10 Neat Things: About Hummingbirds

1. Soap bubble throats.

Hummingbirds have brilliant throats, but it is not pigment that is responsible for that luster. Instead, it’s the arrangement of their feathers, which can catch the sunlight filtered through moisture that creates that brilliance in the same way that soap bubbles reflect their shimmery iridescence. Things are clearly not always what they seem.

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2. Less than an American dime.

And that’s saying something! Three hummingbird hatchlings weigh less than one very thin 10 cent piece from south of the border.

Image: Mike’s Birds from Riverside, CA, US, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Spiders and spider silk.

Hummingbirds eat more than nectar. With their constant consumption of energy, they also need protein, so they consume vast quantities of small insects, among them, spiders. They also use spider webbing to construct their half-walnut-sized nests. The elasticity of the spider silk allows the home to expand beautifully to accommodate the growing young. Nests are built in the cruxes of trees, on wires, on thin branches, on the top of outdoor light fixture, or in a myriad of places.

4. The better to see you with, my dear.

Hummingbird eyes are disproportionately large for their bodies – or anyone’s body for that matter. In fact, their eyes weigh more than their brains. That doesn’t mean they aren’t “smart”. Hummingbirds can remember every flower they visit in order to come back for more – or not.  They like them sweet. Nectar needs to contain at least 25 per cent sugar to please them.

5. Sedentary birds.  

You probably think the poor hummingbird never rests. Wrong. They spend 75 to 80 per cent of the day just perching. They are able to enter a state of torpor, where their metabolism slows down their hearts to 50 to 80 beats per second. Their kidney function slows down correspondingly. However, when they do get up and go, they are a picture of energy, beating their wings 20 to 30 times per second, which uses up a lot of nectar and bugs and spiders. They cannot walk or hop but can move sideways on their four-toed feet.

6. Long distance fliers.  

Given the fact that the hummingbird needs 12 times their body weight a day in nectar in addition to a goodly portion of bug protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, it is hard to accept that ruby throats can cross the 500-mile Gulf of Mexico in one leg, without stopping. In North America, the rufous hummingbird routinely flies from northern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, a journey of 3,000 miles, to migrate. They can also fly backwards.

Image: Friederbluemle, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

7. Jellybean babies.

The eggs of hummers are tiny, the size of jellybeans or peas. Mama lays one or two eggs in a fairy-sized nest, the size of half a walnut for some species and never larger than half a golf ball. She lines the nest with spider silk and plant down – the cotton from thistles, dandelions and cattails – and she covers the outside with lichen or moss to make a warm, snug bed.

8. Deadbeat dad.

He does his thing with copulation then carries on his merry way, while mom hummingbird is left to cope with nest building – about 5 to 8 days; brooding – about 16 to 18 days; and feeding the young for the next three weeks.  She lays one or two eggs. The babies don’t get a lot to eat in the early days as she is busy keeping their naked little bodies warm at about 96 degrees F.  This means she can only leave the nest for a few minutes at a time to forage for food until they grow their feathers.

Image: Alex Berger via Flickr

9. They have a voice.  

It’s not raucous, but it is a voice. Hummingbirds have a one-note chirping sound that is called a chip note. They also use their wings and tails to make sound and communicate. If you hear a clicking sound, it could be two males dueling over a female with their beaks. They will not hesitate to attack crows, hawks or jays that they feel are impinging on their territory.

10. Vigilance for bird flu.

So many Canadians love watching hummingbirds and this year there are many questions about whether it is safe to leave feeders out for our feathered friends. The news changes steadily, but as of May 12, 2022, Environment and Climate Change Canada recommends not feeding wild birds by hand or if you are in an area with domestic poultry. This means you can keep your hummingbird feeders (unless you live on or near a farm), but you should clean them every two weeks with bleach. Watch the news for updates.

-Dorothy Dobbie Copyright©
Pegasus Publications Inc