Brightly-colored and mesmerizing, hummingbirds are some of the most interesting of the nearly 10,000 bird species in the world. If you live in the United States, you've probably seen them fluttering around during the summertime. Perhaps you've heard them, too—the name hummingbird comes from the buzzing sound of their fast-flapping wings.
What Is a Hummingbird?
Hummingbirds, which are tiny, colorful, thin-beaked birds, get their name from the humming noise that occurs when they flap their wings very fast. All 350 species of hummingbirds are natives of the New World (North and South America circa the early 16th century during the European “age of discovery”).
These tiny, feathered creatures are astounding to even the most experienced birders.
8 Little-Known Facts about Hummingbirds
Fun Hummingbird Trivia
From distinctive physiological features to intriguing migration patterns, the following facts will get you acquainted with the world's smallest birds.
- 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 cannot walk or hop, though their feet 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!
- 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, and 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.
- 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 3 grams. In comparison, a nickel weighs 4.5 grams. It would take more than 150 ruby-throated hummingbirds to weigh one pound.
- 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.
- 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 the overall body size.
- 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. It is a myth, however, that these tiny birds "ride" on the back of other birds during migration—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.
- 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 factors, including 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.
Del Rio, Carlos Martinez. Sugar Preferences in Hummingbirds: The Influence of Subtle Chemical Differences on Food Choice. The Condor, vol. 92, no. 4, 1990, p. 1022., doi:10.2307/1368738