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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

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:

Hummingbird, Ruby-throated Hummingbird,Archilochus colubris, 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.

Hummingbird, Anna's hummingbird, Calypte anna 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.

Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri 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.

Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Amazilia tzacatl 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.

Hummingbird, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Amazilia violiceps 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.

hummingbird, Long-tailed Sylph hummingbird 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.

Hummingbird, sword-billed hummingbird 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.

Hummingbird, Bee hummingbird, Mellisuga helenae 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.

Hummingbird, Giant hummingbird, Patagona gigas 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, 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.

Guide Information

Genus Aquilegia, Fuchsia, Agastache, Kniphofia, Campsis, Salvia, Monarda
Attracts Hummingbirds

Flowers that Attract Hummingbirds

Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower)
Lonicera sempervirens (Trumpet Honeysuckle)
Campsis radicans (Trumpet Vine)
Agastache (Hyssop)
Monarda (Bee Balm)
Salvia (Sage)
Aquilegia (Columbine)
Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)

Hummingbird Reproduction

Hummingbird reproduction involves several stages, from courtship and mating to nest-building, egg-laying, and chick-rearing. Here is an overview of the reproduction process in hummingbirds:

  • Courtship: Male hummingbirds often use elaborate courtship displays to attract females. These displays can include aerial acrobatics, such as dives, hovering, and swift direction changes, as well as the display of iridescent plumage. In some species, males may also perform courtship songs or make vocalizations to attract a mate.
  • Mating: Once the female has chosen a suitable mate, the pair will mate briefly. Hummingbird mating is a quick process, with the male perching on the female’s back for only a few seconds to copulate. After mating, the male usually plays no role in nest-building, incubation, or chick-rearing.
  • Nest-building: The female is solely responsible for building the nest. Hummingbird nests are small, cup-shaped structures typically constructed in the branches of trees or shrubs.
  • Egg-laying: The female usually lays one or two eggs, which are tiny, white, and oval-shaped. The number of eggs can vary depending on the species, but hummingbird clutches are generally small.
  • Incubation: The female is responsible for incubating the eggs, which typically takes about 14 to 23 days, depending on the species. During incubation, the female will sit on the eggs to keep them warm, leaving the nest occasionally to feed.
  • Hatching and chick rearing: After the eggs hatch, the female feeds the chicks with a mixture of nectar and insects, providing them with the necessary nutrients for growth. The chicks are born blind, naked, and helpless, but they develop rapidly. The female will continue to feed and care for the chicks until they are ready to fledge, which can take 18 to 28 days, depending on the species.
  • Fledging and independence: Once the chicks have developed their flight feathers and are strong enough to fly, they will leave the nest. After fledging, the young hummingbirds will gradually learn to forage independently and may continue to receive some supplemental feeding from the female for a short period.

What Does a Hummingbird Nest Look Like?

The female is solely responsible for building the nest. A hummingbird nest is a small, cup-shaped structure built by the female hummingbird to lay eggs and raise her young. The nests are typically constructed in the branches of trees or shrubs, sometimes even on wires or other man-made structures. Nests are usually built at varying heights, depending on the species and local habitat. Some may be close to the ground, while others can be found as high as 90 feet above ground level.

Hummingbird, Hummingbird nest

The materials used for building the nest can vary by species but often include soft plant materials such as moss, lichen, and plant fibers. Some hummingbirds may also use spider silk, which helps bind the nest together and provide flexibility. The exterior of the nest is often camouflaged with small pieces of bark, leaves, or other debris to blend in with the surroundings and provide protection from predators.

The interior of the nest is lined with soft materials like downy plant fibers or feathers to provide insulation and comfort for the eggs and nestlings. The size of the nest is usually quite small, often just large enough to hold the one or two eggs that the female lays.

While hummingbird nests can be difficult to find due to their small size and camouflaged appearance, they are a marvel of engineering and an essential part of the hummingbird’s life cycle.

Hummingbird Incredible Migration

Not all hummingbird species migrate, but those that do undertake impressive journeys, given their small size. Here is an overview of hummingbird migration:

  • Timing: Migration usually occurs twice a year, with hummingbirds traveling to their breeding grounds in the spring and returning to their non-breeding grounds in the fall. The timing of migration can vary depending on the species and the geographic location.
  • Distance: Some hummingbird species, like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, undertake long migratory journeys. They can travel up to 500 miles (800 kilometers) across the Gulf of Mexico, flying non-stop for up to 18 hours. Other species, like the Rufous Hummingbird, can migrate over 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) between their breeding and wintering grounds in North America.
  • Route: Hummingbirds typically follow specific migratory routes, with many species traveling along the same flyways year after year. These routes often follow mountain ranges, coastlines, or river valleys, which provide suitable habitat and food resources during the journey.
  • Navigation: Although the exact mechanisms of hummingbird navigation are not fully understood, it is believed that they use a combination of factors, including the position of the sun, the Earth’s magnetic field, and their innate sense of direction, to find their way between their breeding and non-breeding habitats.
  • Food and energy: During migration, hummingbirds need to consume large amounts of food to fuel their long flights. They will stop frequently to feed on nectar-rich flowers and insects, sometimes doubling their body weight before embarking on long stretches of their journey. They have an incredible ability to remember the locations of flowers and feeders along their route, which helps them find food efficiently.
  • Challenges: Migration is a challenging and risky endeavor for hummingbirds. They face various threats, including bad weather, predators, habitat loss, and food scarcity. Despite their small size and high metabolism, these remarkable birds manage to overcome these challenges to complete their journeys successfully.

Conservation efforts, such as preserving habitats and providing food resources along migratory routes, are essential to supporting these incredible birds during their journeys.

Do Hummingbirds Have Any Predators or Threats?

Hummingbirds, despite their small size and incredible agility, face various predators and threats in their natural habitats. Some of the common predators and threats to hummingbirds include:

  • Birds of prey: Hawks, falcons, and owls can catch hummingbirds in flight despite their agility and speed.
  • Other birds: Jays, crows, and roadrunners may prey on hummingbirds or their eggs opportunistically.
  • Mammals: Small mammals like squirrels, raccoons, and rats can raid hummingbird nests, while domestic cats pose a significant threat to adult birds.
  • Reptiles: Snakes and lizards can prey on hummingbirds or their eggs when they find nests close to the ground or in bushes.
  • Insects and spiders: Large insects such as praying mantises and orb-weaving spiders may capture and consume hummingbirds that fly into their webs or get too close while feeding.
  • Habitat loss: Deforestation, agriculture, urbanization, and climate change contribute to the loss of essential resources like food, shelter, and nesting sites for hummingbirds.
  • Pesticides and chemical exposure: Pesticides can harm hummingbirds directly or indirectly by contaminating their food sources or reducing prey availability.
  • Window collisions: Fatal collisions with windows are a significant threat to hummingbirds, especially in urban environments and near buildings with large glass surfaces.

How long do Hummingbirds live?

The life expectancy of hummingbirds can vary greatly depending on the species, environmental factors, and predation. On average, hummingbirds have a relatively short lifespan compared to other birds.

Many hummingbird chicks do not survive to adulthood due to factors such as predation, harsh weather conditions, and lack of food. It is estimated that about 70% to 80% of young hummingbirds may not make it past their first year. For those that do survive their first year, the average life expectancy is around 3 to 5 years. However, some hummingbirds have been known to live longer, with the record being a banded Ruby-throated Hummingbird that reached the age of 9 years.

Are Hummingbirds Endangered?

Some species are considered endangered or vulnerable due to habitat loss, climate change, or other factors. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) maintains the Red List, which classifies species based on their risk of extinction. To get the most accurate and up-to-date information on the conservation status of specific hummingbird species, you should refer to the IUCN Red List website.

Discover These Helpful Guides for Further Reading

30 Fun Facts About Hummingbirds
Best Flowers to Attract Hummingbirds
How To Attract Hummingbirds With Success
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.

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