Friday, August 2, 2013

Hummingbirds: The Little Birds That Could

Probably one of the most sought after bird family and probably the most recognizable, hummingbirds are almost a thing from a fantasy faerie world. The majority of hummers fall into the pint-size category between 3-5 inches, however, the Bee hummingbird is a ridiculously scant 5 cm in size, making it the smallest extant bird species known. There are 17 known hummingbird species within North America, 356 world wide and 51 of them are endangered.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird © Matt Brincka

For being so small, they are packed with an arsenal of adaptations. They are able to hover in mid-air while beating their wings an exhilarating 12-80 times per second (depending on the species). They can reach speeds of nearly 35 mph and are also the only known group of birds that can fly backwards. That's right... backwards!

Broad-tailed Hummingbird © Matt Brincka

Since they are so small, they have an amazing heartbeat of roughly 1200 beats per minute and have the highest metabolism of all animals (except insects); a necessity to support the rapid beating of their wings. A high metabolism requires a lot of food, in which they consume more than their own weight in nectar each day, visiting hundreds of flowers to get the needed food. It is said hummingbirds are always hours away from starvation... so what do they do when food is scarce? What do they do during the night? Hummingbirds are capable to go into a state of torpor, a hibernation-like state. Topor is not hibernation, but it is similar. When going into topor, a hummingbird can lower their metabolic rate to nearly to 1/15 of its normal rate, with a heartbeat of only 50-180 beats per second.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird © Matt Brincka

To attract these beautiful litte buggers, go grab a hummingbird feeder at your local store. Don't, however, buy the dyed humming bird food. It is much healthier (no artificial dyes) and easier to make your own.

Fool-proof hummingbird food recipe
4 cups of water (filtered if possible)
1 cup of white sugar
  1. Bring water to a boil
  2. Take water off of heat
  3. Add sugar and stir to dissolve sugar
  4. Let nectar cool to room temperature
  5. Place in a clean humming bird feed
***Make sure you check your feeder for mold periodically. If mold is found, dump food and disinfect with warm water and soap. Rinse thoroughly with fresh water once clean.

Interesting tid-bits
  • The Aztec god Huitzilopochtli is often depicted as a hummingbird.
  • They are able to assess how much sugar is in the nectar they eat, and often reject flowers with less than 10% sugar.
  • Hummingbirds don't only eat nectar! To meet their needs for protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals they prey on insects and spiders.
  • Many hummingbird species make their nests out of spider silk.
  • Longest recorded lifespan is 12 years.
  • Some hummingbird species in North American are known to travel hundreds of miles during migrating. The ruby-throated humming bird actually flies non-stop over the entire Gulf of Mexico!

If you need a larger version of this very interesting infographic, click the picture or find an even larger version here.

Record your sitings and help with hummingbird conservation at National Audubon's Hummingbirds At Home website or phone application and at eBird.

An interesting website to learn anything from hummingbird first aid to hummingbird stories is the World of Hummingbirds. Enjoy!

Pictures in this post were taken with a Samsung Galaxy SII... only proving you don't need a $10,000 camera to get awesome pictures. You just need brave wildlife!


  1. Very cool stuff--I love my hummers, which are very busy right now. In fact, I just added 3 more hummingbird feeders! It amazes me that they can travel so many hundreds of miles, without stopping, across the Gulf of Mexico. Add to that the extra miles it takes them to come 'home' to my yard in the Southern Tier of NYS. Awesome little birds!

  2. Enjoyable post, but you might want to correct your hummer heart rate info. Beats/sec should be beats/minute, which is certainly impressive enough as it is!

    1. Great catch Russ! I must have complete missed that while I was editing. Could you imagine 1200 heart beats per second? What a feat!