There are over 350 different species of Hummingbird and new species are still being discovered. Most species weigh less than 12g and these gorgeous creatures are the most agile birds on earth.
Hummingbirds are the only birds which can fly backwards and when diving, can reach speeds of 60mph and flap their wings up to 200 times per second. Their hearts beat up to 1200 times per minute and their incredibly fast metabolisms ensure that they are always hungry. Indeed, their metabolisms are so fast that the birds would starve overnight if they slept normally. For this reason, they fall into a deeper state of sleep which resembles hibernation. This slows the birds’ metabolisms to just 1/15 of their normal rates. Hummingbirds are predated by reptiles, other birds and even insects due to their diminutive size but are surprisingly aggressive.
What is the Hummingbird’s distribution and population?
Hummingbirds are not found anywhere in Europe. These birds are native only to the Americas with 8 species breeding in the US and a further dozen or so being seen there. All other species live and breed in Central and South America. The birds which breed in the US are migratory. They spend the winter in Central America and then travel north for the breeding season. The individual birds will often arrive at their breeding grounds on precisely the same day every year. Rufous hummingbirds complete the longest migration as they travel more than 6000 km between Mexico and Alaska.
Around 10 percent of hummingbird species are listed as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. 2 species have become extinct during the last century. Hummingbird populations are being impacted by habitat loss and the effects of climate change on both their food supplies and their migrations routes. In the US, some species are benefitting from bird feeders and the planting of nectar-rich flowers in gardens.
What do Hummingbirds eat?
Hummingbirds are always hungry and need to consume an amount of food equivalent to half their body weight every day. Their diet consists principally of nectar, but also includes small insects and spiders. Hummingbirds benefit from unique tongues which they use like pumps. The mechanism is similar to that of drawing up liquids using a pipette. The birds utilise energy accumulated at the base of their tongues to pull up the nectar. A hummingbird’s tongue will move in and out of a flower up to 20 times per second.
Where do Hummingbirds nest?
It is hard to spot hummingbird nests as they are so tiny and are hidden away in the forks of a branches or buried inside bushes. The nests are constructed from lichen, moss and spider silk. Hummingbirds living close to people may choose to build their nests in strange places including on washing lines. These beautiful little birds lay two eggs the size of jellybeans which are incubated for 10-23 days, depending on the species. The chicks fledge after 18-22 days.
Did you know?
The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world and weighs less than 2g.