Hummingbirds have captivated hearts and fascinated birders for as long as they’ve been around! Their incredibly quick flight pattern, cute chirping sounds, and sometimes questionable behavior have us oohing, aahing, and wondering what our hummers are getting up to each day!
Pictured: Male Anna’s Hummingbird
Here are 10 interesting facts you might not have known about hummingbird behavior:
Why do hummingbirds hum?
Is it because they don’t remember the words? You may have heard this one before, but all jokes aside, the humming we hear comes not from their voice, but the sound of the hummingbird’s wings as they flap. When birds flap their wings, most species will create lift and drag on the downstroke of the wingbeat, making a “whoosh” sound. At 40 beats per second, hummingbirds create lift and drag during both the downward and upward stroke of each wingbeat! The force and volume of these wingbeats makes the familiar “hum” noise that earned the hummingbird its name.
How do hummingbirds eat?
A hummingbird has a tongue that can stretch twice as long as its beak. Their tongues are forked and are lined with lamellae, which are tiny, hair-like barbs that extend outwards as they open their beaks and stick out their tongues. When they retract their long tongue back into their beak, it coils up inside their head, wrapping around their skull. The average hummingbird’s beak can range from 15mm-21mm (.59in-.82in) in length, meaning its tongue can stretch up to 1.6 inches long!
As a hummingbird extends its tongue into a flower, dish or nectar feeder port to drink, the lamellae spread from the forks in their tongue, capturing the nectar by quickly curling back up towards the tongue and trapping it as the tongue fully retracts into their head. Hummingbirds can flick their tongues in and out of nectar as many as 20 times per second!
Pictured: Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Why do hummingbirds migrate?
Needing to eat every 10-15 minutes to retain energy, hummingbirds consume the equivalent of 150,000 calories per day for their metabolic rate! During the cooler months, many locations lack the flowering plants and shelter that hummingbirds need to survive. As fall draws nearer, hummingbirds will set out on their journey to find locations with better resources through the winter.
Why do hummingbirds like red?
As you look for an attractive hummingbird feeder, chances are you’ll find an abundance of red, red and more red! Why do hummingbirds seem to gravitate towards this fiery color? Scientists have studied to find the answer to this tricky question. Research has shown that while hummingbirds have a heightened sensitivity to the red and yellow end of the color spectrum, they’re also attracted to many more colors that humans can only imagine - so don't let that limit your feeder choices!
Pictured: Female Allen’s Hummingbirds on Modern Hummingbird Feeder - Solid Red (Model# MHF4)
Why do hummingbirds hang upside-down?
If you ever come across a hummingbird hanging upside-down from a branch or a hummingbird feeder, there’s no need to panic! The most likely cause of this backwards behavior is actually sleep. Hummingbird sleep, or torpor, is a state of lowered body temperature and metabolic activity that allows hummingbirds to conserve energy. Torpor occurs most often in cold conditions but can sometimes happen during hot days as the body’s response to save energy. Torpor can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, so if you see a hummingbird hanging upside-down for a long period of time, leave them alone and they will eventually awaken in search of nectar to recover.
Why do hummingbirds chase each other?
Seeing your sweet hummingbirds become bullies at the bird feeder can leave you wondering how something so cute can exhibit such hostile behavior! There are a few reasons why hummingbirds fight and chase each other around feeders and flowers. Although they’re one of the world’s smallest birds, these tiny fighters can show great aggression to claim their territory from other hummingbirds by charging, chasing, and even following the intruder far away from the feeding area.
Male hummingbirds will also chase and dive at females during courtship attempts. This impressive show of territorial behavior also allows the male to chirp loud and clear directly at their potential mates.
How do hummingbirds communicate?
Although hummingbirds aren’t capable of producing complex songs like other wild birds, they do have a variety of chirps, calls, and squeals they use to interact with each other. What they may lack in vocal communication, they make up for in physical displays of behavior. Hummingbirds are known to show their feelings by chasing, tracking, diving, and charging at each other during displays of courtship and territorial defense.
When do hummingbirds eat?
Like other wild birds, hummingbirds are most likely to come out and visit a feeder around dawn and dusk, or early in the morning and late in the afternoon before sunset. But since they have one of the highest metabolic rates of all backyard birds, hummingbirds need to eat almost constantly to keep their energy up. That means hummingbirds can be seen feeding at various times throughout the day!
Pictured: Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on Artisan Gravity Hummingbird Feeder - Sunny Day (Model# AGF3)
What do hummingbirds do in the winter?
Not all hummingbirds migrate! Most hummingbirds in the United States and Canada will travel south in search of nectar-rich flowers, insects, and longer daylight hours. But one type of hummingbird has begun to stick it out through the Pacific Northwest winters. The Anna’s Hummingbird has been known to stay year-round in regions ranging from Seattle, Washington to Vancouver, BC. How do hummingbirds survive the winter in these chilly locations? Winters here are mild, with temperatures around 45°F (7°C) during the day and only about 5 in/12 cm of snowfall per year. Many winter-blooming flowers, along with plenty of generous hummingbird feeder hosts, are able to provide the nectar hummingbirds need to generate the energy to stay warm in the colder weather and occasional snowfall.
Pictured: Male Anna’s Hummingbird on Illuminated Hummingbird Feeder (Model# GHF7)
How do hummingbirds find feeders?
Most hummingbirds are migratory birds, meaning they leave and return from a specific area seasonally. Hummingbirds have excellent memories. As they return from migration and end up in their ultimate destination, they will remember the source of their first meals - oftentimes coming back to the same feeders repeatedly. They have even been known to return to the same feeders and flowers from their birthplace! For the best chance of attracting hummingbirds to your hummingbird feeder, it is recommended to have them up and ready about two weeks before they typically return from their winter migration.
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