Hummingbirds have been part of our culture for centuries. The Aztecs have noted them in their talisman, and they were beloved and admired for their energy. Warriors believed that if they were true to battle but lost their lives, they would come back as a hummingbird. There are so many facts about these little hummers it’s hard to choose the most interesting. Here are 22 facts that you may or may not know, but all are fun to be reminded about from time to time.
#1: One of the main purposes of a hummingbird’s beak is to help them probe deep into the flowers for specialized feeding. This shape has been adapted over time. Once they’ve placed their beak in the flower or hummingbird feeder, they use their tongue to lab up the nectar. And their tongues are fast, licking as much as fifteen times per second.
#2: Most species of hummingbirds will weigh less than 4 grams. To put it in perspective, one teaspoon of sugar weighs 4.2 grams.
#3: The hummingbird’s wings work in figure 8 movements giving them the ability to fly backwards, forwards, suspend themselves in mid-air and fly upside down.
#4: When building their nest, many species of hummingbirds will use spider silk as the connective material. The spider silk allows the nest to comfortably widen as the baby birds grow. They also use lichen as a binder for the nests they build.
#5: Hummingbirds aren’t necessarily attracted to red. Gasp! They are attracted to flowers that have the most nectar and they never forget a flower. The main reason little hummers like red so much is because bees and other insects don’t see the color as well. So when you wonder why so many hummingbird feeders are red, it’s because they are harder for bees to spot, thus making it a more pleasant place for the hummingbirds to eat. When bees do find the red feeder, move it three or four feet away. The tiny birds will find it and the bees won’t know where their nectar went.
#6: In North America we are very familiar with the ruby-throated hummingbird. One reason it’s so important to provide them with extra migration meals in the spring and fall is because they fly over the Gulf of Mexico, roughly 500 miles, without stopping. This is possible because they accumulate a layer of fat during migration season that doubles their body weight.
#7: Hummingbirds can travel at thirty miles an hour when flying horizontally, however, when they dive vertically they can reach up to sixty miles an hour.
#8: It’s no surprise that hummingbirds get their name because of the humming sound their wings make, but did you know that each species of birds makes a different hum noise with their wings? This is because they each have a different rate of speed in which they flap their wings.
#9: Some hummingbirds have such a heavy beaks, that when they perch to rest, they hold their beak straight up in the air for balance.
#10: Instead of having a song like many birds, a hummingbird’s wings are loud enough to alert those around them. When they do speak it comes out in short bursts and often they only do this during mating season. However, the sound of their wings will often be all of the sound they need.
#11: While most well known breeds of North American hummingbirds generally have a lifespan of two to five years, some cases have documented little hummers to live up to 12 years old.
#12: Hummingbirds are very territorial and will try to chase off birds as large as hawks to protect their food.
#13: There are over three hundred different species of hummingbirds around the Western Hemisphere. In North America, we’ll see as many as nineteen species of the little hummers, but even those are particular to their region. In the eastern part of North America, the only species you’ll see is the ruby-throated hummingbird.
#14: The feet of hummingbirds are so small they are unable to walk on them, but they can move from side to side on the perch. The benefit to this is they have more energy because their feet won’t add extra weight that can slow them down when in flight.
#15: Hummingbirds eat half of their weight in nectar a day. They also like to get a little protein by eating a select group of insects and spiders.
#16: Once a baby hummingbird hatches from its tiny eggs, it will take its first flight within two and a half weeks to a month. A mother will generally produce one to three eggs and feed her babies insects at the beginning of their lives. The father is not present during nesting.
#17: At night, hummingbirds slow down their metabolism by going into torpor, which is similar to hibernation. This deep sleep that they go into helps keep their energy levels from dropping to dangerous levels.
#18: Most species of hummingbirds provide us with glorious colors when the light hits them because of the prism style cells that are in the top layer of the feathers. The wavelengths that split when the light reflects off of them are what gives us shiny colors one moment, and subdued colors the next.
#19: Baby hummingbirds do not like to get dirty. In fact, they will do everything they can to make sure they dispose of their waste over the edge of the nest.
#20: A mother hummingbird may have more than one group of babies during the nesting season. When this happens, they will often start building a second nest while still waiting for the first group of tiny hummers to take flight.
#21: Hummingbirds are highly intelligent. They will observe elder hummingbirds to learn tips and tricks about survival and how to perform certain tasks such as building a nest. However, they are also very sneaky and will quickly steal nesting materials once they have learned what they are supposed to do.
#22: Hummingbirds aren’t afraid of people. Well, once they get used to you that is. They aren’t afraid to approach you when you’re wearing your Hawaiian floral vacation shirt and see if there is any nectar in those prints.