Hummingbirds are charismatic, zippy little creatures that typically subside on the nectar of flowers. Because they are so speedy, and their metabolism matches their speed, they must eat virtually constantly. These little birds, native to the Americas, are incredibly unique and specialized. Read on to learn about the hummingbird.
Description of the Hummingbird
There are 338 known species of hummingbirds, and each is slightly different in appearance. In general, hummingbirds are small birds, usually between three and five inches in length. They have long, narrow beaks used for extracting nectar from flowers. Their feathers are frequently iridescent colors, and range from brown, to blue, green, purple, red, and pink.
Interesting Facts About the Hummingbird
Hummingbirds are highly specialized creatures. Their metabolism, body design, appendages, and behavior all rotate around utilizing flowers as a food source.
- Hover-bird – In order to drink flower nectar, hummingbirds must be able to access flowers! To do this, they have to be able to hover perfectly in place while sipping from their flowery drink dispenser. They can fly both forwards and backwards, and flap their wings anywhere from 12-80 beats per second!
- Hummmm – These extremely fast wingbeats are where hummingbirds get their name. When flying, hummingbirds flap so quickly that their wings make a humming sound. The sound is very high frequency, and just audible to humans.
- Hovering is Hard Work! – When you have to flap your wings 1,260 times in a single minute, you’re going to burn some serious energy! Because they must flap so quickly to hover when feeding, hummingbirds have incredibly fast metabolisms. In fact, hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of all vertebrate animals (only insects have higher metabolisms).
- Sweet Senses – Hummingbirds are the only birds with the ability to detect sweetness. This adaptation is what allowed hummingbirds to begin using sweet nectar as an energy source in the beginning of their evolution. Basically, hummingbirds have the ability to taste how sweet the nectar is and estimate if it has enough sugar to be worth eating.
Habitat of the Hummingbird
Hummingbird species can be found in a number of different habitats. They can be found in temperate and even alpine mountain climates, but are found mostly in the tropics and subtropics. The greatest numbers of hummingbird species can be found in Central and South America, particularly in subtropical and tropical rainforests.
Distribution of the Hummingbird
Different species of hummingbirds can be found from Alaska and Canada all the way to South America. In Canada, 10 different species of hummingbirds have been identified. The number of species in the United States jumps to 25. Columbia and Ecuador have the most species, with 160 and 130 respectively.
Diet of the Hummingbird
The bulk of a hummingbird’s diet consists of sweet nectar. When available, they will also feed on mosquitoes, spiders, gnats, fruit flies, and aphids. When catching insects, hummingbirds usually hunt on the fly.
These amazing birds capture bugs while in the air, and can pluck spiders right out of their webs without missing a (wing) beat. Hummingbirds use nectar as their energy source, and insects to make up for the nutritional value that is lacking in nectar.
Hummingbird and Human Interaction
Hummingbirds are one of the few species that humans have some positive impact on. People frequently hang out hummingbird feeders with sugar water for the birds to sip from. These feeders provide hummingbirds with a reliable source of nectar.
Unfortunately, hummingbirds are also negatively impacted by deforestation and habitat destruction. Pollution and global climate change could also potentially impact the survival of the flowers that they rely upon for energy, and insects they rely upon for nutrition.
Hummingbirds have not been domesticated in any way.
Does the Hummingbird Make a Good Pet
In most places it is illegal to own a hummingbird as a pet. Because they have such high metabolisms, it can be difficult to provide the proper nutrition for them.
When in zoos, hummingbirds are provided with lots of flying space to establish territories. They cannot be housed with many larger bird species, as they are quite small. Their aviaries are outfitted with lots of natural vegetation, both as perches and sources of nectar. Sugar water feeders and fruit flies or other insects supplement their dietary needs.
Behavior of the Hummingbird
Hummingbirds are highly territorial creatures. Male hummingbirds establish territories to attract mates. Within a male’s territory he will perform acrobatic displays and flash his iridescent feathers to attract females. He will also vocalize to attract female birds, and scare away rival males.
Because they are solitary creatures, hummingbirds only interact with one another when they are disputing territory or searching for mates.
Reproduction of the Hummingbird
If a male is impressive enough, the female will choose him as her mate. After breeding, the female hummingbird assumes all of the parental duties, and the male returns to his territory. The female hummingbird builds a nest of feathers, leaves, moss, and wool. She will bind the nest together and attach it to the branch using spider webs.
The hummingbird chicks, being quite small, are very vulnerable to predators. Sometimes even large insects can prey on hummingbird chicks! To protect her offspring, momma hummingbird is very aggressive towards any intruders. After three or four weeks the hummingbird chicks will learn to fly, and become independent quickly after.
Beliefs, Superstitions, and Phobias About the Hummingbird
Hummingbirds were quite prevalent in Aztec culture, often worn as talismans around the neck, either as artistic representations or carvings, or actual hummingbird parts. They were seen as a symbol of energy, vigor, and hard work.
The Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochtli, was often depicted as a hummingbird. It was even told that fallen warriors would be reincarnated as hummingbirds and butterflies, which is frankly a little concerning, as they wore hummingbird-part talismans!