Hummingbirds, with their unmistakable beauty and quick movements, are one of the most interesting types of bird species. It’s no wonder that myths surround these tiny creatures as scientists uncover curious speculations. It’s important to learn as much as you can about hummingbirds, especially if you plan to feed these friends in your yard.
1. Hummingbirds are only found naturally in the Americas
Although scientists theorize that hummingbirds originated in Europe more than 42 million years ago, they are no longer found there today. Some Europeans in the 1500s thought that hummingbirds were a crossbreed of birds and insects! The French named them “bird flies,” and in approximately 1640, the English named them “humbirds.” Some even claimed that hummingbirds were dangerous to people, spreading rumors of their “needle-like bills” striking at human eyes. Attempts were made to introduce hummingbirds into Europe, but tragically, none survived in the harsh, non-native climate.
2. Hummingbird tongues are roughly twice the length of their beaks
Hummingbirds actually lick the nectar (at a rate of approximately 13 licks per second!) instead of drinking from flowers and nectar feeders directly. Since their tongues extend much longer than their beaks, they’re actually able to lick nectar beyond the reach of their beaks. If you look closely with binoculars, you might even be able to see a hummer’s tongue while it visits your nectar feeders.
3. Female hummingbirds lay a clutch of two eggs
A Buff-bellied Hummingbird’s nest can be found lower to the ground in bushes and shrubs. Black-chinned Hummingbird eggs are approximately the size of a coffee bean, and their nest can stretch as the babies grow due to its construction material of insect and spider silk.
4. Big birds don’t mess with feisty hummers
Despite the tiny size of the Calliope Hummingbird (they’re the smallest bird in the U.S.), these territorial birds can chase birds as big as Red-tailed Hawks during the breeding season. The Blue-throated Hummingbird doesn’t have an aerial display to protect its territory, instead making different vocalizations. But the “feistiest hummingbird in North America” award goes to the Rufous Hummingbird—they can defeat almost any other competing hummingbird!
5. Hummingbird hearts beat up to 1,260 times per minute
Magnificent Hummingbirds have one of the highest-recorded heart rates of any vertebrate, ranging from 420 to 1,200 beats per minute. But despite their high heart rates, in very cold areas during breeding season, some hummingbirds sleep in a hibernation-like state called torpor.
6. Hummingbirds don’t mate for life
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only hummingbird species that breeds in Eastern North America. The Costa’s Hummingbird is a desert species, breeding in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of California and Arizona. But in terms of area, the ruby occupies the largest breeding range of any North American hummingbird.
7. Hummingbirds spend most of their lives perching
Like most other U.S. hummingbird species, the Broad-billed Hummingbird is incapable of walking or hopping. Hummingbirds have an average lifespan of about five years, but the oldest Allen’s Hummingbird ever recorded was five years and 11 months old!
8. Flight muscles are 30 percent of a hummingbird’s weight
The Broad-tailed Hummingbird’s wings beat at about 50 wingbeats per second. But a hummingbird’s brain accounts for an amazing 4.2 percent of its body weight, the largest brain-to-body weight proportion in the entire bird kingdom!
9. There are over 300 hummingbird species
Different hummingbird species have many variations in their similar features. A hummingbird of average size will have around 940 feathers. Unlike other North American hummingbirds, the Lucifer Hummingbird has a distinct, down-curved bill. The female Anna’s Hummingbird has a very small gorget, but most other female hummingbird species don’t even have one!
10. Hummingbirds can fly an average of 25 to 30 mph
Some hummingbirds will travel over 2,000 miles twice a year during migration. Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly both forward and backward!
11. Hummingbirds can eat half to eight times their body weight in a single day
Hummingbirds eat small, soft bugs for protein. Providing hummingbird nectar feeders is a great way to supplement hummingbirds’ ferocious energy needs. Hummingbirds will not become dependent upon nectar feeders; nature’s instincts make hummingbirds migrate when they need to.
12. Hummingbirds foster a healthy ecosystem for people & birds
Hummingbirds are great pollinators. Along with insects like bees, they’re a crucial part of our ecosystems. Hummingbirds need flowers, flowering plants need hummingbirds, and people need both for food production and flower gardens. This type of relationship is called symbiosis. Without pollinators such as hummingbirds, the environment would unravel and our world wouldn’t be such a green place. Helping hummingbirds survive and thrive makes us an important link in the health of our communities and our world.