12 Hummingbird Facts

From their physical attributes to peculiar behaviors, hummingbirds possess interesting qualities that make them unique from other birds.

There are more than 300 species of hummingbirds, and they can only be found in the Western Hemisphere although there have been a few sightings in Mexico, in the US Pacific coast, and Canada.

Bee Balm-LBee Balm with Hummingbird-Longong

But what really makes these birds special? Here are some interesting facts you might probably not know about these tiny, jewel-like birds.

1. They are Acrobats
Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly in different directions. They can hover forward, backward, sideways, in mid-air and even upside-down!

Wondering where they got their name? It is after the humming sound their wings produce during a flight.

They can also fly in the rain and shake their heads off to remove drops of water. What is incredible though is that they can shake their heads as fast as 132 times per second and rotate up to 202 degrees. And they can do all of this while flying.

2. They have a Huge Appetite
Hummingbirds have a very fast metabolism, which is nearly 100 times faster than that of an elephant. They eat nectars and insects such as ants, gnats, mosquitoes and wasps the entire day just to survive.

These hummers can feed every 10 – 15 minutes and scout between 1,000 and 2,000 flowers every day for food.

3. Only Females Tend to the Young
Female hummingbirds only lay two eggs and are responsible to build the nest. The young hummingbirds will stay in the nest for about 3 weeks.

Male hummingbirds, on the other hand, tend to find another mate after the young are hatched.

4. They Migrate Every Year
Even though hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world, their migrations can span hundreds or thousands of miles. While there are more than 300 hummingbird species, only a handful of them regularly migrate.

Most of the hummingbirds of North America do migrate seasonally between northern breeding grounds and southern wintering grounds.

Unlike many birds, however, hummingbirds migrate individually and do not travel in seasonal flocks. They migrate during the day, staying low in the air to watch closely for feeding opportunities, and rest at night.

Backyard birders who have fed hummingbirds for years quickly learn that these flying jewels can be very predictable with their migration patterns. Individual birds often migrate at the same time each year, even arriving and leaving the same yards within just a day or two.

They prepare for their journey by gaining up to 40% of their body weight. Studies reveal that hummingbirds can travel up to 23 miles per day.

Of the species, the Rufous Hummingbird embarks on the longest journey, flying more than 3,000 miles from Alaska or Canada to Mexico. On the other hand, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird can fly up to 500 miles non-stop to cross the Gulf of Mexico.

5. They are Fast
Don’t judge them by their size as hummingbirds have speed and stamina. They have been clocked in direct flights at about 30 mph and in courtship dives at 45 mph.

In addition, their heart can beat up to 1,200 times per minute when flying and 225 times at rest. And their wings? Well, they can flap to as fast as 70 times per second on a regular flight and 200 times when diving. If you do the math, that is 4,200 and 12,000 flaps per minute, respectively.

6. They take Time to Rest
With its very fast speed, hummingbirds know how to relax too. They are one of the few species that experience a very deep sleep or “torpor”.

When hummingbirds sleep, they go into a hibernation-like state called Torpor (pronounces TOR-per). Their metabolism will lower to one-fifteenth (1/15) of normal. Their body temperature will drop to the point of becoming hypothermic.

Their heart rate will drop to about 50 beats per minute. Their breathing will slow to the point that it looks like they have stopped breathing. By sleeping like this, hummingbirds can save up to 60% of their available energy.

A hummingbird will settle in a favorite perching place that they feel safe in.

If the hummingbird is a female with a nest of baby hummingbirds that cannot care for themselves, the mother hummingbird will sit on the nest.

They will settle in with their neck retracted and their head forward. Their beak will point up at a sharp angle and their feathers will fluff out, making them look like a cotton ball.

7. They are Not Social Creatures
Hummingbirds do not fly as a flock but rather individually during migration. They also compete for their food sources. But the mating season is the most interesting as these cute little birds turn into feisty fighters.

In fact, male hummingbirds have been seen attempting to stab each other in the throat using their beaks just to compete against each other to attract females.

They are also very territorial and have attacked other birds. Backyard birders are most often visited by one dominant hummingbird that protects all the feeders and gets rid of prowlers.

8. They have Big Brains
The human brain makes up only 2% of our body weight, but that proportion is twice higher in hummingbirds at 4.2%.

Several studies have shown how hummingbirds can remember well their migration routes, including the yard and flowers they visited in the previous year.

9. They are considered Sacred
Hummingbirds were associated with royalty and warriors in ancient Mexico. But even today, some tribes from Mexico believe that these feathery creatures are a manifestation of a deceased person or messenger from the afterworld.

They also appear in mythology as fire-binger, a healer, or a spirit that helps people in need.

10. They have a keen Eyesight
These hummers have excellent eyes and ears. They can even detect ultraviolet rays! Hummingbirds use their eyes to find flowers, and yes, they prefer red ones with tubular shapes. They do not have a sense of smell.

11. Their tongue has a W shape
The tongue of hummingbirds is flat and splits at the tip, bifurcated like a forked tongue or a W shape. Each flap of the bifurcated tongue has a fringed end that makes it appear like a feather. These flaps roll up in a tubular shape and are stuck together while at rest.

During eating, hummingbirds protract their tongue to pick the nectar up. They spread the tip so it opens out flat, cover it with fluid, and then bring it back to their mouth.

Hummingbirds also possess long beaks that can easily sip out the nectar at the bottom of the flower.

12. They have a vivid Throat color
The brilliant color of a hummingbird’s throat is a result of iridescence in the arrangement of its feather. Its brightness and color can be affected by several factors such as light level, viewing angle, wear and tear and moisture.

Information courtesy of WeLoveHummingbirds.com