- A-Z Animals
Hummingbirds are any of the 300-odd species of small, brightly-colored birds belonging to the family Trochilidae. Native to the New World, these are some of the smallest birds that exist and are named so because of the humming noise created by their flapping wings. Hummingbirds resemble sunbirds and honeyeaters in behavior and appearance.
About 325-360 species of hummingbirds have been divided into two subfamilies – the typical hummingbirds and the hermits. Scientific studies, however, suggest that this classification is somewhat erroneous, and there exist nine clades of hummingbirds. These include the jacobins and topazes, coquettes, hermits, mangoes, bees, emeralds, mountaingems, brilliants, and giant hummingbirds. The following are some of the most common hummingbird species.
Size: Hummingbirds vary in size and have an average length of 3-5 inches. The smallest living hummingbird species is the bee hummingbird, which measures 2 inches in length. The largest is the giant hummingbird, measuring 9.1 inches.
Weight: Their body mass varies depending on their size. The bee hummingbird weighs less than 2.0 g, and the giant hummingbird has a weight of about 18-24 g.
Color: Male hummingbirds have bright plumage that helps in territorial competition and courtship. The prismal cells, along with melanin and carotenoid pigmentation, give their head, breast, gorget, back, and wings varied coloration. Their common feather colors include purple, red, orange, pink, white, black, and blue.
Sexual Dimorphism: The different hummingbird species display sexual size dimorphism. In small-bodied species, the males are not as big as the females. In large-bodied species, however, the males are comparatively larger than females. In some species, females have longer and more curved bills than males.
Hummingbirds inhabit the Americas, extending from south-central Alaska to the Tierra del Fuego and the Caribbean. The majority of the hummingbird species are found in the tropical and subtropical regions of North, Central, and South America, while some occur in temperate climates and at great altitudes in the Andean highlands.
They are remarkably found in diverse habitats such as grasslands, meadows, marshes, riparian corridors, canyons, desert scrublands, as well as tropical, coniferous, and deciduous forests. Hummingbirds are typically found in large numbers in places where there is an abundance of plants and insects.
Among the most common North American species of hummingbirds, the average life expectancy is about 3-5 years. The longest-lived wild specimen is a broad-tailed hummingbird that survived for about 12 years.
For obtaining nutrients, hummingbirds feed on a wide range of insects, including fruit flies, gnats, and mosquitoes in flight, spiders in the web, and aphids on leaves. They drink nectar from flowers to meet their energy demands.
The males display their brightly-colored plumage and perform wing feather trills during courtship. In some species, male hummingbirds ascend about 35m above the female and dive at high speeds, creating a high-pitched sound to attract the attention of its probable mate.
Only the females participate in building a nest (usually cup-shaped) on shrubs or branches of trees. While the nests vary in size depending on the species, many of these birds use lichen and spider silk to tighten the material and secure the structure.
After building the nest, the female hummingbird lays two white eggs, which are incubated for 14-23 days. The mother feeds the nestlings on nectar and arthropods by putting its bill into their open mouth. The nestlings usually leave the nest after 18-22 days to feed on their own.
Depending on the species, the chicks weigh about 0.5-0.6 grams and are approximately one inch long. They have short and stubby beaks and are not capable of regulating their body heat.
While several species, including the ruby-throated hummingbird and Anna’s hummingbird, have been listed as ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN, nine species, including the sapphire-bellied hummingbird, are ‘Critically Endangered’.
Some of the flowers that attract hummingbirds include bee balm, cardinal flower, zinnia, salvia, and butterfly bush.
Yes, most hummingbird species seasonally migrate, except a few, including Anna’s hummingbird.
While their average speed is about 30 miles per hour, species like Anna’s hummingbird can have a flying speed up to 60 miles per hour.
Yes, hummingbirds go into a deep sleep-like state, called torpor at night when they are not foraging and when there is a scarcity of food.