Thursday, March 2, 2017

Wonders of Nature: The Amazing Hummingbird

Dear George,
Growing up in the country, we were in much more immediate touch with various flora and fauna than we’ve been during our adult urban lives.  The hummingbird was perhaps the most astonishing creature that lived on our property on the Menominee River.  My mother had a garden that ran along the west side of our front lawn, and we’d frequently watch the tiny, brilliantly colored hummingbirds hover over a flower, then dart in and extract its nectar.  Drawing from the sources listed at the end, here are some of the facts about hummingbirds that make them true wonders of nature.

  • Hummingbirds have lived on earth for about 42 million years.  They evolved simultaneously with nectar-bearing plants.  
  • Hummingbirds are native to the Americas: Central and South America, North America, and the Caribbean. There are 328 known species of hummingbirds.  Most live in tropical regions of Central and South America, while 17 are native to the U.S.  Only the ruby-throated hummingbird is found east of the Mississippi.   
  • Hummingbirds are among the world’s smallest birds.  The smallest known bird is the Bee Hummingbird, measuring less than 2 inches in length.   The Giant Hummingbird is nine inches long and weighs 0.8 ounces.  
  • Hummingbirds are named for the sound made by their tiny, beating wings.   A hummingbird’s wings beat up to 80 times per second.  Male hummingbirds’ wings give off a shrill whistle that can be detected by females over a hundred yards away. 
  • Hummingbirds hover in the air by flapping their wings in a figure-8 pattern.  They are the only vertebrates able to hover.  They are also the only birds that can fly right, left, up, down, backwards, and upside down.    
  • Hummingbirds can typically fly up to 35 miles per hour.  The green violet-ear hummingbird can fly 93 miles per hour.   
  • Except for certain insects, hummingbirds have the highest metabolic rate of any bird or animal. Their heart rates can reach 1,260 beats per minute, and, even at rest, they breathe 250 times a minute.  During flight, a hummingbird’s oxygen consumption is ten times higher than that of human Olympic athletes. 
  • Hummingbirds use their feet only for perching and not for hopping or walking.   
  • Hummingbirds drink nectar from flowers, supplementing their need for nutrients by eating flying insects and spiders.  The average hummingbird eats half its weight in sugar every day.  If humans ate as much as hummingbirds, they would consume 155,000 calories a day.  
  • Hummingbirds’ tongues have tubes which help them to drink nectar.   They lick their food at a rate of up to 13 licks per second.  Hummingbirds have been observed visiting up to 20 flowers a minute.  
  • Thousands of plants in the Americas rely on hummingbirds for pollination.  
  • Hummingbirds spend 10-15% of their time feeding and 75-80% sitting and digesting their food intake.  
  • Hummingbirds are very territorial and have been observed chasing larger birds like hawks away from their territories. 
  • Most U.S. hummingbirds migrate south for the winter, traveling as much as 3,900 miles (over 78 million times the body length of a 3-inch hummingbird).  
  • To conserve energy, hummingbirds go into a state of torpor at night, their metabolic rate dropping to 1/15th of its normal rate.   Their body temperature drops from 105 degrees F. to 65 F.  
  • Like parrots, hummingbirds are able to acquire new songs through imitation. 
  • Hummingbirds take baths several times a day, splashing in shallow water.  
  • Hummingbirds use spider silk to bind their nests together.   
  • The Aztec god, Huitzilopochtli, is often depicted as a hummingbird.  The Aztecs believed that fallen warriors return to earth as hummingbirds and butterflies.  
  • Many hummingbird species are listed as vulnerable or endangered due to habitat loss and/or climate change.  34 hummingbird species are threatened with extinction.   

SOURCES:, “Hummingbird”;, “Basic Facts About Hummingbirds”;, “The Hummingbird Society”;, “Hummingbirds”;

No comments:

Post a Comment