Fascinating hummingbirds. They’re the tiniest birds in the world, weighing between 2 and 20 grams (a penny weighs 2.5 grams). They can see and hear better than humans. They can even see ultraviolet light. Yet they have no sense of smell. Their hearts beat about 250 times per minute at rest and up to 1,260 times a minute while flying. Their wings beat about 70 times per second, but up to 200 times per second when diving. Their metabolism is roughly 100 times that of an elephant.
I’ve never seen a hummingbird here in Hawaii, so on a recent visit to San Diego, I was delighted to find a colony of them hovering around my house-host’s feeder. I could have watched them all day, but time did not permit. Here are just a few shots from my short time with these captivating creatures. And some more hummingbird facts that might surprise you.
Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly both forward and backwards. They can hover in midair, fly sideways and even upside down. They can fly at an average speed of 25-30 miles per hour but can dive up to 60 mph.
A hummingbird’s wings will rotate in a full circle.
Hummingbirds do not mate for life. Females do all the nest building, and males do not help raise the young. Baby hummingbirds cannot fly and remain the nest for 3 weeks. A hummingbird’s average life span is 5 years, but some can live for more than 10 years.
Hummingbirds can flash bright colors (I saw red, green and blue on the head), or hide them. The colors come from iridescence similar to that on a soap bubble or prism. Females find these iridescent feathers attractive.
A hummingbird’s brain is 4.2% of its body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.
Hummingbirds are very smart, and they can remember every flower they have been to and how long it will take a flower to refill.
A hummingbird does not drink through its beak like a straw. It uses its tongue, which is grooved in the shape of a W and has tiny hairs on its tip, to lap up nectar from flowers and feeders.
Hummingbirds spend most of their life perching. They have weak feet and can barely walk, preferring to fly. Their body temperature is around 107 degrees F.
An average sized hummingbird will have about 940 feathers.
30% of a hummingbird’s weight consists of flight muscles. In comparison, human pectoral muscles are about 6% of body weight.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds have been known to travel 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico to breeding grounds. The trip takes an estimated 20 hours. Some hummingbirds will travel over 2,000 miles, twice a year, during migrations.
Contrary to popular misconception, hummingbirds do not migrate on the backs of geese. Geese fly on different migration paths or fly zones than hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds need to eat on average 7 times per hour for about 30-60 seconds (so I have to ask myself, how does a hummingbird make it 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico?), and will visit an average of 1,000 flowers per day for nectar, lapping it up at a rate of about 13 licks per second. They also eat small soft bugs for protein.
To sleep, hummingbirds go into a hibernation-like state called torpor to conserve energy. When in torpor, they appear dead and have occasionally been found hanging upside down. It takes up to an hour to fully recover from torpor.
Male hummingbirds are very aggressive and will chase other males out of their territories.
Hummingbirds are only found naturally in the Americas, as far north as Alaska and as far south as Chile.
There are more than 300 species of hummingbirds.
A hummingbird’s favorite color is red. They pollinate flowers by rubbing their forehead and face in the flower as they get nectar.
Early Spanish explorers called hummingbirds flying jewels. Can’t argue with that.