Not only are the hummingbirds incredibly cute and attractive with their hums, mid-air hover, and their brilliant iridescent plumage, but these little creatures possess some amazing abilities as well. For instance, they can fly up, down, backwards and sideways; have the fastest wingbeats (12-90 times a second, depending on the species); are known to be among some of the strongest migrants in the bird kingdom; and they are voracious eaters, spending virtually all of their waking time sipping nectar from flowers.
But how do these birds live and for how long? And how do they die? Here are some facts regarding Hummingbird Lifespan & Life Cycle that will be of interest to hummingbird enthusiasts.
To begin with, there are over 350 known species of hummingbirds, all belonging to the family Trochilidae, and they are all native to the Americas. However, a large majority of hummingbird species live in Central and South Americas, with only a couple of dozen species migrating to North America to spend the summers there.
As with so many other animals, most hummers die during their first year. However, once a hummingbird survives its first year, its life expectancy goes up rather dramatically. Although this varies from one species to next, generally hummingbirds that are found in the North Americas have a lifespan of 3-4 years. This may not sound much, however for organisms with such supercharged metabolisms, this is actually a long lifespan. And you may add to this the fact that hummingbirds that live in the tropics come with a significantly longer lifespan, some of them often surviving as long as a decade or more.
What was the oldest hummingbird on record?
A female Broad-Tailed Hummingbird is known to hold the record of the longest living hummingbird. The bird was banded in Colorado in 1976 when she was a one-year old adult and was then recaptured at the same region 11 years later in 1987—thus making her at least 12 years old.
Do different species of hummingbirds live different lengths on average?
Yes, the lifespan of a hummingbird varies by species, though most species will live 3-5 years on average. Some of the larger species, such as the Buff-Bellied Hummingbirds or the Giant Hummingbird (largest of all known species), typically live significantly longer.
– The oldest known banded Rufous Hummingbird (a mid-sized species found in North America) is a bird 8 years and a month old.
– A banded Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (another mid-sized species) holds the record of being the oldest known surviving member of its species. The bird was one month shy of 7 years when last captured.
– Then there was this female Black-Chinned Hummer that was at least 10 years and a month old.
– As for larger species, a banded Buff-Bellied was found to be 11 years and 2 months old.
How do hummingbirds die?
There is a myth that hummers die if they go to sleep. Thankfully though, this is far from true. As we’ve mentioned, many hummingbirds die in their first year, before they have sufficiently acclimatized themselves to their habitat and their living pattern. Otherwise, an adult hummingbird would die a normal death.
It is also important to remember that many hummers also die a slow and painful death due to starvation. With the changing climates and the subsequent changes to the flora and fauna of any particular region, a decrease in food sources is unfortunately becoming a common factor in premature demise of not only hummingbirds, but many other animals as well. Rapid urbanization is also playing its part in destroying hummingbird-friendly habitats.
Full Life Cycle of a Hummingbird
Return: Establishment of Mating Territory
For Hummingbird Species that return to their southern habitats in winters, the return migration to the US and Canada begins at the start of the spring and they are typically back in their summer territories in mid to late March (though this may slightly vary according to the species). The males return 1 to 2 weeks prior to the females in order to choose and establish their mating ground/territory. Once a territory is chosen and settled for, it is protected by chases, songs, displays or merely by the presence of a bird on a visible perch.
The process of attracting potential mates starts once the females of the species begin to arrive. The main ritual of the courtship is the energetic and exciting air shows whereby a male bird will go up in the air anywhere between 50 and 150 feet and will then plummet straight down at a breakneck speed. Other displays include flaunting their attractive plumage, singing and chirping, and humming (by beating their wings as fast as they can).
If the female is won over by the shows, she mates; otherwise she flies off to some other territory. A male hummer mates with many females and he doesn’t take any part in raising the babies. As for a female hummer, she may mate with more than one male, but raising the babies is entirely her domain.
In hummingbird sex, no penetration takes place since the male hummers do not possess any external penis. Instead, it presses its posterior opening or cloaca against the female’s and the sperm is thereby passed along to the female for fertilization of the eggs. The sex lasts no more than 3-5 seconds.
Nesting, Laying the Eggs and Incubating
The female hummingbirds begin building their nests already by the time she is in the lookout for her mate. At the same time, she establishes her own territory as well. Just like the male, female hummers are also fiercely territorial. They choose their territory where, aside from plentiful sources of nectar, there are also enough small insects to feed the babies.
The female finish building their nests after mating. The birds use seeds, fibrous plant down, lichen and mosses to build and camouflage the nest. The structure is held together by silk fibers collected from spider webs. The nest is tiny, about the size of a walnut shell, a bottle cap or a ping pong ball. Depending on the species, the hummers may choose to build their nests high up on the branches of tall trees or among shrubs and bushes that are much closer to the ground. Unlike some other birds, a hummingbird will never use a birdhouse, although some of the bolder species may build their nests along poles, clotheslines, or wires.
Almost all hummingbird species will lay two eggs at a time (sometimes only one, but very rarely more than two). The two tiny white eggs are the size of jellybeans, or peas, or coffee beans. The hummingbirds, depending on the species, will take anything between 2 and 3 weeks to incubate the eggs. For instance, eggs of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds take 11-16 days to hatch. On the other hand, a Rufous female will incubate for 15-18 days.
(check out our article on: hummingbird nest facts )
Raising the Babies
The mother hummingbird feeds the babies (mostly insects, but also nectar) by inserting her bill into theirs and thus putting the food into the baby hummers’ gullets. The youngs start to grow feathers from eighth or tenth day of their life and they stay with the mother for about 21 days. Once the juveniles leave their nest for good, they are adequately able to take care of themselves.
Adult hummers are known to have the highest metabolism in the whole animal kingdom and in order to sustain their rapid metabolism, the birds visit 1,000 — 2,000 flowers every day and eat once every 10 minutes or so. The birds need to eat almost two-thirds of their body weight in food every day and more than 90% of a hummer’s diet is made up of sugary nectar. They use their long beaks and grooved tongues to probe the flowers for nectar, but also to eat juices off the fruits and to catch small insects.