Hummingbirds are small, colorful birds found in the Americas; they are known for their ability to hover in mid-air and fly backward and their characteristic humming sound. From their tiny size to their remarkable memories, these animals have some impressive skills.
Not only are they beautiful and fascinating creatures, but they also serve an important role in our ecosystem. This article will explore why hummingbirds are so incredible and why we should appreciate them for all they do.
Their Wingbeat Is Seriously Fast
They are called hummingbirds because their wings beat so fast that it creates a humming noise. The speed of this wingbeat varies by species; Giant Hummingbirds beat their wings 10-15 times each second, while Amethyst Woodstar Hummingbirds can beat their wings up to 80 times per second! (That’s 4,800 times per minute). What makes this even more impressive is that Hummingbird’s don’t flap their wings; they move them in a figure-eight pattern. They are the only birds able to fly backward, and they can even fly upside down.
They Have Vibrant Gorgets
A hummingbird’s vibrant throat feathers are known as a “gorget” (pronounced gor-jit), named after the metallic throat protection knights-in-armor once wore. In general, gorgets only appear on the males of the species to attract female hummingbirds (who find the iridescent feathers appealing). These feathers can also signal a male’s social status and allow them to distinguish themselves. When males feel territorial, they will puff out their gorget as a warning to other birds.
The brilliant colors of a hummingbird’s gorget are created by the feather structure; each individual feather comes with miniature spikes filled with a dense composition of microscopic structures and air bubbles. And these structures reflect light so well, creating a dazzling effect from the iridescent feathers.
These Feet Aren’t Made for Walking
Hummingbirds have smaller feet than the average bird, to help them be more efficient flyers. But, while the feet are strong enough to perch on branches, they don’t allow much movement. This means that hummingbirds cannot walk or hop. Still, their feet are helpful for preening and itching.
Little Birds, BIG Appetites
To keep up with their high metabolism, hummingbirds have to feed continuously. This means they can visit up to 1,000 flowers in a single day and consume one-and-a-half to three times their own body weight in food. These big eaters have the fastest metabolism of any animal on Earth - roughly 100 times the rate of an elephant’s metabolism. Their primary food sources are nectar-providing flowers, which hummingbirds assist by playing an integral role in their pollination. A hummingbird’s tongue is grooved like a “W” shape, and tiny hairs along the tip help them to lap up nectar (similar to how a cat laps water).
Females Are the Builders And Providers
Birds are some of the most romantic creatures in the world, with elaborate courtship displays and shared childcare duties. But it’s a little different for the hummingbird, where the females are left to do almost all the rearing alone.
After mating, the female builds a nest where she can lay her two eggs. And it‘s the female who nurtures these babies until they are roughly three weeks old and can leave the nest. Meanwhile, the male leaves after mating and continues his search to find more females to raise his next set of babies.
Still, we shouldn’t think too badly of male hummingbirds as the females choose to keep these dads at a distance. Researchers believe this could be a form of protection as the male’s bright colors are likely to attract predators to the nest who could threaten her babies.
Tiny Brain, BIG memory
It stands to reason that the world’s smallest bird would have the smallest brain, but don’t let that trick you into underestimating their intelligence. Their brain is roughly the size of a rice grain but can store a tremendous amount of information. Studies have shown that these impressive little avians can remember the specific locations of each flower they visit, along with the amount of time it takes these flowers to refill with nectar.
These researchers also found that hummingbirds are unlikely to choose flowers (or other food sources) based on color. Instead, they use geometry to navigate their way through various locations. Red flowers are a great way to attract hummingbirds, but once they memorize the location as an abundant feeding spot, it doesn’t matter what color the flowers are there.
They CAN Smell
If you love reading bird facts, you’ll probably have stumbled across “hummingbirds have no sense of smell.” This common misconception has hung around for so long because a hummingbird’s olfactory bulbs (like every other part of their body) are tiny, so it’s challenging to demonstrate their efficiency.
Still, research by the University of California demonstrated that these birds could not only smell insects but also use this sense to help them stay away from danger when sourcing food. Studies like this can help us to understand the complex processes of a hummingbird choosing its food source and help us gain a clearer insight into how they use their senses.
Hummingbirds are pretty unsociable creatures and spend the majority of their lives alone. They forage and migrate separately and will only come together for mating (or sometimes grudgingly to share a feeder). These territorial birds divide themselves into different areas (searching for places abundant in food, water, and other resources), which the males will aggressively protect. Meanwhile, the females establish their territory by building nests.
You mightn’t ever see a group of these solitary birds, but they have some lovely collective nouns. The most common is a “charm” of hummingbirds, though they can also be referred to as a bouquet, a glittering, a hover, a shimmer, or a tune. How lovely!