Interesting Facts About Hummingbirds

Updated on May 14, 2018
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Catherine is a California-certified nursery professional. Her interests are birds, insects, integrated pest management, & organic gardening.

Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird | Source

The one bird that holds the greatest fascination among backyard birdwatchers is the hummingbird. From the bird family Trochilidae, there are sixteen species in the U.S and about 340 known within the Western Hemisphere where they are only found. The majority live within the equatorial belt.

Going back to early civilizations, the hummingbird was held in high regard. In Native American folklore, the hummer was thought to bring light. In other tribes, it was the bringer of rain. Among the Aztecs, the belief was held that fierce warriors would morph into hummingbirds after death then fly to join Huitzilopochtli, the god of war. His name actually means "blue hummingbird."

Common Hummingbirds of Southern California

  • Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) has a green back and rusty flanks.
  • Anna's Hummingbird ( Calypte anna) is gray, white, and green. Females have black or dark green heads. The males have a ruby head and gorget.
  • Costa's Hummingbird ( Calypte costae) has a green back w/ grey flanks. Females have black chins and heads. The male has an amethyst head and throat.
  • Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) has a green and rusty-red body; hence, the name rufous which means red. The male has a brilliant copper-orange throat.

In our garden, we commonly see Anna's Hummingbird with a grayish-white body and iridescent green accents. The male has an iridescent ruby face and throat. He is unmistakable when spotted at feeders.

The Rufous Hummingbird, a shorter, more aggressive species with a rusty brown head and coppery-orange throat is a frequent visitor, but it is the green-backed Allen's hummingbird with its dramatic acrobatics that brings the most entertainment. It is really something to witness his courtship flight: a high dive into a repetitive pendulum swing. The song sounds like the twang of a Jew's harp.

The black-chinned Costa's hummingbird, the smallest and rarest of our visitors, comes more frequently once winter has passed now that favorite desert plants are part of our urban xeriscape gardens. The male Costa has a stunning purple throat and chest which radiates like an amethyst when the light is just right. Jewels of the garden, indeed!

Allen's Hummingbird

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Anna's Hummingbird

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Costa's Hummingbird

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Rufous Hummingbird

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Characteristics of Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds fall into the bird category of gnat catchers. In addition to insects and spiders, their natural diet is made up of sap, pollen, and nectar. They benefit us in the garden by helping with pollination.

Hummers have bills that are long, curved, and tapered at the tip.This makes it easy for them to get nectar and pollen from tubular flowers and sap from holes made by other sapsuckers. They are primarily attracted to red which is the reason many of us often artificially color the sugar solutions for the bird feeders. Since this isn't necessary, and red dyes could possibly harm the birds, it's best to choose clear solutions. An easy recipe is 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Hummers choose red flowers because bees are busy pollinating the yellow and orange blooms. The lack of bees means a sweeter, better quality nectar.

The hummingbird has a very fast metabolism and needs to feed every 10 min. or so. It consumes about 2/3 of its body weight every day. The bird's translucent tongue that can lick at the rate of 13 times per second!

Hummers can fly at 40 mph and can dive-bomb in attack mode at a speed of 60 mph. Its wings beat about 50 times per second as it hovers upright at flowers and feeders. Unlike other birds that get power from the down stroke by bending their wings at both the shoulder and the"elbow," hummers beat from the shoulders only and achieve greater maneuverability. It is capable of flying in all directions including upside down.

Hummingbirds will stop and perch on branches of trees and shrubs, fences, and utility lines where they often let out a high-pitched squeaky chirp . They like to observe the safety of surroundings before feeding, so it's best to consider its preferences when hanging a feeder. Nearby shelter and dappled light are best. Too much window reflection can cause birds to fly into the glass and hurt themselves.

A hummer can live for up to 8 years and will remember the location of food sources for most of its life. This is a good thing for enthusiasts with backyard feeders! We all enjoy watching these delightful birds from our windows as they loudly buzz down to drink the nectar. My favorite feeder is the Perky Pet. It has a built-in ant moat and is easy to dismantle and clean regularly. This is a must for the good welfare of these tiny, energetic birds. The moldy soot that quickly grows on sugary feeder ports can be toxic to them.

Hummingbird nest- a downy little cup with its two jelly bean sized eggs.
Hummingbird nest- a downy little cup with its two jelly bean sized eggs. | Source

The nest will be made on a small branch or twig in a shrub. The nest has a cavity of 1 1/2" and is held together with spider webs. The nest is lined with soft downy plant material, and will hold one or two jelly-bean sized eggs laid on separate days. Once the eggs are laid, the mother will sit on them to keep them warm until ready to hatch. The incubation period is 2-3 weeks. A female will have 2 or 3 broods per year.

A hummingbird feeding frenzy on the patio at dusk.
A hummingbird feeding frenzy on the patio at dusk. | Source

Create a Natural Habitat

Hummingbirds are most likely to frequent those gardens which most resemble wild habitats and offer native plants and flowers for feeding and nesting. Hummers mate and nest during the first 6 months of the year.They should not exclusively live off the sugar nectar we provide. It is important that they get protein from insects and pollen from plants which is thought to be an immunity booster. In Southern California, hummers like to nest in native plants like Ceanothus, Manzanita, and Sambucus.

The following is a partial list of favorite food sources for this Western region that add carefree beauty to the garden. For other areas, check with the Audubon Society or your local native plant nursery. It is important that we sustain our native wildlife by providing the correct host plants. As an example, young hummers feed from the small white bell flowers of manzanita. If it were to become unavailable, our hummingbirds would migrate to Mexico, and we would feel their absence. Make your backyard a welcoming place for our native flora and fauna. You will marvel at the adaptability of your plants and the rich diversity of life they attract. You'll want to grab that camera or your favorite sketchbook when those lovely hummers buzz by for a visit!

Plants That Attract Hummingbirds

  • Antirrhinum- snapdragon
  • Aquilegia- California Columbine
  • Arctostaphylos- Manzanita
  • Calliandra californicum- Fairyduster
  • Cirsium occidentale- Red Thistle
  • Distictis buccinatoria- Red Trumpet vine
  • Erysimum- Wallflower
  • Galvezia speciosa "boca rosa"- Channel Island Snapdragon
  • Lilium- Lily
  • Lobelia cardinalis- Cardinal Flower
  • Lonicera- Honeysuckle
  • Mimulus cardinalis- Monkey Flower
  • Salvia greggii- Autumn Sage
  • Salvia elegans- Pineapple Sage
  • Salvia apiana- White Sage
  • Salvia clevlandii- Cleveland Sage
  • Salvia leucantha- Mexican Sage
  • Zauschneria- California Fuchsia

© 2011 Catherine Tally

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    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

      Good morning, Dave. I'm so glad you enjoyed my hub and the images. One of the great joys of travel is experiencing the diversity of our natural world. It is a concern to me that bird/insect host plants/trees are being replaced by non-native species which have become more readily available around the globe. Thank you for stopping by and leaving the thoughtful comments. :)

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Beautifully written, informative article, enhanced by great images. It is one of my sad regrets that humming birds do not occur here in the UK. Thanks to you I have been blessed with their company for a while.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi Express10,

      Hummingbirds are such a treat to have in our garden! The Anna's hummingbird that visits us is one of the longer-lived No. American varieties. I think most other hummers average 3-5 years if they learn survival skills when young. - Amazing!, considering their metabolic rate.

      Thank you! It's a pleasure to see your thoughtful comments on 2 of my hubs today.

      My best,

      Cat:)

    • Express10 profile image

      H C Palting 5 years ago from East Coast

      Hummingbirds are fascinating and beautiful creatures. I didn't know they could live up to 8 years. Thanks for sharing this information and the beautiful pictures.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi Mr. Happy. I'm so glad that you enjoyed learning about hummingbirds. There are many varieties all over the world. Try a feeder in your yard and be patient. They should eventually show up just like they have at your friend's cottage. Thanks for dropping by and commenting! :)

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Your hummingbird feeder looks like one a good friend of mine has at his cottage, here in Northern Ontario. The birds which come to it are for sure some specie of hummingbirds because they have the same helicopter flying patterns and make that loud buzzing sound when they fly, like giant insects. I have yet to catch one in a photo. For some reason I kept thinking that huminbirds only live in hot climates ...

      Very intersting piece of writing. I appreciate You sharing all this information. Thank You for putting this hub together.

      All the best!

    • profile image

      cstally@ca.rr.com 6 years ago

      Wow! Those are hungry squirrels. I'd suggest putting a pile of fruit&nut bird food out in a small pile nearby, so they fill up and leave your feeder alone. Good luck!

      Cat on a soapbox :>)

    • profile image

      Barbara 6 years ago

      Hi everyone,

      I live in southeastern Massachusetts. This year I put out my hummingbird feeder and two pesky squirrels jump on it and tip it and lick up the nectar. I tried switching to a feeder with high plastic flowers (the other plastic flowers lay flat against the bottom piece). They ate through the feeder in less than a week and all the nectar has leaked out which they were hungryly licking it off the deck. I can't believe they are doing this. My feeder gets empty in one day. I guess I won't be able to feed the hummingbirds anymore as they very seldom get to eatanyway. What a bummer. I just love to watch them too!

    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 7 years ago from Los Angeles

      Miss Lil' Atlanta, I am really glad that you enjoyed my hub. Hummers are truly remarkable in both beauty and habit- no wonder so many people love them! I hope you can attract more to your area. Thank you for your nice comments :>)

    • Miss Lil' Atlanta profile image

      Miss Lil' Atlanta 7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Hummingbirds really are some of the most interesting animals. I've always been fascinated by them. Where I live there really aren't many hummingbirds, but I've had the pleasure of seeing about 3 or 4 of them in my life time.

      Really great hub again, cat on a soapbox. I'm so going to start following your hubs. :)

    • profile image

      logic,commonsense 7 years ago

      I get one to stop by every once in awhile, but they never seem to stick around, even with some of their favorite plants around the house.

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 7 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      We have the Ruby Throated hummer here in Michigan. He goes after my Hosta blooms the most. Fun, fun, fun to watch!

    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 7 years ago from Los Angeles

      Wow, thanks! I just love these beautiful winged gems so

      much- they inspire me to write about them. I'm so glad you enjoyed my hub!

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 7 years ago

      ....well this is perhaps the most definitive hub on hummingbirds - and it's by far the most beautiful!!!!

    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 7 years ago from Los Angeles

      Crystolite: I'm so glad you enjoyed my hub. Thanks for reading.

      Dirt Farmer: Isn't it great that hummers remember the location of food sources year after year? You should always have these energetic friends buzzing about your yard especially if you add more native host plants.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 7 years ago from United States

      My family gets excited when we spot a hummingbird in the yard, too. Thanks in particular for the list. We're only growing three on it and will have to add more!

    • crystolite profile image

      Emma 7 years ago from Houston TX

      Nice poem with colorful pics of the birds.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 7 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thanks, Genna. I always value your comments. I've never known a squirrel to pester a hummingbird feeder since they have no use for the nectar. Ants can be a problem; however, there are products like the Ant Guard, which acts like a moat which ants avoid crossing to get to the sugar. I hope you do get a feeder so you can enjoy watching these winged jewels!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      How beautiful they are; I have been thinking about purchasing a feeder, but am not sure of how safe it would be given the squirrels (the neighborhood bullies) we have in abundance in the spring and summer months. These guys eat just about anything. Wonderful hub!

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