Facts about Hummingbirds!
are the tiniest birds on the planet. The Bee Hummingbird of Cuba is 2.24
inches long or 5.7 cm, and nearly half of that length is in beak and tail!
But not all hummers are tiny. The Giant Hummingbird, which lives in the
Andes Mountains from Ecuador to Chile, is 8 inches long—as big as
There are a LOT of different hummingbirds between these extremes. This
huge family has about 320 species. The biggest variety is found in the
equatorial belt, ten degrees wide, across South America. More than half
the species are found there. Moving north, the number of species declines.
Fifty-one species breed regularly in Mexico, thirteen in the United States,
and four in Canada.
many hummers, and every single one is found in North, Central, and South
America and the Caribbean Islands! Europeans were fascinated to arrive
in the New World and find these tiny gems. Hummingbirds virtually all
have iridescent plumage, and many have other feather adornments that inspired
ornithologists to give them exotic names. Here are a few of the official
names of hummers:
Hummingbirds are famous for more than their beauty and tiny size. They're
the only birds that can fly backward as well as forward. When hovering,
hummers can beat their wings from 22 to 72 times per SECOND. How do people
know that? Scientists used an instrument that flashes light at extremely
short intervals, called a stroboscope, to measure it.
Hummingbird hearts beat amazingly fast. A Blue-throated Hummingbird's
heart races at 1260 beats per minute; this is a fairly large hummer, and
ornithologists figure the much tinier Ruby-throat and Rufous Hummingbird's
hearts must beat even faster!
Hummers can fly steadily at about 29 mph unless wind helps. In courtship
flights, they really zoom. One pair of South American Violet-bellied Hummingbirds
was clocked at 49 mph. Their flight muscles take up about a quarter of
their body weight.
are BIG eaters, normally consuming over twice their weight in nectar and
insects every day! Most of the weight of their food is water, but if you
measured just the protein and sugar of their food, it would still be about
half their weight every day. That's the same as if a hundred pound seventh
grader ate 200 cheeseburgers every day!
digest their food very quickly. It takes about 10 minutes for a fruit
fly to pass through a hummingbird from one end to the other.
The Anna's Hummingbird tongue which is pictured to the
right, is designed for drinking nectar. It's split at the tip, with lots
of tiny "hairs," and rolled along the sides like a double drinking
straw. Nectar flows through it either by suction or by capillary action
In captivity, hummers can live about as long as dogs, or about
9-14 years. And at least one banded wild hummingbird lived to be over
For more information about hummingbirds, read The Life
of the Hummingbird, by Alexander Skutch (Crown Publishers, NY, 1973;
ISBN 0-517-50572X), or check out Hummingbirds!