Phaethornithinae (hermit hummingbirds)
Trochilinae (typical hummingbirds)
Genera: there are at least 102 known genera
Species: there are at least 328 known species
Length: largest—giant hummingbird Patagona gigas 8.6 inches (22 centimeters), with tail streamers, up to 13.7 inches (35 centimeters); smallest—bee hummingbird Mellisuga helenae 2 inches (5 centimeters)
Weight: 0.06 to 0.8 ounces (1.6 to 23 grams)
Life span: 6 to 12 years
Number of eggs laid: usually 2, sometimes 1
Size of eggs: 0.3 x 0.43 inches to 0.5 x 0.8 inches (8 x 11 millimeters to 12 x 20 millimeters)
Incubation: 14 to 23 days
Age of maturity: 2 months to 1 year
Conservation status: 9 species are at critical risk, including Honduran emerald hummingbird Amazilia luciae, turquoise-throated puffleg Eriocnemis godini, and sapphire-bellied hummingbird Lepidopyga lilliae
Hummingbirds like to take baths several times a
day! They bathe by splashing in shallow water or sitting near
a waterfall or a sprinkler and letting the spray fall on them.
A few even dive in and out of water and then shake their feathers
themselves with their bills and claws.
One of the fastest birds is the green violet-ear hummingbird Colibri thalassinus. It can fly up to 93 miles per hour (150 kilometers per hour) for short distances!
Hummingbirds are so quick that they can easily escape predators like snakes, falcons, jays, toucans, and cats, unless they are taken by surprise.
The Anna's hummingbird Calypte anna is commonly seen in San Diego gardens all year. It was named for a 19th-century duchess, Anna Massena. The male birds have a red throat and a red crown!
Little birds with big appeal
Hummingbirds include the smallest birds in the world but they belong to one of the largest families of birds. These enchanting birds are found in deserts, mountains, and plains, but most are found in the tropical rain forests. Their name refers to the humming sound made by their tiny beating wings. In the Caribbean people call them el zunzun.
Creatures big and small
There are more than 300 kinds of hummingbirds. The smallest is the bee hummingbird Mellisuga helenae from Cuba; the largest is the giant hummingbird Patagona gigas. Hummingbird bills come in different sizes and shapes, too. The long slender bill is adapted for collecting nectar from flowers. The bills protect their long split tongues and allow each kind of hummingbird to feed from specific types of flowers. Hummingbirds are called nectivores because about 90 percent of their diet is nectar from flowers. They also snack on insects now and then, which they often catch by hawking. A hummingbird hawks insects by flying and diving to snap them up out of the air.
Even though hummingbirds are small in size, they have large appetites. Hummingbirds consume between 3.14 and 7.6 calories a day. That may not seem like much, but if humans (who may eat 3,500 calories a day) had the metabolism of a hummingbird, they would have to consume approximately 155,000 calories a day. Thats about 77 times as much as most humans eat! The hummingbirds need for lots of calories is because of their high heart rate and small body size. Because they eat so much, they must digest their food quickly. A hummingbird can digest a fruit fly in 10 minutes. Thousands of New World plants rely on hummingbirds for pollination. Hummingbirds like flowers that are bright and that open during the day, when hummingbirds are awake.
A rainbow of feathers
Hummingbirds come in all colors of the rainbow. Some of their feathers actually change color as they move in the light. Hummingbird common names such as green-crowned comet, sapphire-vented puffleg, and ruby-throated hummingbird describe their beautiful, fancy feathers. In the mid-1800s, hundreds of thousands of hummingbirds were killed for their feathers and some species almost became extinct. Luckily, people today realize that the feathers look much better on the birds!
Hummingbirds are not very social animals, which is why you never see them flying in flocks. In fact, males and females live apart until breeding season. Usually a male will call to a female and show her his beautiful feathers. Some male hummingbirds attract a female by forming a lek. A single lek can include up to 100 males. If a female seems interested in one of the males, he may perform a flying dance for her in the air. Once they mate, the female is on her own to build the nest and raise her young. The eggs of the smaller hummingbirds are the size of a coffee bean. Hummingbird babies are blind when they hatch. They have only a little down on their bodies and bumps for bills. These tiny chicks are very vulnerable, and sometimes their predators include large insects! Fortunately their mothers are very protective.
If a hummingbird sees a hawk or some other bird of prey that it doesnt want in its territory, it will give a high-pitched warning and start doing dive attacks. Then other hummers and even birds of different species often join in to dive-bomb the hawk until they chase it away. The hummingbird is fearless because it can outmaneuver everything, unless it is taken by surprise. When it comes to flying, nobody does it better. Like a helicopter, a hummingbird can go up, down, sideways, backwards, even upside down! This is because most of its wing is made of hand bones instead of arm bones like other birds. Hummingbirds also have muscles that power both the up and down stroke instead of just the down stroke as in other birds. They can beat their wings up to 200 times per second. Hummingbirds are such good fliers that most of them never walk as far as 2 inches (51 millimeters).
Do hummingbirds make good pets?
In general, all wild animals do not make good pets. Hummingbirds have a specialized diet that is difficult to duplicate, so they would be hard to feed properly, and they might get sick and die too soon. They prefer to live in a large territory, where they can use their specialized flying skills to find food and mates, which would be difficult to provide for a pet. They are also territorial and very assertive, bold little birds, and it is unlikely they could be the affectionate companions that people expect of their pets.
What does the future hold?
Some hummingbird species have adapted to the presence of humans. It is important to keep native plants in hummingbird habitat so the birds still have food available. Gardens that include hummingbird-friendly flowers have helped strike a balance with human presence in hummingbird habitat. However, in many parts of the world the human population is growing so fast that hummingbirds are losing their habitat. The easiest way to save animal habitat is by recycling and buying recycled products. By reducing the amount of resources we use from nature, we leave more habitat for the animals, small and large.