10 Interesting Facts About Hummingbirds

Hummingbird Facts

“A flash of harmless lightning, A mist of rainbow dyes, The burnished sunbeams brightening From flower to flower he flies.”

John Banister Tabb

These tiny, colourful birds are predominantly found in the Americas. There are over 300 species of hummingbirds. They have a variety of beaks from long, sword-like beaks to serrated ones. These birds, however, are a treasure trove of fascinating features.

1. Only birds that can hover in mid-air

Hummingbirds are no less than acrobats. They are the only birds that can hover in mid-air and even fly backwards. They do this by moving their wings like the number 8, unlike other birds that flap their wings up and down. This also gives them the ability to fly upside down!

2. They are fast

Despite their small size, Hummingbirds are very fast, and can fly up to 30mph (48kmph) in a horizontal direction. When diving, they can reach speeds of up to 60mph (96kmph)! They are able to do this because of their strong pectoral muscles which contribute almost 25 to 30 percent of it’s weight. These are the broad chest muscles principally responsible for flying.

They flap their wings so fast that it creates a humming sound. This is what gives the birds their name. What is interesting is that each species produces a different hum sound because they all flap their wings at different speeds.

3. High metabolism and a foodie

They have a very high metabolic rate, almost 100 times faster than that of an elephant. Their heart beats at around 1200 beats per minute (human heart beats at 60-100 beats per minute at rest). To keep up with this high metabolic rate, the bird eats almost half its weight of sugar everyday! It feeds 5-8 times every hour and scout between 1,000 and 2,000 flowers every day for food.

They also eat small insects and spiders to meet their protein requirements.

Also Read: 10 Interesting Facts About Insects

4. But they rest well too

When it sleeps at night, it goes into a state of ‘torpor’, which is like hibernation. Its metabolic rate slows down to 1/15th of normal and their body temperatures also go down. This is important because if their metabolism does not slow down, they will not be able to survive the night without eating.

5. Big brains

Hummingbirds have a big brain in comparison to their body. Their brain makes up 4.2% of their body weight (human brain makes up 2% of the body weight). They use their brain to remember the flowers they have sucked the nectar from, their migration routes, even the yards and flowers they visited in the previous year’s migration time! This is because of an enlarged hippocampus (a brain region facilitating spatial memory).

6. Small but fierce

Do not be deceived by their size or their beautiful colours. Hummingbirds are very fierce fighters. They fight with much larger birds like hawks to protect their feeding territory. They use their sharp beaks like spears in a fight.

They also fight with other hummingbirds especially during mating season. Usually, such fights do not last long and one surrenders to the other in a matter of seconds.

It is probably for this reason that Aztecs revered them for their energy and warriors believed that if they lost their lives in war, they would come back as a hummingbird if they were true to battle.

7. They lick nectar not suck it

Many people believe that hummingbirds suck nectar through their long, thin beaks. The birds do thrust their beaks inside flowers, but use their forked tongue to lick the nectar. As with everything they do, their tongue too moves fast and can lick 10-15 times per second when feeding.

Sword-billed hummingbird, which is one of the largest hummingbirds and is found in South America, has the longest beak in comparison to body. It’s beak is 4inches long (the bird’s average length is 5.5 inch, not including beak) and looks like a sword. It helps it reach the nectar in flowers with long corollas.

Hummingbird drinking nectar

8. Lighter than a teaspoon of sugar

You read that right! Most species weigh approximately 4 gram (a teaspoon of sugar weighs 4.2gram). The ruby-throated hummingbird, which is the most widely distributed hummingbird in North America, weighs only 3gram!

The sword-billed hummingbird mentioned above of course weighs more than the average (Approx 12 grams).

The bee hummingbird is the smallest hummingbird species in the world and measures 2.25 inches long. The female weighs 2.6gram, while the male is slightly smaller and weighs a mere 1.95 gram! Talk about being light as a feather.

9. Can see beyond the rainbow

Like most birds, hummingbirds can also see much more colours than human eye can discern. This is because they have 4 colour cones unlike the 3 colour cones that humans have. As a result, they can see even the ultraviolet spectrum, which includes colours such as UV-green and UV-red.

However, they do not have a sense of smell!

10. Can’t walk

Hummingbirds have very small feet. They are so small that the birds can’t walk on them. They can only move from side to side on a perch. The small feet of course help in reducing the weight of the body which helps them fly better.

Also Read: 10 Interesting Fact series about Dinosaurs, Ocean Animals, Moths and much more

“May my faith always be at the end of the day like a hummingbird returning to its favorite flower.”

Sanober Khan


8 thoughts

  1. It was a pleasure reading this. A pleasure seeing the pictures too. This is non factual but interesting, in some countries a visit from a hummingbird is a good omen.


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