We could fill an entire book with “amazing facts” about hummingbirds because they are birds to which the adjective “amazing” very much applies. Here are just a few of the best ones:
Hummingbirds require the most energy to live of any warm-blooded animal. And they beat all other birds in these categories: the highest body temperature, the proportionally largest brain and heart, fastest heart rate, and fastest wingbeats.
In normal direct flight, hummingbirds can fly as fast as 25 to 30 miles per hour. During the steep downward dives in a courtship flight, a male hummingbird may reach speeds of 60 miles per hour.
Hummingbirds have such incredibly active metabolisms that they have to feed throughout the day in order to “keep their motors running.”
It has been estimated that a hummingbird will visit as many as 3,000 individual flowers during a single day. Along with protein-rich insects they eat, hummingbirds consume at least 1.5-times their body weight daily. A human trying to match this rate of consumption would need to eat 70 times the amount of food we normally eat on a daily basis. We all get extra hungry from time to time, but could you handle 70 cheeseburgers in a day?
Hummingbirds have evolved a unique ability to go into a trancelike state called torpor to help them survive cool temperatures and periods of inactivity, especially while sleeping at night. In torpor a hummingbird’s body temperature drops significantly, its heart rate slows, and its metabolism runs at a greatly reduced rate. This saves a hummingbird from burning up all of its energy and starving because the metabolic rate of a torpid hummingbird is as little as 1/50th the rate of an active bird.
The brilliant iridescent colors on the heads and throats of many hummingbirds—especially males—are created structurally rather than by the color of the feathers themselves. The feathers contain tiny particles that reflect specific segments of the light spectrum. Melanin pigment in the feathers creates iridescence. The colors we perceive when we look at these feathers is constantly changing along with the angle of the light striking them, and being reflected to our eyes. The throat and crown of a male Anna’s hummingbird can appear black, gray, or brilliant magenta depending on the angle of the light. Male hummingbirds can use this light-reflecting ability to send bright flashes of color out from their gorgets simply by flaring the throat feathers to catch the light at the perfect angle.
Female hummingbirds hunting for nesting material will not only steal webbing from spider webs, they may also eat insects caught in the web and perhaps even eat the spider, too! As if this wasn’t enough of a crime, females will steal nesting material from other nests being built nearby. I once watched a female blue-gray gnatcatcher building her nest out of material from a tent caterpillar web.
A female ruby-throated hummingbird was also watching and each time the gnatcatcher would leaver her nest to get some more material, the female hummer would zip in and swipe a billful of nest material for her own nest about 70 feet away. The gnatcatcher never caught on, but seemed to be annoyed that her nest was smaller and messier than she’d left it only seconds before.
Among the more colorful names applied to some of the world’s hummingbird species are: azurecrown, blossomcrown, coquette, emerald, firecrown, helmetcrest, metaltail, plumeleteer, puffleg, racket-tail, snowcap, spatuletail, starfrontlet, sunangel, sunbeam, sungem, sylph, topaz, trainbearer, velvetbreast, woodnymph, and woodstar.
Hummingbirds and Plants
Hummingbirds and native plants have evolved together. Hummingbirds derive nectar from probing into plant blossoms and in turn, plants have their pollen distributed by the hummingbirds. Botanists and evolutionary biologists have identified more than 150 native plant species that have evolved tube-shaped flowers specifically to accommodate the feeding methods of hummingbirds.