Hummingbirds In The Trees
Three years of cultivating habitat to transform my back yard into a hummingbird sanctuary is finally starting to pay off! All the Desert Willow trees that I planted from seed in the spring of 2018 are finally getting big and blooming profusely thus providing hummingbirds with plenty of nectar and safe places to perch.
In this post, I will discuss ten fun facts about hummingbirds and, naturally, there will be plenty of photos!
Ten Fun Facts About Hummingbirds
#1. Hummingbirds Don't Eat Seeds
Hummingbirds would have a hard time cracking seeds open because their long and slender beaks are specialized for consuming nectar. Hummingbirds do not eat seeds and their diets consist entirely of nectar and small insects. You may occasionally observe hummingbirds at seed feeders but they are not there for the seeds. Small insects like to hang out in seed feeders too and the hummers are there to feast on the bugs.
#2. Hummingbirds Are Masters Of Flight
While they won't be winning any foot races, hummingbirds are incredibly agile in the air. Not only are they competent flyers in the standard directions of up, down, and forward but hummingbirds can also fly sideways, backwards and upside down. They can even hover in place. The reason for this is a unique ball and socket joint at the shoulder that allows a hummingbird to rotate its wings 180 degrees. Additionally, the shoulder and elbow joints of the wings are relatively close to the body allowing the wings to tilt and pivot. This specialized mobility combined with a narrow and tapered wing shape allows hummingbirds to fly in ways that other birds cannot.
The evolutionary trade-off for their aerial acrobatics is, unlike most birds, hummingbirds have no ability to glide. They have no low energy flight mode, no overdrive gear for the freeway. A hummingbird in flight is at or near full power at all times and their little hearts pound at a frantic 1200 beats per minute.
All this crazy flying creates very big (little) muscles. 25 to 30 percent of a hummingbird's body weight is comprised of pectoral muscles. These broad chest muscles do the majority of the work required for flying.
#3. Hummingbirds Have Been On The Earth For Millions Of Years
While the exact origins of the hummingbird remain somewhat mysterious, it is believed that hummingbirds evolved in the Americas around 22 million years ago. This theory is somewhat speculative though because there isn't much fossil record to go on. The oldest hummingbird fossils found in the West are only 10,000 years old.
The oldest hummingbird fossils were unearthed in Germany and are 35 million years old and it is thought that the first hummingbirds emerged around 40 million years ago when the species split off from their closest relatives, the Swifts. Tens of millions of years ago, hummingbirds zipped around the forests of Europe but today all of the surviving three hundred species of hummingbird live in the Americas.
For an in-depth discussion on the topic of hummingbird evolution, check out this article on Audubon.org.
#4. Hummingbirds Have Big Brains
You may be wondering how a big brain could fit in such a tiny little head. Well, what we're talking about is a percentage that is relative to body size. Hummingbirds do have tiny heads that house tiny brains but those brains comprise up to 4.2% of the hummingbirds total body mass, giving them the (relatively) largest brains of any bird.
Why do hummingbirds need so much brain power? Well, for one thing it takes extra brain power and an amazing sense of spatial relations to be able to hover in place and to be able to fly in all directions at lightning speed without crashing into things. Have you ever had a hummingbird fly at you and thought you would surely be harpooned in the face only to have them avoid collision by mere millimeters?
Hummingbirds also have incredible memories and will often return to the exact same places year after year even though their migratory path may take them thousands of miles.
Once settled in for a season, hummingbirds will recall the location of every food source, including individual flowers and will also remember how long it's been since they fed on a particular flower.
#5. Hummingbirds Are Pollinators
Like many insects, hummingbirds are pollinators and play a vital role in the lifecycle of plants. Hummingbirds consume up to twice their body weight in nectar every day and, as they fly from plant to plant, they carry pollen. These tiny and colorful birds contribute to the pollination of both native wildflowers and the plants in your garden!
#6. Hummingbirds Have Incredible Eyesight
Hummingbirds have impressive eyesight. Not only does their specialized vision help them to detect even the slightest movement in a vigilant watch for predators, it also helps them to avoid in-flight collisions. In addition to that, hummingbirds can process light in the ultraviolet spectrum, giving them the ability to see colors that humans can only imagine.
#7. Hummingbirds Have Supersonic Hearing
Hummingbirds can hear and sing notes that are beyond the auditory range of humans and most birds. Some hummingbirds can hit notes that are considered "ultasonic", meaning they beyond the range of most other avian hearing and into a range that only dogs and cats can hear.
Hummingbirds can even hear a telephoto lens focusing from several feet away, making them challenging little subjects to photograph.
#8. Hummingbirds Migrate Thousands Of Miles
Forty million years ago hummingbirds zipped around the forests of Europe but today they are only found in the Americas. There are more than 300 species of hummingbird and most of them live in Central and South America. There are 26 species that migrate into the United States for part of the year and 17 of those species breed here. Ruby Throated hummingbirds are common in the eastern United States and common species in the west include Black-chinned, Rufous and Broad-tailed. My yard plays host to many Black-chinned and Rufous from mid-April until the beginning of October.
Hummingbirds that breed in North America spend the winter in Mexico and they make epic flights to get there. Some follow the coasts or the path of the Rockies and some even cross the Gulf Of Mexico in an epic 18 to 22 hour non-stop flight! In the spring, their migration paths to the north correspond with the flowering times of the native plants at their destination.
#9. Hummingbird Food Is Inexpensive And Easy To Make
Many people enjoy feeding hummingbirds but it is important to do it right because bad food can harm the birds. It is not necessary to purchase commercially produced hummingbird food. It is very easy, and much less expensive, to make your own!
The recipe for making hummingbird food is to mix one part plain white granulated sugar with four parts boiling water. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and allow the mixture to completely cool before putting it out for the birds. Extra hummingbird food can be stored in a glass container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
It is very important to not add anything else to the mix. Honey, agave nectar, or any artificial sweeteners can be deadly for hummingbirds so only use plain white granulated sugar.
It is also important to only put out enough food to last about two days, especially in the summer. When the hummingbirds visit the feeders, their beaks leave bacteria in the feeder. In hot weather this bacteria multiplies rapidly causing the nectar to become rancid. To avoid poisoning the birds, it is necessary to completely rinse out and clean the feeders every other day to ensure that the food is always fresh.
#10. Hummingbirds Have An Average Lifespan Of Three To Five Years
As with many animals, a large number of hummingbirds die within their first year. However, for those who survive the first year, life expectancy is greatly increased. There are over 300 species of hummingbirds and some live longer than other. Hummingbirds found in North America have an average life span of three to five years but some tropical species have a life span of ten years or more. Even with the three to five year life span of North American hummingbirds there have still been documented cases of individual banded birds surviving for over ten years.
Three to five years may not sound like much but for these tiny birds with supercharged metabolisms, it is actually pretty impressive.
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I am DeAnna Vincent, fine art and portrait photographer in Los Lunas, New Mexico. These are the photos from my everyday adventures.