Author: Joy Bickley
                                                                                                 Photographs (c) Dan True

* Other Names:

* Description and Interesting Facts:

Hummingbirds are small nectarivorous and insectivorous members of the avian order Apodiformes, but they differ from other members of the order because they have long, slender bills and bitubular tongues (Johnsgard, 1997). There are about 338 species of Hummingbirds in the world, and about 16 of those are found in the United States and Canada (6). They begin arriving in the U.S. in February and continue through spring; in late August and early September they begin their migratory route back to warmer climates of Mexico and Central America, where they spend the winter (Tyrrell, 1985). Hummingbirds are found only in the Western Hemisphere - as far north as Alaska and as far south as Tierra del Fuego (7). They are the smallest birds in the world, and their long, slim bills easily distinguish them from other birds (Tyrrell, 1985). They can live up to 12 years, however most live only 3 to 5 years (Stokes, 1989). Hummingbirds can fly right, left, up, down, backwards, and even upside down (2). They flap their wings about 50 or so times in a single second (2). Because they fly so much, they have poorly developed feet; in fact, they can barely walk at all - to eat they perch or hover (6). They have excellent memory often returning to the same food source year after year (2). The smallest hummingbird in the world is the bee hummingbird of Cuba - it is only 2 and 1/4 inches long (Stokes, 1989). The only predator that is known for hunting hummingbirds is the tiny hawk, Accipiter superciliosus fontanieri, of Costa Rica rain forests (True, 1993). Audubon called hummingbirds a "glittering fragment of the rainbow" (Tyrrell, 1985).


Hummingbirds require an adequate diet of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals (Tyrrell, 1985). The major part of a hummingbird's diet is sugar which they get from flower nectar and tree sap (2). In fact, hummingbirds may consume up to 50% of their weight in sugar each day (6). Insects, mosquitoes, gnats, and flies also play a huge part in their diets because they provide the protein, minerals, vitamins, and fats that hummingbirds need for feather, bone, and muscle maintenance and growth (True, 1993). In fact, it only takes about 10 minutes for some insects to pass completely through a hummingbird's body (Tyrrell, 1985). To meet their high energy demands, hummingbirds must feed about every five minutes to an hour (True, 1993). Hummingbirds do not have a sense of smell, instead they locate food by eyesight (Stokes, 1989 ). Flowers are hummingbirds biggest attention grabers, especially those that are bright red, orange, or red-orange in color, with tubular-shaped blossoms (8). Hence, this is why they are equipped with a long bitubular tongue that acts much like a straw to suck out the nectar. There are at least 150 species of North American flowering plants exhibit an "ornithophilous syndrome" - they have features apparently modified through evolution for hummingbirds to spread around their pollen - not surprisingly, these plants usually have large red or red-yellow flowers, have no scent, and bloom during daylight hours (hummingbirds do not feed after dark) (Johnsgard, 1997). If an average man had the metabolism that was comparable to that of a hummingbird, he would have to eat about 285 pounds of hamburger meat every day to maintain his body weight (Stokes,1989).

*Breeding Habits

Hummingbirds are obviously oviparous (meaning they lay eggs) (Tyrrell, 1985), and they also have the smallest eggs of all birds - half the size of a jellybean (Stokes, 1989). Courtship consists of song, exhibition of iridescent plumage and dazzling aerial flights (Tyrrell, 1985). Male hummingbirds play no role in the reproductive process beyond fertilization - it is the female who builds the nest alone (Johnsgard, 1997). The typical nest of a hummingbird is very tiny - about the size of a walnut. The outer part is covered with moss and plant fibers and are often shingled with lichens (3). The female hummingbirds lays 2 eggs which are white and elliptical in shape, and then she incubates them for 14 to 21 days (Johnsgard, 1997). After hatching, the nestlings remain in the nest for about 21 days (Tyrrell, 1985).

* How to Encounter:

The best way to encounter hummingbirds is to put up hummingbird feeders in early February, about the time migration starts. It is also to possible to build an entire "Hummingbird Garden" - the best place to go to find out how to do that is to get the book by Donald and Lillian stokes entitled "The Hummingbird Book" in which they published in 1989.

*Species List:
Compiled from lists given by Johnsgard, 1983, Tyrrell, 1985, and (9).

Subfamily Phaethornithinae
Subfamily Trochilinae

 *Identification Guide for North American Hummingbirds:
     as printed in Paul A. Johnsgard's The Hummingbirds of North America, 1983
A. Larger, wing at least 60 mm
        B. Violet ear-patch present, tail with a black band near tip (Colubri thalassinus)
        BB. No violet ear-patch or black band near tip of tail
                C. Bill very long (culmen 33-36 mm), white rump patch present (Heliomaster constantii)
                CC. Bill shorter (culmen less than 32 mm), no white rump patch
                        D. Tail bluish or black with a white tip, that of male slightly forked (Heliodoxa fulgens)
                        DD. Tail green, with grayish tip, that of male somewhat rounded (Lampornis clemenciae)
AA. Smaller, wing no more than 56 mm
        B. Bill reddish, at least on lower mandible, nasal operculum at least partly exposed
                C. Nasal operculum wholly exposed, a white eye-stripe present above a blackish ear-patch (Cynanthus)
                        D. Ear-patch black, with a long white eye-stripe above (C. leucotis)
                        DD. Ear-patch grayish, bordered above with a short, dull whitish eye-stripe (C. latirostris)
                CC. Nasal operculum partially concealed, not with combination of a white eye-strip above a blackish earpatch
                        D. Tail forked and dusky violet to blackish, a small white spot present behind eye (Chlorostilbon ricordii)
                        DD. Tail square or only notched, brownish; no white spot behind eye (Amazilia)
                                E. Bill only slightly widened basally, only lower mandible reddish basally (A. beryllina)
                                EE. Bill abruptly widened near its base, both upper and lower mandibles reddish
                                        F. Chin and throat white (A. violiceps)
                                        FF. Chin and throat metallic green
                                                G. Central tail feathers brownish, abdomen brownish gray (A. tzacatl)
                                                GG. Central tail feathers greenish, abdomen buffy (A. yucatanensis)
        BB. Bill blackish, not broader than deep at base, nasal operculum concealed by feathers
                C. Bill either unusually short (exposed culmen less than one-fourth as long as wing) or long and decurved (exposed culmen more than half as long as wing)
                        D. Bill short and straight, more than half of it covered by feathering (Orthorhyncus cristatus)
                        DD. Bill long and decurved, tail deeply forked in males (Calothorax lucifer)
                CC. Bill straight or only slightly decurved, one-fourth to one-half as long as wing
                        D. Plumage usually with considerable rufous, at least on tail, which is usually rounded in both sexes; outermost primary of male sometimes sharply pointed
                                E. Abdomen pale rufous, bounded by a whitish breast, central tail feathers distinctly shorter than the rest and the tail forked in males (Calothorax evelynae)
                                EE. Abdomen and breast both whitish, with darker flanks, central tail feathers as long as the others (Selasphorus)
                                        F. Bill short (exposed culmen 10-13 mm), wing usually less than 36 mm (S. heloisa)
                                        FF. Bill longer (at least 13.5 mm), wing usually at least 37 mm
                                                G. Lateral rectrices mostly blackish, wing 45-52 mm (S. platycercus)
                                                        H. Throat metallic red or purple (males)
                                                                I. Back metallic green (S. sasin)
                                                                II. Back cinnamon-rufous (S. rufous)
                                                       HH. Throat whitish, usually flecked with dusky (females)
                                                                I. Outermost rectrix no more than 2.7 mm wide (S. sasin)
                                                                II. Outermost rectrix more than 3 mm wide (S. rufous)
                        DD. Plumage lacking any rufous, tail square or slightly forked in males and outermost primary never sharply pointed (Archilochus)
                                E. Inner rectrices broadening subterminally, throat feathers of adult males very narrow and pure white basally (A. calliope)
                                EE. All rectrices more or less tapering toward tips
                                        F. Inner primaries with small notch near tip of inner web, lateral rectrices pointed
                                                G. Throat metallic purplish or violet (males)
                                                        H. Throat purplish red (A. colubris)
                                                        HH. Throat black and violet (A. alexandri)
                                                GG. Throat dull white, tail double-rounded or rounded (females)
                                                        H. Exposed culmen 17-19.5 mm, tail double-rounded (middle rectrices shorter than outer ones) (A. colubris)
                                                        HH. Exposed culmen 19.5-22 mm, tail rounded (A. alexandri)
                                        FF. Inner primaries not notched near tip of inner web, lateral rectrices mostly rounded
                                                G. Gorget and crown metallic-colored (males)
                                                          H. Gorget and crown purplish red, outermost rectrices normal in width (A. anna)
                                                        HH. Gorget and crown violet, outermost rectrices distinctly narrowed (A. costae)
                                                GG. Throat pale gray or dull whitish, no gorget (females)
                                                        H. Wing 48-51 mm, pale grayish underparts and tail corners (A. anna)
                                                        HH. Wing 43.5-46 mm, whitish underparts and tail corners (A. costae)
 *Works Cited
Stokes, Donald and Lillian. 1989. The Hummingbird Book. Little, Brown and Company. Boston MA. (ISBN 0-316-81715-5). 89 pages.
Tyrrell, Esther Q. & Robert A. 1985. Hummingbirds: Their Life and Behavior. Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, NY. (ISBN 0-517-55336-8). 212 pages.

Johnsgard, Paul A. 1983. The Hummingsbirds of North America. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington, D.C. (ISBN 0-87474-562-4). 303 pages.
Johnsgard, Paul A. 1997. The Hummingsbirds of North America. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington, D.C. (ISBN 1-56098-708-1). 278 pages.

True, Dan. 1993. Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing. Univeristy of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque, NM. (ISBN 0-8263-1398-1). 213 pages.