Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Anna's Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Long-tailed Sylph, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Bee Hummingbird, Giant Hummingbird
What Is a Hummingbird?
A hummingbird is a small bird belonging to the family Trochilidae, known for its unique and remarkable characteristics. There are over 300 species of hummingbirds that are native to the Americas, with the highest species diversity found in South and Central America. These birds are known for their iridescent plumage, rapid wing-flapping, and extraordinary agility in flight.
What Does a Hummingbird Look Like?
- Size: Hummingbirds are among the smallest birds in the world, with sizes ranging from the tiny Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae), measuring just 2.2 inches long (5.6 cm), to the Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas), which can reach up to 8.5 inches (21.5 cm) in length.
- Plumage: Hummingbirds are known for their iridescent feathers that display a range of vibrant colors, such as greens, blues, reds, and purples. The iridescence is created by microscopic platelets in their feathers that refract and reflect light, producing vivid colors.
- Bill: Most hummingbird species have long, slender bills that are adapted for feeding on nectar from tubular flowers. The bill shape and length can vary depending on the species and the type of flowers they feed on.
- Tongue: Hummingbirds have a long, specialized tongue that allows them to lap up nectar from flowers efficiently. The tongue is bifurcated (forked) at the tip and can extend beyond the bill.
- Wings: Hummingbirds have unique ball-and-socket shoulder joints that enable their incredible flight capabilities. Their wings are relatively short and narrow, allowing rapid wing beats and a wide range of motion.
Where Does The Word 'Hummingbird' Come From?
The word "hummingbird" is derived from the humming sound created by the rapid movement of their wings as they fly. The fast wing beats cause the air to vibrate, producing a characteristic humming sound that can be easily associated with these birds. The wing beat frequency can range from 40 to 80 beats per second, depending on the species.
How Many Hummingbird Species Are There?
There are over 300 species of hummingbirds, each with its unique characteristics. Here is a list of some of the main and well-known hummingbird species:
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
The only species of hummingbird that breeds in eastern North America, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is known for its bright red throat patch on the males and its remarkable migratory ability.
Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna)
A year-round resident of the western United States, Anna's Hummingbird is easily recognized by the iridescent pink throat patch on the males and its territorial behavior.
Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)
This species breeds in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Males have a black throat with a purple iridescent band at the bottom.
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl)
Found in Central America, from southern Mexico to western Panama, this species is known for its rufous-colored tail feathers and its aggressive behavior around feeding areas.
Violet-crowned Hummingbird (Amazilia violiceps)
With a range from the southwestern United States to central Mexico, this species has a distinct violet-colored crown and a white throat.
Long-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus kingii)
Native to the Andean cloud forests of Colombia, this species is characterized by its striking elongated tail feathers and iridescent green plumage.
Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)
Found in the high Andes from Venezuela to Bolivia, this unique species is known for its long, straight bill that is longer than its body, and adapted to feed on long-tubed flowers.
Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae)
Native to Cuba and the Isla de la Juventud, the Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world, measuring just 2.2 inches long.
Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas)
As the largest hummingbird species, the Giant Hummingbird is found in the Andes, ranging from Colombia to Tierra del Fuego in South America.
Hummingbirds: The Acrobats of the Bird World
Hummingbirds are renowned for their unique flight abilities, speed, and agility, which set them apart from other bird species. Some of the key aspects of their flight capabilities include:
- Hovering: Hummingbirds are the only birds capable of sustained hovering. This ability allows them to remain stationary in the air while they feed on nectar from flowers. Hovering is achieved by rotating their wings in a figure-eight pattern, creating lift on both the upstroke and downstroke.
- Multi-directional flight: In addition to hovering, hummingbirds can fly forwards, backward, and even upside down. Their specialized ball-and-socket shoulder joints provide a wide range of motion, enabling them to change direction quickly and maneuver easily around obstacles.
- Rapid wing beats: Hummingbirds have an incredibly high wing beat frequency, ranging from 40 to 80 beats per second, depending on the species. This rapid wing movement allows them to generate the lift and thrust needed for their unique flight patterns. The buzzing sound produced by their fast-flapping wings is a characteristic feature of these birds.
- Speed: Hummingbirds are capable of reaching impressive speeds during flight, especially during courtship displays or when escaping from predators. They can fly at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour) or even reach 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour) in a dive.
- Agility: The combination of their rapid wing beats, multi-directional flight capabilities, and lightweight bodies make hummingbirds extremely agile. They can perform intricate aerial acrobatics, dodge obstacles, and escape predators with ease.
Hummingbird Food and Metabolism
Hummingbirds have a unique diet and an incredibly high metabolism, which is essential for supporting their energy-intensive lifestyle and flight abilities. Here are some key aspects of hummingbird food and metabolism:
- Diet: The primary food source for hummingbirds is nectar, which provides them with the sugar (energy) they need for their high metabolic demands. They visit a variety of flowering plants to consume nectar, often favoring tubular flowers that accommodate their long bills and tongues. In addition to nectar, hummingbirds also eat insects and spiders for protein, which is crucial for muscle growth and maintenance, as well as for feeding their young.
- Metabolism: Hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of any bird species, requiring them to consume large amounts of energy-rich food daily. Their heart rate can exceed 1,200 beats per minute, and they take around 250 breaths per minute while at rest. To fuel their high-energy lifestyle, they may consume up to 50% of their body weight in nectar daily.
- Energy consumption: Due to their rapid metabolism, hummingbirds need to eat frequently throughout the day. They typically visit hundreds of flowers daily to maintain their energy levels. Their exceptional memory helps them keep track of which flowers they have visited and when they will be replenished with nectar.
- Adaptations for feeding: Hummingbirds have several specialized adaptations for feeding on nectar, such as their long, slender bills and their forked, extendable tongues. Their tongues are capable of rapidly lapping up nectar, thanks to capillary action and grooves on the tongue's surface.
- Torpor: To conserve energy during the night or when food is scarce, hummingbirds can enter a state called torpor. This is a temporary hibernation-like state in which their metabolic rate drops significantly, and their body temperature falls to conserve energy. Entering torpor allows them to survive periods of inactivity or food scarcity
- Importance of maintaining energy levels: Due to their high metabolism, it is critical for hummingbirds to maintain their energy levels. If they cannot find enough food, they can quickly become weak and may not survive. Providing hummingbird feeders with sugar water and planting nectar-rich flowers in gardens can help support local hummingbird populations.
Gareth Bogdanoff, Shutterstock
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.