Hummingbirds may be tiny, but they are truly mighty. The hummingbird is one of the most fascinating bird species on the planet. While it’s pretty unlikely you’ll see one up close in the wild in the UK, there’s much to learn about and plenty for you to be fascinated by if you ever get the chance to see them elsewhere around the globe.
To start things off for you, we’ve set up a bumper stack of interesting facts about hummingbirds to act as a bit of an introduction. Perky and plucky, the hummingbird has more up its feathery wings than you might anticipate. Let’s dive in and take a closer look.
Hummingbirds are, of course, seriously small. It’s likely that you’ll find most hummingbirds to be around 4g, with the smallest around 2g in weight.
However, pre-migration, it’s time for hummingbirds to start getting extremely fat. Some hummingbirds double their weight up to a relatively stonking 8g, with at least half of their bulk being a thick layer of blubber. It’s a wonder they can fly!
In fact, a hummingbird is able to – and often will – consume up to twice its weight in food in a single day.
However, hummingbirds aren’t as roly-poly as you might think. In fact, up to 30% of its weight might actually be found in its chest or pectoral muscles.
Hummingbirds remain the smallest birds in the world which migrate.
Curiously, they are even odder in the fact that they don’t migrate with other birds. Most other birds will migrate together in tight flocks, whereas the hummingbird will traverse its own journey solo, often travelling up to 500 miles.
As you might expect, there are no birds on Earth which lay smaller eggs than the hummingbird. That said, a hummingbird egg can account of up to 10% of the weight of its mother.
One of the facts you may already know about hummingbirds is that they beat their wings at incredible speeds. But how fast can they flap? On the whole, you can expect a hummingbird to beat their wings around 200 times a second – that’s almost impossible for us to see. Bigger hummingbirds, however, tend to flap a lot slower.
That, in fact, is where hummingbirds get their names from. Hummingbirds make a ‘humming’ noise of sorts thanks to just how fast they are beating their wings in succession.
Hummingbirds don’t have the ability to smell. This means that, unlike other birds, they won’t have the ability to sniff out food. However, they tend to have fantastic vision, which means that they will likely head for bright-coloured plants.
Hummingbirds are unable to walk or bounce around in the way that many other birds can. They only have legs and talons for side-stepping across branches.
Hummingbirds have pretty heavy brains. That is, compared to their weight on the whole. Over 4% of their body weight is pure brain muscle, believe it or not!
Hummingbirds will tend to live for up to five years of age. However, some have been known to live for over a decade, with the record appearing to be around 14 years old. However, keep in mind that these figures are from captive hummingbirds. They are less likely to live for as long in the wild.
There are some hummingbirds, such as the Rufous, which travels thousands of miles each year just to finish its migratory cycle. The Rufous hummingbird in fact travels further than most, traversing up to 4,000 miles across North America – completely alone.
No other bird in the world can fly backwards, making the hummingbird a unique critter with reverse-flying abilities.
Hummingbird nests are, as you might imagine, pretty tiny. In fact, they are coin-sized! They need to be big enough to hold super-tiny eggs, of course!
Compared to other birds, hummingbirds have very long bill to body ratios.
Hummingbirds are fantastic at conserving energy and can survive long periods without food if they really need to (though it is hardly recommended. This is a state similar to hibernation called torpor, and it’s a great way for the birds to persist until they find worthwhile food sources.
Hummingbirds drink the nectar from flowers and plants in a rather odd way. They stick their tongues in and out!
The speed at which they do this, too, is stunning. They can stick their tongues in and out of flowers more than 12 times a second, filling up on nectar.
There are likely to be more species of hummingbird out there than you might think. In fact, right now, there are thought to be more than 325 different breeds of hummingbird out there, making them some of the most diverse avians on the planet. However, it’s thought that there are only eight of these species native to the US at present.
Hummingbirds will take their time building nests, and it is only the females of the species who will do so. It might take around a week for a hummingbird to finish her nest, though this may vary from species to species.
Hummingbirds are even at risk of falling into spider’s webs and getting caught – they really are that small! They are even prey for a few sneaky frogs here and there, meaning that they definitely have to keep their wits about them.
There are so many different types of hummingbirds that more and more hybrid birds are popping up, helping to make the cross-section all the more fascinating on a global scale.
Hummingbird tongues are pretty unique, though you might actually find them similar to a cat’s. That’s because they have microscopic tongue hairs, which they use to help them lap up nectar as they feed from plants and flowers.
Hummingbirds will also fly and flit around at impressive speeds, covering up to 54 kilometres per hour on average.
Hummingbirds can be surprisingly aggressive, and perhaps reasonably so, given their size. They are some of the most territorial birds on the planet, willing to attack birds double or three times their size if they feel their rightful territory is under attack.
Hummingbird don’t just eat nectar and sugar. In fact, some will also enjoy sampling small spiders, bugs, and insects to help vary their diets.
Hummingbirds have eyesight powerful enough to see UV light. What’s more, they are likely to be able to see much further than we can, on average. This really does make up for the lack of smell, on the whole!
Male hummingbirds tend to offer little to no support in the raising of their children. In fact, some are downright irresponsible! Some males will choose to fly away and breed elsewhere if they want to! Are they the loverats of the bird world? Quite probably!
There are supposedly more feathers per inch on a hummingbird than there are on any other known avian. That’s not surprising given their tiny size. More often than not, the feather count on a hummingbird is a mating asset, both in terms of the visual effect as well as in terms of the sounds that they can make in mating displays. It’s not unheard of for male hummingbirds to put on a bit of a song and dance to show off to females!
Hummingbird wings are extremely flexible. That’s what helps them to fly backwards if they need to. They beat and flap in a figure-eight, meaning that they can easily hover and reposition themselves in the air if they need to.
Hummingbirds love bright colours, and as stated, this tends to help them find the best flowers and plants to suck nectar out of. However, they tend to favour colours such as red, though there really isn’t much of a preference otherwise. They’re not too picky!
A group of hummingbirds is often known as a hover or a bouquet. There are more names for groups of these birds than you might imagine.
You’ve heard plenty about hummingbird vision, but what about hearing? They are brilliant at listening out for all the important stuff – and supposedly, male hummingbird ears are known to attract mates depending on how overly feathered they are.
The smallest bird in North America on the whole is, of course, a hummingbird. Specifically, the calliope hummingbird holds the record at around three inches in length. However, this is just longer than the bee hummingbird, just over two inches in size, and the smallest hummingbird on the planet.
Some hummingbirds are considered endangered. In fact, around 10% of hummingbird species can be found on threatened lists, meaning that there is plenty out there which is endangering their survival.
Some of the biggest threats facing hummingbirds, of course, relate to habitat destruction, as well as climate change. While there are plenty of efforts to conserve hummingbirds as much as possible, there likely needs to be big, sweeping change to what we pump into our atmosphere if we really want to save as many as we possibly can.
The sword-billed hummingbird, as you might imagine, has a beak that is impressively long and sceptre-like. Here’s the really interesting bit, though – its bill is longer than its body!
Hummingbirds will only generally lay one or two eggs at a time.
Hummingbirds take plenty of breaths – in fact, they will generally inhale and exhale up to 250 times each minute! That’s a lot of oxygen, and it certainly needs to be given how much energy they expend.
Most hummingbirds spend their days eating, beating their wings, and chasing off anything they assume is a threat to their nectar supply. You may think this is greedy behaviour, but keep in mind how much energy a hummingbird actually needs. If they don’t fight for their food, their survival is really at risk! What’s more, as the smallest migratory bird, they are more at risk from predators and other dangers than most bird species.
These birds are also real masterminds – they have fantastic memories. This is to such an extent where they can remember flowers where they once got a good crop of nectar from, meaning that they will often head back there to swoop in for more where possible.
Baby hummingbirds are, naturally, unable to fly at first – and they really are tiny, smaller than most coins in circulation right now.
Hummingbirds aren’t afraid to get a bit creative with their beaks and bills. As you can imagine, given their aggressive and territorial nature, it’s nor unheard of for a hummingbird to turn into a bit of a musketeer! They will use their bills for hunting, for warding off predators, and for fighting off other hummingbirds. Essentially, they are feisty little fiends, and for this reason, they really aren’t for tangling with!
Hummingbird beaks also tend to be fantastic traps for catching insects. Just like a mousetrap or a Venus fly trap, they will wait for insects to swoop in as they stretch their mouths wide, before snapping shut on them to catch them unawares!
Hummingbirds do like to show off – as well as reaching impressive flying and hovering speeds, they are known for being pretty nifty divers, too. They can reach up to 60 miles per hour just from diving beak-first, meaning anything in their path probably doesn’t have much hope of getting out of the way any time soon.
Hummingbirds have quirky eyelids, too – in the sense that they have three of them! This means that they can effectively protect their eyes while flying around at top speeds.
Hummingbird intellect is seriously impressive. We’ve already talked about their memories, but what about their ability to calculate? It’s thought that they will know when a flower is likely to generate new nectar, meaning not only can they find their way back to the best plants, they know when they are likely to pay off, too.
Do you know any interesting or fun facts about hummingbirds that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!