Rivoli's Hummingbird feeding
Hummingbirds comprise the family Trochilidae, among the smallest of birds, with most species measuring in the 3"-5" range.
They feature long slender needlelike bills adapted for reaching deep into tubular flowers.
What do hummingbirds eat?
Hummingbirds, like other birds and other animals, need food, water, and shelter, the basic necessities of life.
Their diet consists of nectar from flowers (red is the favorite color), and small insects such as aphids and spiders.
Hummingbirds feed in many small meals, consuming small invertebrates and up to twelve times their own body weight in nectar each day.
Many plant species rely on hummingbirds for pollination and provide nectar and tiny insects in exchange. Hummingbirds staunchly and aggressively defend a feeding area, or feeder, even when not feeding.
Can hummingbirds walk? No ... they can only fly
The beat of their wings is so rapid, up to 55 times a second, that a "humming" sound is produced, and the wings appear blurred. They are the only bird species that can fly backwards, or even upside down.
Hummingbirds can't walk or hop, but they can shuffle around a feeder with its extremely short legs, which are not very strong.
How big is a hummingbird nest?
Hummingbird on nest (Photo courtesy of the author)
A hummingbird's nest is very small, usually about 1.5" in diameter. Eggs are likewise small, less than 1" long, about the size of a jelly bean.
The female lays her eggs on different days. The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird lays 2 eggs.
Black-chinned Hummingbird, Anna's Hummingbird, Costa's Hummingbird, Calliope Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird and Allen's Hummingbird all lay 1-3 eggs.
Gestation period is about 16-18 days.
How many hummingbird species are there?
The hummingbird family is very large, with over 330 species and 115 genera, mostly south of the U.S. Hummingbirds are found only in the Western Hemisphere, with almost half the species living in the "equatorial belt" between 10 degrees north and south of the equator. Fewer than two dozen species venture into the U.S. and Canada, and only a few species remain year-round.
Where are hummingbirds found in the United States?
In the Eastern and Central United States and Canada, the most common species is the Ruby-Throated hummingbird. Several species are in the Gulf region.
In the Western United States, one will often find Anna’s, Black-Chinned, Calliope, Broad-Tailed, Allen’s, White-Eared, and Rufous hummingbirds. In Texas and the Southwestern United States, all species will be found from time to time.
What is the most common hummingbird?
The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is the only species regularly seen over most the eastern United States. Ruby-Throats are the only hummingbird found east of the Great Plains, except for the Rufous.
It is about 3 3/4" in length, and metallic green above. Its notes are a rapid, high-pitched squeaky, chipping sound.
The adult male has a brilliant ruby red throat (gorget), black chin, and deeply notched, forked tail.
The female's throat is white, and immatures are similar in color to the female. The female body is slender, with a blunt, rounded tail with white corners.
The female Ruby-Throated and Black-Chinned are very similar, but have separate ranges. Males use a repeating "pendulum" arch of flight to attract females.
How big is a Ruby-Throated hummingbird?
They are about 3 3/4" in length. Their weight can range from 2 to 6 g (0.071 to 0.21 oz), with males averaging 3.4 g (0.12 oz) and the slightly larger female averaging 3.8 g (0.13 oz).
How long does a Ruby-Throated hummingbird live?
The average life span is estimated by experts to be 3 - 5 years. Most deaths occur in the first year of life. The record age of a banded Ruby-Throated hummingbird is 6 years, 11 months.
How do we make a hummingbird feeder mix?
When formulating your hummingbird mixture recipe, remember that nectar found in nature is typically in the range of 12%-35% sugar (sucrose). The solution you prepare should be similar to that found in nature.
We make our own solution, mixing four parts water to one part sugar, i.e., 20% sugar. We do not boil the water, but we find that using warmer water helps dissolve the sugar quicker.
Never use red-dye ... it is just not needed in the feeding solution, and it can be harmful to hummingbirds.
What are hummingbird "scouts"?
Many people refer to the first hummingbird sighting of the year or early arrival as being "a scout". Some species of birds, such as Purple Martins, do send a bird in advance of the migrating flock to scout out potential nesting and breeding areas.
However, hummingbirds are loners, and migrate alone. They do not scout out an area, and then return to notify others. So, despite popular theory, there is no such thing as a hummingbird scout.
Will I see the same hummingbirds next year?
Hummingbirds have an innate ability to remember their favorite feeding locales. Banding experts have shown time and time again that individual hummingbirds return to the same spot year after year.
So enjoy your hummers today ... and hopefully you will see them again next year!
Why am I seeing fewer/more hummingbirds in my yard?
This is a difficult question to answer. We honestly don't know why there are fewer, or more, hummers at one particular location compared to previous years.
There are many factors influencing how many hummers are in one particular area. Temperature variations, storms, flowering levels, migration, etc. all impact populations. Also, they tend to disappear when mating and raising their young. Many nature enthusiasts might see many hummingbirds early in the spring, and then witness a decline in numbers as the birds migrate further north.
The Hummingbird Central website is not run by professional, trained ornithologists, and does not have the resources to conduct detailed, scientific studies about hummingbird population trends. We recommend that those interested in this subject refer to organizations such as Journey North, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and The Audubon Society for studies on hummingbirds.
Many hummingbirds look alike to me ... how do I tell the difference?
Many hummingbirds DO look alike, and sometimes juveniles and females are really difficult to differentiate. Shown below is a comparison of several common species.
Are there any white Hummingbirds?
While rare, there are indeed white-colored hummingbirds. Read about Albino and white Leucistic Hummingbirds.
How can children learn about hummingbirds?
- Teach your children how to make hummingbird mix ... it involves sugar, and water, and is fun!
- Introduce the hummingbird species to your children via an easy to hold and read book. We recommend Stokes "Beginner's Guide to Hummingbirds". It is small, only 4" x 7" and has great pictures of common hummingbirds. It is a good starter book for young children with an interest in nature, yet contains enough identification tips and other information as they grow into teens, and young adults! We also like "About Hummingbirds: A Guide for Children".
- Plant easy-to-grow hummingbird plants like zinnias and marigolds from seeds, watch them sprout, and watch the hummingbirds love them!
- Learn the colors of the hummingbird, and color one yourself, like the ones shown below ...