Hummingbird facts and myths: Discover the secrets behind these speedy birds
In Arizona, if you’ve ever spent a morning sitting out on your patio enjoying the sun,
gone on a leisurely trail hike, or spent the day at a botanical garden, chances are
you’ve had an encounter with one of the smallest birds in the world — the
hummingbird. These adorable feathered friends grace our desert landscape with
their beauty as they flutter around from flower to flower. While there are over 300
hummingbird species found around the world, only around two dozen can be found
in the U.S.
Hummingbirds may be little, but there are a lot of exciting facts, quirks, and even a
few myths associated with these tiny treasures. Here are 10 interesting facts about
hummingbirds to expand your knowledge of these fascinating birds:
1. The calliope hummingbird is the smallest bird species in the U.S. — measuring
just 3 inches long.
2. Along with being one of the few species of birds that can hover,
hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backward. This fantastic skill is due
to the structure of their wings. Hummingbirds can rotate their wings in a full circle —
change direction, and it’s effectively putting them into reverse!
3. Our tiny feathered friends are not fans of walking, and can only use their feet
to scratch, preen and shuffle side to side on a perch. Hummingbirds’ feet have
evolved and adapted to become smaller to be more efficient flyers, but they’re not
very useful for speed-walking.
4. One common myth about hummingbirds is that they suck nectar up through
their long bills using a force called capillary action. This action can be observed by
placing a very long, thin tube in a glass of water. Without using any suction, water
will travel up the tube. However, the capillary action idea was recently disproven in
2015. Hummingbirds lick up nectar using their long, forked tongues that have hair-
like extensions that open up. Once the bird’s tongue hits the nectar, it retracts,
trapping the liquid inside as the hummingbird pulls its tongue back into its mouth.
5. Want to see a hummingbird’s tongue at work? You’ll need a special camera for
that. A hummingbird can lick up to 13 times per second — so you’ll need to be in
super slow-mo mode!
6. While they may be small, hummingbirds are fierce and are one of the most
aggressive bird species. If you have a hummingbird feeder, you’ll often see one
dominant hummingbird that will guard your backyard as its own to protect its food
source. Hummingbirds are also known to attack other birds, such as crows and
hawks if they invade their space.
7. The sword-billed hummingbird is the only bird in existence that has a bill
that’s longer than its body. In fact, the bill is so long that the hummingbird has to
continually hold it upright if it’s resting on a perch — otherwise, it will topple over.
8. When flying forward, a hummingbird can reach a speed of up to 30 mph.
When diving, these birds can reach up to 60 mph! Despite being incredibly fast,
hummingbirds still have predators that will happily feast on them if they can catch
them. Some of the hummingbirds’ natural predators include owls, praying mantises,
snakes, spiders, and roadrunners, among others.
9. A hummingbird’s wings can flap up to 70 times per second. Hummingbird
hearts can reach a rate of up to 1,260 beats per minute to power their speedy wings
10. Hummingbirds have a speedy metabolism and have to eat about half of their
body weight every day. Our feathered friends have to consume so much food and
be consistently eating — if they slept the same way as humans do, they would starve!
Hummingbirds go into a much deeper form of sleep that’s similar to a mini hibernation. This process slows the bird’s metabolism down enough to make it through the night without needing a midnight snack.
Now that you know 10 interesting facts about hummingbirds, share these tidbits
with friends the next time you one of these speedy birds zooms by. Have a favorite
hummingbird fact that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!