Known for their humming noise, the hummingbird boasts a range of impressive qualities that distinguish them from other bird species. As we uncover a wealth of hummingbird facts, we'll explore their striking iridescent plumage, unparalleled flight speed, and fast metabolism.
Hummingbirds are the world's smallest birds we can observe, from the lush forest of South America to the cool parts of Alaska. Despite their tiny size, these colorful birds possess significant memory skills. Furthermore, they are the only creatures that can move like a helicopter (forward, backward, and sideways).
Whether you are an experienced birdwatcher, an aspiring naturalist, or simply an admirer of nature's wonders, these interesting hummingbird facts will amaze you.
Related: If you want to learn more about another known bird for its plumage, you can check out these flamingo facts.
14 Fun Facts about Hummingbirds
1. The smallest bird is the Bee Hummingbird
As the world's smallest birds, hummingbirds demonstrate incredible feats of strength and endurance. On average, their weight is approximately between 0.1 to 0.2 ounces.
Among the more than 300 species in the hummingbird family, bee hummingbirds are the tiniest birds. They are only 2.25 inches long and weigh a mere 1.95 grams—similar to the dimensions of a large insect. Moreover, the Bee Hummingbird is the world's smallest bird. Meanwhile, in North America alone, the Calliope Hummingbird holds the title at 3 inches long.
While the Bee Hummingbird's size is undoubtedly captivating, other hummingbird species also boast fascinating physical traits. For example, the Long-tailed Sylph, native to Colombia, has a tail three times the length of its body, which it uses to attract mates. Uncover more about them as you browse through the hummingbird facts below.
Read more: World's smallest birds.
2. They have vibrant iridescent plumage
No hummingbird fact list is complete without a section dedicated to their vibrant, iridescent plumage. These tiny feathered gems get their stunning colors from microscopic platelets within their feathers.
Made up of layers of flat structures called lamellae, these platelets create a fascinating optical effect that makes the feathers shimmer and change color depending on the angle of light and the viewer's perspective.
These mesmerizing colors play vital roles in the daily lives of hummingbirds, including mating displays and territorial defense. During the breeding season, male hummingbirds flaunt their iridescent feathers to attract females and intimidate rivals.
In contrast, a female hummingbird usually has a more subdued coloration, which helps them blend in while tending to their nests and caring for their young.
3. They are masters of flight
Despite their size, they have unmatched flight abilities. The average hummingbird can fly at an astonishing rate of 20 to 30 miles per hour, especially during their courtship displays. While many birds can reach remarkable speeds, the agility and maneuverability of hummingbirds set them apart.
A hummingbird's wings beat at an astonishing rate of roughly 70 times each second. This frequency can even escalate to 200 beats per second when these tiny aviators plunge into their breathtaking dives!
Additionally, no other bird can hover with the same precision and elegance as the hummingbird. The secret to its technique is a unique ball-and-socket shoulder joint allowing an incredible 360-degree range of motion2.
Thanks to this joint, when hummingbirds fly, they generate lift on both the upstroke and downstroke of their wings, providing the stability needed to hover effortlessly.
Adding to their flight capabilities, they are the only birds that can move forwards, sideways, and backward. Only a few species of other birds, including the American Woodcock and the Red-backed Kingfisher, possess this rare skill.
Hummingbird predators include larger avian species, snakes, and even praying mantises, making their swift and nimble lifestyle a necessity.
Related: Do you prefer an adorable flightless bird? Check out our penguin facts next.
4. They migrate for long distances
Hummingbirds can cover thousands of miles in a single journey despite their size. However, a hummingbird often travels alone, unlike other birds that migrate in groups.
The Rufous Hummingbird and Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) have the longest migration. Rufous Hummingbirds cover more than 3,000 miles (from Alaska and Canada to Southern Mexico), and the latter travel up to 2,000 miles yearly during both spring and fall migrations.
To accomplish this feat, these birds accumulate fat reserves, doubling their body weight quickly to store energy for their marathon flight1. This additional fuel proves crucial as they traverse the vast expanse of the Gulf of Mexico, where food and resting spots are scarce.
During their non-stop 18-hour flight across the Gulf, the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds increase their wingbeat frequency and heart rate. These adaptations enable them to maintain the energy levels required for such an extended period of exertion.
5. They mainly eat nectar
The high-energy diet of hummingbirds is a testament to their physical capabilities. These tiny birds fuel their fast-paced lifestyle by consuming nectar, making up 90% of their diet.
Nectar gives them the essential sugars they need to maintain their incredible metabolism, powering their ability to hover in mid-air and sustain their rapid wing beats. Most hummingbird species can visit up to 2,000 flowers daily to meet their insatiable energy demands. For that reason, hummingbirds feed every 10 to 15 minutes.
Although hummingbirds drink nectar as their primary energy source, it only provides them with limited nutrients. They also eat insects, tree sap, and fruit juice to obtain essential proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
6. They have specialized tongues
Hummingbirds boast long, specialized tongues that enable them to access nectar deep within tubular flowers. This fascinating trait results from the coevolution between these birds and the plants they pollinate, aiding energy-efficient nectar extraction. It is crucial in their relentless quest for food.
A study unveils hummingbird tongues as pumps contracting upon nectar contact. Contrary to relying solely on capillary action, their tongues employ viscous forces to pull nectar into grooves, retracting simultaneously, thereby enhancing feeding efficiency3.
7. They have a unique metabolism
To perform their extraordinary aerial acrobatics, hummingbirds maintain a heart rate of up to 1,260 beats per minute. To sustain their energy needs, they consume vast quantities of nectar daily. Sometimes, they ingest up to 50% of their body weight.
They also quickly absorb the sugary substance within minutes of ingestion, so they need to feed every 10 to 15 minutes. This adaptation makes them the record holder for vertebrates' highest mass-specific metabolic rates, showcasing their exceptional energy efficiency.
8. Hummingbirds can undergo a "mini-hibernation"
This hummingbird fact will shock you if you are a newbie bird lover! Did you know some birds have a hibernation-like state called torpor?
Torpor is a physiological state in which a hummingbird and some birds significantly lower their metabolic rate to conserve energy at night, in cold temperatures, or in scarce food availability. During torpor, their body temperature drops to near ambient levels, and their heart rate slows dramatically, effectively putting the bird into a mini-hibernation.
It is a form of survival skill. However, there's a trade-off. By entering torpor, hummingbirds become vulnerable to predators and might experience shorter lifespans due to stress. Still, it is essential for the survival of these tiny yet resourceful creatures in our challenging world.
9. Hummingbirds can detect ultraviolet light
A study reveals that hummingbirds can perceive a wide color spectrum, surpassing human capabilities. Thanks to their unique UVS cone, hummingbirds detect ultraviolet range colors, including non-spectral hues.
Moreover, hummingbirds excel at pollination due to their impeccable vision, which helps them locate nectar-rich flowers, specifically red flowers, with astounding precision. Researchers in the mentioned study emphasize the importance of color perception in foraging, as these birds successfully detected sugar in color-modified tubes.
10. Hummingbirds have a great memory
Hummingbirds, known for remarkable speed and agility, boast an impressive memory, enabling them to recall every flower visited. A 2012 study demonstrated that they track numerous flower locations and nectar replenishment timing. This capacity maximizes foraging efficiency, avoiding depleted flowers and optimizing energy intake.
In the competitive world of nectar foraging, sharp memory is a vital adaptation. Researchers discovered that Rufous-tailed hummingbirds (Amazilia tacitly) could recollect visited flowers and their refilling schedule efficiently. These findings emphasize the significance of cognitive abilities in hummingbirds' ecological success.
Related: Do you want to explore another memory genius? Bookmark our list of dolphin facts.
11. They observe intricate mating rituals
During mating, male hummingbirds pull out all the stops to impress their female counterparts. While pursuing mates, they showcase their aerial artistry through high-speed dives, intricate patterns, and strategic use of their iridescent plumage.
Each hummingbird species boasts a unique mating ritual, but many share the common element of a pendulum-like dive. The male rapidly soars to great heights before plummeting at breathtaking speeds. At the bottom, he executes a swift U-turn and repeats the process.
During this spirited performance, certain species, such as Anna's Hummingbird, skillfully incorporate high-pitched chirps from their tail feathers. This auditory component enhances their physical acrobatics, stirring awe and wonder in observers.
In addition to their acrobatic prowess, male hummingbirds rely on the dazzling display of their iridescent feathers to charm potential mates. Catching the sunlight at just the right angle, the male strategically positions himself so the female can fully appreciate the vibrant colors.
Related read: How do birds mate?
12. Their nest expands
Before the female hummingbird builds the nest, she searches for a safe and suitable location, considering factors such as shelter and proximity to food sources. Potential nesting sites can range from tree branches and shrubs to vines and man-made structures like wires and clotheslines.
Once she finds the ideal spot, the female hummingbird constructs her nest using soft fibers, cottonwood fluff, willow seeds, and Thistledown. With moss and lichen camouflaging it, the nest is a walnut-shaped, insulated, cushioned structure that protects the delicate hummingbird eggs.
Nests start small to accommodate their eggs, about jellybean size. As the chicks hatch, their nest plays a crucial supporting role. Held together by sticky spider silk, the hummingbird's nest expands with the chicks' growth, ensuring they have enough space to thrive.
13. Hummingbirds face several challenges in the wild
Aside from the well-known bees, hummingbirds are essential pollinators. As they seek out nectar from various flowers, these minuscule birds inadvertently transfer pollen between plants, supporting plant reproduction and biodiversity.
The IUCN categorizes nine species of hummingbird as critically endangered. And many more received an endangered or vulnerable status. Due to habitat loss, climate change, and the use of pesticides, their population is struggling to survive.
Thankfully, governments and organizations have taken the initiative to implement hummingbird conservation efforts. They primarily focus on preserving natural habitats and increasing awareness through educational campaigns and community engagement, ensuring a brighter future for these vibrant pollinators.
Related: Save our bee facts to know what we can do to protect them.
14. We can help hummingbirds thrive
Small efforts on our end can also go a long way in saving hummingbird populations in various environments. One simple yet effective way to support them is through a simple hummingbird feeder full of sugary water. Additionally, coloring it red can make it even more appealing, as hummingbirds are inherently drawn to this hue.
Using the same logic, planting red flowers that attract hummingbirds is another method to support the little creatures. Bee balms and trumpet creepers are excellent examples of red flowers we can grow in our gardens.
With a little initiative, each person can contribute to preserving these jeweled birds by providing them with the food and resources they require. So, start today by installing red hummingbird feeders and planting gorgeous red flowers to create a hummingbird-friendly space around your home.
What's your favorite hummingbird fact? Pass these nuggets of knowledge to avid bird lovers now.
Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with H.
Eberts, E. R., Morag, D., & Kenneth, C. W. (2018). Metabolic Fates of Evening Crop-Stored Sugar in Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris). MPDI, 30(2), 145-151.
Altshuler, D. L., & Dudley, R. (2002). The ecological and evolutionary interface of hummingbird flight physiology. Journal of Experimental Biology, 205(16), 2325-2336.
Rico-Guevara, A., & Rubega, M. A. (2011). The hummingbird tongue is a fluid trap, not a capillary tube. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(23), 9356-9360.