- Hummingbirds are the smallest species of bird and are the smallest animals on planet earth with a back bone.
- Hummingbirds are unique to North and South America. When European explorers first discovered hummingbirds, they described them as a cross between a bird and an insect.
- They are the only birds that can fly backwards, and hover in mid air. They can even fly upside down for a short distance.
- Hummingbirds have the second largest number of species with 343.
- They have comparatively the largest brains of all birds (4.2% of their body weight).
- Few hummingbirds live over a year long but the longest recorded lifespan was a female Broad-Tailed hummingbird that was tagged than caught again 12 years later, alive.
- Hummingbirds will feed 5-8 times each hour for less than a minute at a time.
- Hummingbirds don’t have a song call. They chirp to attract a mate or when the bird is excited.
- Hummingbirds perch on branches to sleep but while they are sleeping their grip on the branch will loosen. They are occasionally found dangling upside down.
The Ruby-Throated hummingbird, the most common type, weighs only about 3 grams and is only about 3 and one half inches from the tip of the beak to the end of the tail. Females are about 15 to 20% larger than males. The largest hummingbird, the Giant Hummingbird, is up to 8 inches long and the smallest hummingbird, the Bee Hummingbird, is only about 2.25 inches long. The nests of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird are only about the size of ping pong ball.
Hummingbirds are incredible flyers. In fact their flying muscles are 30% of their body weight. Hummingbirds are the only flying creatures that can fly backwards, hover in mid air, and fly upside down. These abilities are possible because, unlike other birds, hummingbirds’ wings rotate in tiny, speedy circles. A hummingbird beats its wings between 50 and 80 times per second and when the bird is in a courtship dive its wings can beat at speeds of 200 beats per second! This is what causes the humming sound. But the wings aren’t the only part of the body that move at astonishing speeds. The tiny heart beats 1,260 times per minute. The average speed of a hummingbird is around 25 miles per hour but they have been clocked at 50 mph during courtship dives.
Courtship dives are displays performed by the male to attract females and ward off other males. The male will fly up to heights of around 60ft then dive toward the ground at an angle. It will then pull out of the dive and head back upwards forming a wide “U” shape in the sky. This “U” will be repeated 3 or 4 times.
Hummingbirds live only in North or South America between south-eastern Alaska and southern Chile. South America is home to more than half of the species and Ecuador has the largest hummingbird population of any country with around 163 species. When the hummingbirds from the north migrate they mostly go to Mexico or Central America. Ruby-Throated hummingbirds have to travel 2,000 miles to their destination in Canada including a 500 mile non-stop flight over the Gulf of Mexico. And unlike the rumours, they do not get to ride on the backs of the migrating geese.