The America’s is the only natural habitat of the hummingbird. They can be found as far south as Chile and as far north as Alaska, but South America is the home of the majority of hummingbirds.
Most hummingbirds thrive in forested and wooded areas where there are plenty of flowers, as well as grasslands and meadows. However, there are several species that live pretty comfortably in other environments, such as large cities, warm and cool areas, desert environments, as well as areas that have snowfalls.
Their habitats are also situated in various altitudes and range from high in the Andes Mountains, to 14,000 feet below, at sea level. Most hummingbirds however, enjoy living in South and Central America and can be found there all through the year, with a few of them traveling north each year.
Hummingbirds have become accustomed to seeing humans in their habitats and will fly right up to anyone they feel they can trust, some of them even drinking out of a feeder being held by a human. (check out our: hand held hummingbird feeders )
Some people might be tempted to keep these friendly little birds in cages, but must take note that this is neither legal, nor good for the free-willed little hummingbird.
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Where do hummingbirds make their nests?
The main aim of the hummingbird is to make sure that their little ones have adequate protection from wind, rain, sun and predators, so they choose locations for their nests that are safe and sheltered. These could be places like dense bushes, along the thin branches of plants, or the forked branches in trees but prefer thorny bushes or thickets, for the additional protection they offer.
Although hummingbirds are generally small, their size varies from one specie to another. The largest weighs around 20 grams and the smallest, the Bee Hummingbird –the smallest bird on earth, weighs just 2.2 grams.
As one can imagine, the nests of these tiny winged creatures is also exceptionally small, most times being no bigger than the shell of half a walnut. These tiny, velvet-looking cups are created from moss and bits of plants, all woven together with threads from spider webs.
These tiny nests are architectural wonders of nature, created to nurture and protect one of the most fragile little birds on the planet. The female hummingbird lays one to three little eggs –the size of tiny pearls in the nest. It could take as little as 5 to 8 weeks from when the nest is first created until the little birds are mature enough to leave and take to the skies on their own.
Some hummingbirds however, are able to make do and sometimes build their nests in strange locations, including:
• Balancing on clothes lines or thin wires, strands of Christmas lights
• On top of outdoor security cameras, on top of lamps, or inside porch lights
• On top of statues or other types of garden decorations, on top of wind chimes
• Inside a soccer goal net or basketball net
• On top of a cactus where the spines will protect the nest
• On top of ceiling sprinkler fittings, small pipes, or some other outside structure
When looking for a suitable location for a nest, the female might repeatedly land on it to test its stability which, if she uses that site, must be able to support her weight, the nest and her growing babies. Since hummingbirds weigh next-to-nothing, just about any site is suitable.
It depends a lot on the species of hummingbird as well as the availability of locations, as to how high up she will build her nest. Normally, they build their nests anywhere from 3 to 60 feet above ground and will even build it about half a mile from food sources if there is no closer, suitable site available.
Where do hummingbirds live during winter?
Being the smallest birds on earth, it’s a wonder that these tiny, fragile little creatures can cope during the icy cold months of the year. However, they are seen in North America, which proves beyond doubt, that winter humming birds do exist and contrary to what many people believe, the cold weather isn’t really a threat to their small bodies.
It was determined by studies conducted by Adam Hadley, State Ecologist in Oregon, that birds that usually fly north during winter, have the built-in ability to drop their body temperature from107 degrees, down to 48 degrees. This results in their bodies going into a mini-hibernation phase, an energy conserving mode called “torpor”. While in torpor mode, there is a significant drop in the hummingbird’s metabolic and heart rates, which give the tiny bird the ability to live for long periods of time without eating much food.
There are a few reasons why hummingbirds that don’t do well in cold weather are seen in winter, such as:
• It can be an early or late migratory bird that wants to mark its territory to attract a mate
• It was too slow in keeping up with the migration group
• It could be a juvenile, inexperienced in migration, that was left behind
As mentioned above, hummingbirds are able to go into torpor when there are significant drops in temperature. However, their survival is uncertain, irrespective of the amount of energy they are able to conserve. Bear in mind too, that since there are little to no nectar-producing flowers during winter, these tiny birds are forced to change their diet and live on insects instead.
Hummingbird migration – where, when and why do they go?
There are two migrations that hummingbirds embark on every year — one south and one north. These migrations really sap the energy from hummingbirds, the smallest on the planet, because these journeys can be as long as hundreds, or even thousands of miles. Their spring migration takes them from Mexico and South America all the way to Canada. It’s a solitary journey for the birds, their whole aim being to reach their breeding grounds as early as possible, so that they can claim the best feeding sites. That enormous amount of pressure makes their migration start as early as February from Mexico and ending in the middle of May in Alaska and Canada.
(check out our: hummingbird migration map )
The timeframe for their fall migration is more-or-less the same. The hummingbirds start off as early as the latter part of July and any stragglers will only cross the border in southern US by late October.
According to records, hummingbirds first developed in South America after they arrived around 22 million years ago, from Asia. After spreading across South America, several species started moving to Central America, Caribbean and finally, mainland North America.
Migrating to regions where food was in abundance meant that these intelligent little birds didn’t have to compete with others for both territory and food. The seasonal cooling of course, forced them south each fall. This cycle of the hummingbirds retreating and advancing according to the seasons, is the basis of their current migratory patterns.
Tips for observing hummingbirds
Observing hummingbirds is not only a pleasant way to pass the time, but it is also relaxing, especially if you can observe them in your own back yard! Some good tips for observing hummingbirds include:
Feeders — put your feeders close to flowers that hummingbirds are visiting already, near perching or shelter areas like shrubs or trees, out of the sun and in a place that you can see from inside your house. Don’t put the feeder in an open, barren yard!
Go red! — Hummingbirds somehow love the color red, so make sure that your feeder has a red top and/or base.
Make your own nectar — Making your own hummingbird nectar is easy! Mix 4 parts warm water with 1 part refined sugar and there you have it!
Hang a few nectar feeders around your garden — this will not only attract more hummingbirds to your garden for you to observe, but it will also stop those bullies from frightening away other birds. Yes, these little birds might be really small, but some of them have aggressive attitudes that are way too big for their tiny frames!