Story Behind the Science
Because of their miniature size, hummingbirds are often mistaken for butterflies, moths and other insects. Hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world, but they have incredible physical capabilities. They fly constantly, causing them to have a fast metabolism. This requires them to consume a lot of food, twice their body weight in nectar every single day. These tiny birds can beat their wings anywhere from 60 to 200 times per second, and they can fly up to 60 miles per hour.
Hummingbirds get their name from the sound they make when they’re flying. Their wings beat so fast that they make an insect-like buzzing sound, sort of like a hum. Hummingbirds are the second most diverse family of birds, next to flycatchers. Of the 300 plus species living only in the New World (aka the Americas), 16 of these can be found in North America. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the most common species found in the eastern part of the U.S. The majority of hummingbird species live in the tropics of South America.
Throughout history, hummingbirds have been killed for the beautiful plumage. Although this doesn’t pose much of a problem for these tiny birds now, hummingbirds do face several threats.
It’s no joke when we say that cats are now the number one predator of hummingbirds. Both domestic and feral cats are the biggest reason why some species of hummingbirds are close to becoming extinct.
Other major threats include habitat loss and climate change. Many species of hummingbirds adapt to unique habitats. When their natural environment is destroyed as a result of human activities, hummingbirds and other birds and animals are forced out of their homes and into new habitats. Climate change, which may result from natural changes and man-made global warming, has negatively affected the migratory patterns of hummingbirds and other birds. Because of this, these birds are often seen in places outside of their natural range, often making it more difficult for them to find sufficient sources of food.
Did You Know?
- Early Spanish explorers originally referred to hummingbirds as joyas voladoras, or “flying jewels.”Learn More »
- Hummingbirds are very territorial and are known to chase away other hummingbirds, as well as larger predatory birds like hawks.Learn More »
- Hummingbirds can fly in all directions: up, down, sideways, forward, backward and even upside down.Learn More »
- The ruby-throated hummingbird migrates roughly 600 miles across the Gulf of Mexico.Learn More »
- Keeping a hummingbird or its nest without a special permit is considered illegal.Learn More »
- Hummingbirds do have feet, but they are weak, so they can only be used to stand or perch but cannot be used for transportation, such as walking or hopping.Learn More »
|Compare & Contrast||Hummingbirds||North American Birds|
|How many species?||338||Over 800|
|Where do they occur?||Hummingbirds can only be found in the Americas. The majority of hummingbird species are native to tropical areas.||As their name suggests, these birds live mainly in North America, though some may migrate to the Caribbean, Central America or South America.|
|What do they eat?||Nectar, tree sap, pollen and insects||Depending on their size, North American birds can eat insects, spiders, seeds, nuts, fruits or smaller animals like birds, lizards, snakes, rodents, fish and even carrion (dead and decaying animals).|
|Do they have predators?||Cats, other birds (like hawks), praying mantids, spiders, bees and wasps, frogs and occasionally fish||Cats, dogs, foxes, opossums, weasels, raccoons, hawks, falcons, other large birds and many more|