Bird Watcher's General Store

More About Hummingbirds - 09/06/02


Dear Bird Folks,

I really liked your column about hummingbirds last week. Can you tell me how much they weigh? How fast do they fly? And if I leave my feeder out too long, will they forget to migrate? Plus, I would love any other info you can tell me about hummingbirds.

Daniela, Osterville

Well, Daniela,

The first thing that I can tell you about hummingbirds is that I'm getting awfully sick of writing about them. This makes five times in the last few months. There are other birds out there, you know. OK, I'll do it one more time for you, Daniela. How can I say no to you. But I swear this is the last time I'm ever writing about hummingbirds, at least until next year. By then, I'll have forgotten all about this rant and will be blabbing about them as much as ever.

Here we go. Hummingbirds weigh only a few grams, about 1/10th of an ounce, or the same amount as one Spaghetti-O. The females are about 15 percent heavier than the males. Evidently, after having kids, the females let themselves go. Their cruising speed is about 25 mph and can reach speeds over 40 mph during mating dives, but who doesn't. During normal flights their wings beat about 60 times per second, but can beat as fast as 200 beats per second. However, the most that I have been able to count is 196 wing beats per second. So I'm a little skeptical about the 200. The hummingbird's heart beats 250 times a minute while at rest, but it shoots up to 1,200 times per minute while in flight and rockets over 300,000 beats per minute after only one cup of espresso. The inside of a hummingbird's nest is only the size of a quarter, and that's before inflation. Although the nest is very small, it is still larger than most summer rentals in Provincetown.

Hummingbirds can skillfully hover at flowers, and they are the only bird that can fly backwards. Many of us think of hummingbirds living on sugar water and the nectar from flowers, but most of their diet is comprised of insects. With their remarkable eyesight, amazing flying skills and lightning quick tongues, hummers can slurp up the tiniest of flying insects. Much of the time that humminbirds are hovering around flowers, they are looking to pick off the teeny bugs that are attracted to the flowers.

And no, leaving your feeders out in the fall won't prevent them from migrating south. Our cheesy little feeders are not about to change thousands of years of evolution. Sometimes hummingbirds do stay later into the season. Last January a hummingbird was coming to a feeder in Chatham, but it wasn't the feeder that kept the bird from migrating. More than likely the bird missed migration do to illness or injury and that feeder was what kept it alive, at least for a while.

There are 319 different species of hummingbirds, which range in size from the ridiculously small "bee hummingbird" of Cuba that is reportedly the size of perhaps, a bee, to the massive "giant hummingbird" of South America that is almost 8 inches long, but still weighs less than an ounce. Of the 319 kinds of hummingbirds in the world, all but 318 of them nest here on Cape Cod. In fact, our ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummer that reliably breeds east of the Mississipi River.

Among other commonly known facts about hummingbirds is that they love swing music, never order pizza with anchovies, and they cheat at Bingo. There you go, Daniela, I hope that is enough, because that is the maximum amount of hummingbird information that I'm legally allowed to tell you. After this, you'll have to wait until next year or buy your hummer info on Ebay.



Artwork by Catherine Clark


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