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HummingbirdHummingbirdsHummingbird

Hummingbirds are the jewels of the bird world.  Brilliant, flashing colors, hovering in mid air, and darting from flower to flower with acrobatic style.  They are fascinating to watch with their iridescent colors.

Early Spanish explorers to America aptly named them Flying Jewels.  They got the name Hummingbird from early colonist because of the buzz of their fast moving wings.  The scientific name Trochilidae comes from the Greek word Trochilos which means small bird.

Hummingbird Song & Wing Sound

Most Hummingbird songs sound like high pitched squeaks or chirps to the human ear because they are vocalized so fast. The birds also have distinctive wing noise from their fast beating wings.  Expert birders can identify different species form the wing sound.  To hear the song and wing sound of a Ruby throat use the drop down arrow and click on either song or wing sound. 


Note on some browsers you will not see or use the drop down sound list.
For those that can't use it you can try the sound links below.

Song
Wing sound

Hummingbird PlumageHummingbird

Plumage is the first thing that makes these little birds stand out.  Brilliant colors let them blend in with the flowers they frequent giving, them some protection from predators.

This color, along with their acrobatic, and swift flying make them poor targets for large birds of prey.  Even while sitting on a nest the greenish color on the back of most females hides them from predators above. 

While their small feathers do have color most of the color we see comes from iridescence caused by their feather structure.  This iridescence is a result of how light strikes platelets.  Platelets are air, and melanin filled feathers that reflect light creating iridescence.

When light hits these cells it is broken apart, causing some wavelengths to be intensified.  The result is the shimmering colors we see.  The colors can be seen only when the light is hitting the feathers at precisely the right angle.  Different angles will produce different colors causing the shimmering effect.

Male & Female Plumage

Hummingbirds get their specific names from the brilliant plumage in the gorget or throat area of the male.  Blue throated, Ruby throated, Magnificent, Black-chinned, Mexican pink, and others are all named for the gorget.

HummingbirdRuby Throat HummingbirdHummingbird

Just like other feathers, those of the gorget change color depending on how the light strikes it.  The color can go from its main colors of say red, to blue, green, and back to the original.  Sometimes it will be almost black.  In some species the males will also have colorful crests, and streamers that attract the females.

In most birds the male is more colorful then the female but female hummingbirds while not as bright as the male also have colorful plumage.  The females do not have the brilliant gorget of the male.  With females it is harder determine the species.

North America females are usually whitish gray below.  Females also have white tips on the ends of their tail feathers.

Nesting and Breeding

Many male hummingbirds do dramatic aerial displays to attract a mate.  After mating the female does all the work from incubating the eggs, to feeding the young.  Because females are not as bright as the male it is harder for predators to see them as they sit on their nests.  The greenish back of  North American hummingbird females also helps them blend in.

   Hummingbird and young    Hummingbird nest     Hummingbird on nest

The females build nests that are well camouflaged to blend in well with surroundings.  The 1/2 inch eggs will incubate for about 15 days.

Wings & Flight

These acrobats of the air have combined the skills of both birds, and insects.  The wings of  of hummingbirds move in a figure-eight pattern, allowing them to hover, and fly in all directions.  It is a wonder to see them hover in one spot or dive bomb.  Their wings are 25 to 30 percent of their body weight, and beat at up to 80 beats per second.  The normal speed is 25 to 30 mile per hour, but some reach 65 miles per hour.  They fly long distances.  The Ruby throat flies across the Gulf of Mexico each year.

Hummingbird bills

The bill varies depending on the species.  In general they are long, slender tube shaped.  They are usually straight or with a slight down curve.  They are perfect for probing flowers for nectar or catching insects.  The birds also use them as weapons, and threaten each other with them.

Torpor

Because they are so small, and have little insulation hummingbirds lose body heat rapidly, even while sleeping. To survive cold nights hummingbirds go into a state called torpor.  In this state they will use 50 times less energy by reducing their metabolic rate by up to 95 percent.

Number of Species

There are 340 different species.  21 of these reach the U.S., and 16 of them breed in the United States.  The well known Ruby humminbird covers the widest range, and flies across the Gulf of Mexico during migration.

Food

They eat insects for protein.  Their tongue has groves on the sides, making it easier to catch insects.  Flower nectar is a favorite, and gives them much needed energy.  They have extremely high metabolism, and need as much energy as they can get.  They need to drink almost twice their weight in nectar each day.  In exchange for this they help pollinate the flowers. 

How does that saying go?  If you build it they will come.  Many people create flower gardens designed specifically for Hummingbirds, and even butterflies.  If you spread feeders around your yard, hummingbirds will likely visit.  Because they have excellent memories they will often return to the same flowers or feeders each year.

Hand Feeding

Hummingbirds are very friendly, and will eat from a feeder in your hand.  Hang around your feeders until they get used to you.  Once they are used to you, hold a feeder with sugar water in your hand.  You will have better luck if you use one with red on it.  Sometimes it helps to temporarily remove the other feeders.  It may take a while for them to land so be patient.

Visit our Hummingbird Feeders page for more on feeding.

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