In this article, we’re going to look at some interesting hummingbird facts and myths: ranging all the way from their behavior to their biology.
Hummingbird Facts and Myths: The Facts
1. Hummingbirds fly exclusively on instinct.
The mothers do not teach their young to fly at all. The hummingbirds’ pectoral muscles make up about a third of their entire body weight. Once they become fledglings, they start to try out their wings by perching on the rim of the nest.
By about the third day, most of them are ready to take their first flights. They fly further away from the nest on each try. The landing and perching, however, takes time to perfect because of their feet being so tiny.
When hummingbirds want to land, they usually make a graceful turn in midair and then put themselves into position. I should probably warn you, however, that they can scratch surfaces with their feet. So be very careful not to leave anything made of glass or that’s of value lying too close to your feeder or flowers.
2. Hummingbirds actually don’t have a sense of smell, but can see color extremely well.
Some species prefer to drink from red and orange flowers.
In fact, studies have shown that birds, including hummingbirds, can see more non-spectral colors than humans. A non-spectral color is one that significantly deviates from the primary color spectrum that humans can see. In fact the only non-spectral colors that humans can see is purple. Birds, on the other hand can see four more than that, including ultraviolet red and ultraviolet green. It helps them to be able to distinguish which flowers contain nectar.
Me and many other experts would never recommend attractant dyes because they often contain chemicals that are toxic to the birds. Instead, it’s recommended to plant flowers that are naturally red or orange in color.
3. In spite of their small size, hummingbirds, particularly the species that primarily live in the northern areas, migrate constantly.
They usually fly solo and can travel for up to approximately five hundred miles at a time.
Researchers, however, have found that food scarcity is not necessarily a trigger for their migration. Instead, the number of sunlight hours and hormone triggers are. However, the second is not currently conclusive.
4. There are over 300 species of hummingbirds combined in North and South America.
The most common ones in North America include:
The Rufous can be found from Alaska to southern Mexico. It is known for its orange color. However, it is constantly on the go and never stays in one place for more than about several seconds to a minute.
The Anna’s were named after the Duchess of Rivoli, Anna Massena. They are typically found in the western coast. They are green and white with pink heads. They prefer spring budding flowers and blossoming trees.
The Calliope is one of the smallest species on the planet. It’s weight is similar to a ping pong ball. It’s known for it’s magenta feathers. It’s found in the western half of the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
The Broad-tails are found in the mountain meadow areas. The males have rose magenta throats and the females are mostly brown and white.
Aside from the Broad-tails, the Ruby-Throats hummingbirds are the most familiar to most people. They are known for their green and red coloration. They can be found mostly in the east coast of the U.S. and ranging from Canada to Mexico.
The Black-Chinned have a Goth-like coloring of purple, green and black. They travel along the western coast of the U.S. down to Mexico and often perch on bare branches.
5. The females lay up to two eggs at a time.
Their nests are often smaller than an old half dollar and their eggs are the size of coffee beans. Some species, such as Black-Chinned, go all out with adding to their nests with natural resources, such as spider silk and plant waste to make more room for the babies as they grow.
Hummingbirds Facts and Myths: The Myths
6. Hummingbirds Migrate On the Backs of Larger Birds
On the surface, it sounds like it would make sense because they seem so tiny and fragile. But that’s not so.
For one thing, they may weigh less than a nickel but they actually consume double their body size to prepare for migration. They also might wait for the wind to go in a certain direction to make their flights easier. But they don’t use robins or geese as their friendly taxi planes.
7. You Should Remove Your Feeders in Autumn to Encourage Migration
It’s good that you don’t want the birds to overdepend on you. But they actually migrate solely on instinct. Some of them, however, seem to take off later than others so it’s actually good to leave your feeders out during all seasons so that they can refuel before they leave.
The birds left behind are also likely sick and/or injured so leaving your feeders out may also help save their lives.
8. Hummingbirds Sip Nectar Through a Straw-Like Tongue
Their tongues are very hard to see since their tongues stick out at the very end of their beaks. However, their tongues are not strawlike. Rather, they’re split in a v-like or fork shape with the edges curved upward, which makes for the two parallel tubes. However, when the bird drinks, the tubes then flatten to trap the nectar that it laps up. Then when it retracts it’s tongue, it forms an ice cream cone-like shape to prevent spillage.
One thing that makes hummingbirds unique is that every species can access certain flowers that others can’t. That’s how uniquely shaped their bills are.
Even though nectar is the main part of their diet, they don’t exist on it exclusively. Nectar actually only boosts their metabolism. They get the rest of their nutrients from the flying insects that they catch in the air or on the inside of the flowers. They especially love spiders, which make up to 80 percent of their caloric intake. Tree sap is another main favorite of some species. Not only because it’s high in nutrients but because they also get access to the insects trapped in it.
9. Hummingbirds Mate For Life
It is true that the male performs a type of courtship dance for the female. First, he flies 30 feet or more above the perched female’s head and landing very fast in a pendulum-like motion. Then he spreads his wings and tail feathers to show off their colors while making intense buzzing sounds, some species make vocal sounds. This is done several times. If the female is impressed, she then allows him to land on her and mate. That barely takes a second and then his job is done.
10. Hummingbirds Can’t Perch
That one probably came from the fact that their feet are so tiny that they’re barely visible. As a result, hummingbirds can’t walk or jump around well.
However, perching is their way of resting and digesting after they have just eaten.
Can Hummingbirds Recognize Humans?
Yes. Especially if they’re the ones who put feeders and flowers out for them. They have been known to fly over the heads of the humans to let them know when the feeders are empty or the sugar water has gone bad. I’ve had a few do that to me and perch on my porch staring at me through my window when that’s happened to my feeder.
When they’re first getting to know a new human, they fly up to the face to check him or her out. I was intimidated the first few times that happened to me. But these days when they do, I feel nothing but love and respect for them. It’s also their way of maintaining and enforcing safety in their territory.
I’ve never done that and have no plans to but there have been some cases in which hummingbirds drink nectar while perched on a human finger. There have also been reports of hummingbirds seeming to greet a human who they’re familiar with and even following one in and out of his or her home.
Do hummingbirds appear in folklore?
Yes. Ancient Aztecs considered them to be messengers between our world and the spirit world. Native Americans saw them as healers as well as catalysts for good luck, joy and love.
In Central America, they’re still considered to be bringers of love.
They are not directly mentioned in the Bible but some Christians consider hummingbirds to be messengers from Heaven. Others consider them to be messengers from Angels to remind human beings to let go of what is no longer needed.
When a loved one has recently passed on, they are sometimes considered to be a sign that loved one is adjusting well to their new world.
In dreams, they are sometimes believed to mean that a fledgling idea has the potential to grow into something extraordinary. Or to embrace freedom and trust intuition since they live solely on instinct with no guidance outside of themselves.
Hopefully these hummingbird facts and myths cleared up some of your questions about hummingbirds! If you are a huge fan of hummingbirds and would like to attract them to your garden, check out our article creating a hummingbird sanctuary.