotten lucky. Male hummingbirds attract attention by pretending to be dead. Not really dead, of course, but close.
So close that they appear lifeless while dangling upside-down from twigs. Females are able to tell whether a male is faking death or truly deceased simply by touching him with their bill. If the male feels cold, then he’s just acting. However, if he seems warm (or even hot!), then he’s probably got a date coming up soon.
9. Hummingbirds beat their wings 600 times a second
For reasons unknown, hummingbirds beat their wings 60 times faster than us mere mortals. Scientists say this helps reduce drag and increase efficiency. What does this speed have to do with beating wings vertically? Well, if you watch closely you can notice that hummingbirds flap horizontally while soaring along lazily.
This is accomplished by extending their wing tips outward and upward simultaneously. Since this motion requires lots of energy, it happens slowly, taking 15 to 20 milliseconds (0.15 to 0.20 sec.) to complete.
10. Hummingbirds hover effortlessly
Like hummingbirds, fish breathe primarily through gills, whereas mammals inhale oxygen into lungs. Birds, on the other hand, depend almost solely on hemoglobin molecules floating in fluid contained within bones connected to major arteries.
Although scientists know how this works, hovering flight presents particular problems. Flying birds generate lift by moving their wings forward and backward creating a vortex of vortices behind them. Unlike planes, birds cannot move their entire wings forward and backwards at once since doing so causes them to lose altitude quickly. Rather, they control movement by adjusting the angle of individual wing veins to either pull ahead or push away from the body.
11. Hummingbirds land on their tails
Due to their light frame, relatively short wingspan and strong reliance on heat generated by metabolic processes, hummingbirds cannot store excess fat reserves to sustain themselves during extended periods of rest. Therefore, they must feed frequently to replenish lost calories, otherwise they’ll starve.
To accomplish this, hummingbirds have developed unique features that allow them to land gracefully and swiftly despite lacking proper landing gear. Among them are highly sensitive ankle joints that help keep their balance when descending from higher elevations, and powerful thigh muscles that enable them to run at top speeds of 35 mph (56 kph) and soar up to 25 stories high.
12. Hummingbirds sing differently depending on location
You may assume that hummingbirds emit identical tunes everywhere, but you’d be wrong. Each kind of hummingbird sings a unique tune based on climate conditions, vegetation levels and breeding season. Researchers have recorded dozens of distinct songs sung by bluebottle orchids in Florida, suggesting that different populations within the same region use distinctive vocal characteristics to distinguish themselves from one another. Bluebott
They’re more than just pretty faces – these tiny feathered creatures have an incredibly complex relationship with flowering plants that few other animals possess.
Hummingbirds are known as “the bird that hums because its heart beats so fast!” These winged wonders sport vibrant feathers in reds, blues, oranges, greens, purples, browns and even black-and-white patterns, but if you look closely at your local species, there may be many colors and patterns within each type.
For example, ruby-throated hummingbirds, like those found across South America, feature bright orange bills and backs, along with red throats. Meanwhile, rufous hummingbirds, which live primarily in North America, show off maroon coloring around their eyes, throat and chest. And then there are the spectacularly colorful Anna’s hummingbirds native to Central and South America, whose plumage has been described as “glowing with light.”
With such variety among this group of approximately 120 different species, it’s no wonder why we humans find ourselves captivated by these incredible creatures. There are several things to consider before deciding to add any animal to your family, including whether the critter fits into your lifestyle and environment, and whether you understand its needs.
But before taking care of anything else, you need to learn everything you possibly can about hummingbirds. From where they hang out in the wild to what makes them tick, here are some essential facts to help set up shop next door to these gorgeous yet delicate little birds.
13. They’re active during dawn and dusk
You might think that since hummingbirds are small, they spend much time flying around looking for sources of energy. While they do fly short distances between feeding areas, the majority of their activity happens during daylight hours. That means you won’t often catch sight of hummingbirds zipping through neighborhoods after dark unless you make yourself aware of their existence.
But even though hummingbirds aren’t typically seen outside of daytime hours, they are still quite active at night. In fact, researchers estimate that upwards of 70 percent of hummingbird mating season occurs at night. This is due to the fact that hummingbirds feed exclusively on nectar, which gives them very high metabolic rates. Nectar doesn’t contain nearly as much protein as fruits and vegetables do, making nighttime hunting necessary for survival.
In addition, hummingbirds hunt for nectar throughout the day. However, once darkness falls, their main source of nourishment disappears, leaving hungry mouths to fill. Since nectar isn’t readily available during the evening, hummingbirds must store fat reserves until morning. Once sunrise arrives, however, the cycle begins anew.
14. Their favorite food is nectar from flowers
While hummingbirds certainly enjoy eating bugs and other smaller prey, nectar is their primary diet item. Nectar is basically super concentrated dew formed inside special cells called syringes in flower parts called nectaries. When visiting flowers, hummingbirds use their highly sensitive tongues to probe nectar deep down inside the structure, extracting every last drop possible.
Nectar contains sugars, minerals and amino acids, along with vitamins A and C. Because nectar is made mostly of water, it is extremely lightweight and easy to transport, allowing hummingbirds to easily move around while collecting it. As well, hummingbirds don’t require strong legs to stand upright, which allows them to maneuver through dense foliage without straining. So no matter where you live, chances are good that hummingbirds visit your yard.
A number of factors influence the types of flowers hummingbirds prefer. First, certain plant families tend to hold sway over the kinds of flowers hummingbirds choose to frequent. Families include Malpighiaceae, Rubiaceae and Ericaceae, which produce large amounts of sweet nectar rich in glucose and fructose. Other important considerations include flower color, scent, shape and height.
Flowers containing yellow pigments are especially appealing to hummingbirds, who love the way sunlight reflects off the brightly colored petals. Also, taller flowers offer better access to nectar located higher up inside. Finally, scents produced by flowers play an important role in attracting hummingbirds. Certain flower shapes also favor specific hummingbird species.
For instance, trumpet-shaped flowers are preferred by larger hummingbirds like the blue-throat hummingbird. Lastly, hummingbirds respond best to flowers that resemble the natural habitat elements they call home. Thus, purple iris, daisylike tiger lilies and pink snapdragons are common favorites.
15. Hummingbirds have a unique song — they don’t hum
Because hummingbirds consume nectar almost exclusively, they rely heavily on sound to communicate with others. To create vocalizations, hummingbirds flap their wings rapidly, creating vibrations similar to wind chimes. By changing the angle and speed of their wings, hummingbirds generate distinct tones and rhythms. Although hummingbirds don’t actually hum, their wing beat produces a noise loud enough to hear.
Scientists believe that people first noticed hummingbirds doing this behavior thousands of years ago. Before technology advanced, tribal leaders would warn communities against intruders by sounding hollow wooden flutes. Today, it serves another purpose entirely – helping males establish territory boundaries.
Researchers found that male hummingbirds increase their territorial calls whenever they come into contact with other males, indicating aggression levels. Male hummingbirds also sing differently depending on location, distance and body size.
Some experts say hummingbirds’ songs serve as social cues, letting individuals know about the presence of competitors and predators. Others suggest that hummingbirds emit sounds to scare away potential mates, deter unwanted advances and maintain dominance status. One thing is clear: hummingbirds definitely don’t hum.
16. You can see their nests in trees
Unlike most birds, hummingbirds build their nest using mud, grass and spider webbing, rather than building permanent structures. After choosing a spot near water, hummingbirds dig a shallow hole and lay multiple clutches of three to five white eggs. Unlike chickens, hummingbirds never hatch chicks resembling adults. Instead, babies develop fully grown feathers quickly, gaining strength and agility during infancy.
During this period, both parents work together to protect their young, ensuring safe passage through dangerous surroundings. Baby hummingbirds remain hidden under loose soil for anywhere from six weeks to four months, growing stronger daily. Eventually, baby hummingbirds leave the safety of their egg chambers and venture out on their own, learning basic skills like avoiding obstacles and pursuing prey.
After finding suitable nesting sites, hummingbirds construct domed dwellings consisting of layers of mud, dried grass and thin strips of woven silk. Inside, the nests house two or sometimes three generations of hummingbirds, providing protection from rain and cold temperatures. Most hummingbird species stick to particular habitats, preferring woodlands, marshy regions, open meadows, rocky hillsides, deserts and coastal plains. Many species migrate south during wintertime, heading toward warmer climates.
17. It takes two years for one to mature enough to mate
Male hummingbirds grow faster than females, reaching sexual maturity sooner than their partners. At roughly 12 inches tall, adult males already weigh twice as much as females. With powerful muscles built from consuming nectar, males take part in aerial displays during springtime courtship sessions.
Females join males in performing elaborate dances, raising their wings vertically for extended periods of time. Singing is optional, although it does provide females with increased visibility. Courtship rituals end with copulation lasting 20 minutes or less. Mating pairs usually return to the same area, but males occasionally form monogamous relationships with other females.
Typically, breeding seasons occur once a year, but some hummingbird populations breed more frequently. Like most birds, newborn hummingbirds stay close to their mother for about eight days. Then, juvenile hummingbirds disperse to avoid competition with older siblings.
18. Males get aggressive when trying to woo females
During courting sessions, male hummingbirds compete for attention from females, fighting off rivals with fierce puffs of air. Aggressive displays directed towards other males involve rapid wing movements followed by sharp turns of the head. Flapping wings accompanied by harsh cackling noises tell rival suitors to back off. All forms of communication depend greatly on context.
For example, when competing for resources, lower pitched singing indicates hunger, whereas higher volume signals contentment.
When attacking prey, hummingbirds strike swiftly and efficiently with their hooked claws. They twist their bodies horizontally while hovering in midair, maximizing force efficiency. Hummingbirds also employ quick maneuvers like figure eights, loops and rolls to navigate tight spaces without colliding with walls and ceilings. Just remember: Don’t mess with hummingbirds. Even though they seem fragile, these speedy flyers pack a mighty punch.