36 Fun Facts About Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are some of the most fascinating birds in the world. Though they are tiny, usually measuring just 3-5 inches long, they captivate us with their beauty, speed, agility and unique abilities. Read on to learn 36 fun and interesting facts about these remarkable little birds!

An Introduction to Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are the smallest of all birds, with most species measuring just 3-5 inches long and weighing 2-20 grams. They are native to the Americas and known for their ability to hover in midair and fly backwards and upside down. Hummingbirds get their name from the characteristic humming sound their wings make as they beat up to 80 times per second. Their rapid wing beats allow them to float effortlessly, change direction instantly and even fly backwards.

There are over 330 described species of hummingbird found from Alaska to Chile. Their beautiful iridescent feathers come in a spectacular range of colors, including ruby red, vibrant orange, metallic greens and blues. Despite their diminutive size, hummingbirds have huge personalities and are fiercely territorial, especially when defending food sources. Read on to learn more intriguing facts about these flashy little birds!

Fascinating Facts About Hummingbirds

1. Hummingbirds are the Smallest Birds in the World

The smallest extant species of bird in the world is the Bee Hummingbird found in Cuba and the Isle of Pines. Males measure just 2.25 inches long and weigh 1.6-1.9 grams. To put that in perspective, a penny weighs 2.5 grams! Other tiny hummingbird species include the Calliope Hummingbird and the Lucifer Hummingbird. The largest hummingbird species is the 9-inch long Giant Hummingbird found along the Andes in South America.

2. They Have an Extremely High Metabolism

A hummingbird’s heart rate can reach over 1,200 beats per minute and they take 250-300 breaths per minute. Their rapid breathing and fast beating heart support their high metabolic rate and energy needs. Hummingbirds need to consume more than their body weight in nectar every day and risk starvation if they go more than a few hours without feeding.

3. Hummingbirds Hover in Midair

Most birds can only fly forward, but hummingbirds are able to rapidly beat their wings forwards and backwards to hover in midair. They can maintain their position to drink nectar from flowers, even compensating for wind while hovering. Slow motion footage shows hummingbirds adjusting the angle of their wings with each stroke to stay suspended.

4. They Are the Only Birds that Can Fly Backwards

By altering their wing angle and direction during hovering, hummingbirds are able to fly backwards if needed. This allows them to retreat from flowers quickly or correct their position. Other birds like kingfishers may seem to fly backwards when swooping down to catch fish, but true backward flight is unique to hummingbirds.

5. Hummingbirds Have Rotating Wrists

To allow their specialized flight, hummingbirds have a unique skeletal and muscular structure. Their shoulder joints can rotate in almost a full circle and their wrists can swivel a full 360 degrees. This adaptation lets their wings move in a figure-eight pattern for hovering and precise maneuvering.

6. They Beat Their Wings up to 80 Times a Second

A hummingbird’s wings can beat up to 80 times per second, which creates the characteristic hum we hear as they zip past. The wing muscles make up 35% of their total body weight. With each stroke, their wings flap through a full 180 degree arc and quickly rotate at the shoulder to enable continuous movement.

7. They Sport Bright, Iridescent Plumage

Most male hummingbirds have gorgeously iridescent feathers that appear to change color as light hits them from different angles. This shimmering effect is created through light refraction off the specialized feather structure rather than pigments. The curved surface of the feathers causes wavelengths of light to interfere and reflect specific colors back to the viewer.

8. Some Species Dive at Speeds Over 60 mph

During courtship displays, male Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds dive at speeds exceeding 60 mph, making them the fastest moving vertebrates on Earth relative to their size. As they plummet towards the ground, the rapid wind causes their tail feathers to resonate and produce a loud, distinctive buzzing sound.

9. They Have Antifreeze in Their Blood

A night in freezing temperatures would be fatal to most hummingbirds. To survive, they enter a hibernation-like state called torpor. Their heartbeat and breathing slows, and their body temperature drops from 105°F to as low as 48°F. Their blood also contains high levels of hemoglobin to supply more oxygen and glucose to vital organs when body temperature drops.

10. Hummingbirds Have the Highest Metabolism of All Warm-Blooded Animals

To support hovering and fast flight, hummingbirds have an incredibly fast metabolism and oxygen intake rate. At rest they take 250 breaths per minute, but this can increase to over 500 breaths per minute during flight. Their oxygen consumption per unit weight is the highest of all warm-blooded animals.

11. They Consume More Than Their Body Weight Each Day

The average hummingbird requires at least half its body weight in sugars from nectar each day, and the smallest species may need up to their full body weight. They visit hundreds of flowers daily and lick nectar over 20 times per minute while feeding. If they go more than a few hours without refueling, they risk depleting their energy stores and starving.

12. Their Beaks Are Perfectly Adapted for Drinking Nectar

A hummingbird’s long, slender beak is specially adapted for accessing the nectar hidden deep within flowers. The bill lengths precisely match flower shapes they feed from. Their forked tongues have hairlike tips that lap nectar, which moves into grooves on the roof of their mouths. They also have tubes inside their tongues that suck nectar up by capillary action.

13. They Eat Insects for Protein

While nectar provides the carbohydrates they need for energy, hummingbirds get essential protein, minerals and fats from consuming insects and spiders. They may opportunistically feed on small arthropods or proactively hunt insects in flight using visual cues. With telescoping vision, they can detect tiny prey and estimate precise distances.

14. Hummingbirds Fight Using Their Needle-Like Bills as Rapiers

Hummingbirds are very territorial and aggressive. Males often fight over nectar sources or when competing for females. They face off like fencers with wings spread, lunging at each other and jabbing with their sharp bills. The fights end after one bird is pierced, and the wounds inflicted can be fatal.

15. They Have Unusually Large Brains for Their Size

Given their diminutive size, hummingbirds have surprisingly large brains relative to their total body weight. Brain mass ranges from 2-4% of total body weight, which is similar to some higher primates. They display intelligent behaviors like reasoning, learning, memory and rapid cognition that may be connected to sensory processing.

16. Hummingbirds See Ultraviolet Light

Hummingbirds have excellent vision adapted for feeding while hovering up close to flowers. They see ultraviolet wavelengths invisible to humans, allowing them to find nectar guides on petals and see patterns on pollen. Their eyes also have more cones than rods, providing excellent daytime vision and color perception.

17. They Can See and Fly Backwards

Hummingbirds have an expansive field of binocular vision that likely overlaps extensively with their monocular fields, providing excellent depth perception. They also have dense bundles of feathers around their eyes that may help them see while diving and flying upside down or backward.

18. Many Hummingbird Flowers Are Nectar-Less to Other Animals

Plants like honeysuckle, fuchsia and penstemon have evolved with hummingbirds and contain ultraviolet pigments like carotenoids to create color patterns that specifically attract hummingbirds. Their tubular flower shapes also make nectar inaccessible to other birds and bees while perfectly suiting hummingbird beaks and tongues.

19. They Remember Where Reliable Feeding Locations Are

Hummingbirds have excellent spatial maps and memories to track nectar sources. One study showed they can remember the locations of 9-15 feeders spread around an area. They also carefully observe and remember which flowers have replenished nectar each day and recognize food-providing flowers by color and shape.

20. Hummingbirds Can Enter a Hibernation-Like State to Conserve Energy

At night when food sources are unavailable, hummingbirds conserve energy by entering torpor, a hibernation-like state. Their metabolic rate drops to 1/15th normal, with heart rate falling to 50-180 beats per minute and body temperature plummeting. They may sleep up to 10-14 hours while torpid.

21. A Hummingbird’s Heart Rate Can Reach Over 1,200 Beats Per Minute During Flight

A hummingbird’s resting heart rate is typically around 250 beats per minute, even up to 600 bpm while feeding. During vigorous flight, their heart rate can climb as high as 1,260 beats per minute to pump oxygen to their muscles. Hummingbird hearts are 2.5% of their body weight, the highest proportion in the animal kingdom.

22. They Bathe Multiple Times a Day

Hummingbirds are very clean birds and preen meticulously several times a day. Their feathers need constant grooming to maintain maximum efficiency and sustained hovering ability. They bathe by skimming across ponds, allowing droplets of water to penetrate their feathers, or by allowing dew and rain to accumulate and drizzle through their plumage.

23. Males Perform Dramatic Courtship Displays and Dives

Male hummingbirds try to woo females with complex courtship rituals. They fly in looping patterns, dance through the air or dive dramatically as a show of health, strength and flying aptitude. The V-shaped dives can reach speeds over 60 mph, producing loud buzzing or popping sounds with specialized tail feathers.

24. Hummingbirds Are Highly Intelligent

Hummingbirds have the largest brain to body weight ratios among birds. They display evidence of intelligence, memory, spatial reasoning and learned behaviors that enable specialized feeding. Studies show they can remember flower locations, timing and distribution, solve novel problems and rapidly learn cues.

25. Baby Hummingbirds Can Lift Many Times Their Own Weight

At just a few days old, a baby hummingbird can lift and flap wings that weigh up to twice as much as its entire body. Within a couple weeks the nestlings are able to lift with enough force to hover in place for a brief moment, in preparation for sustained flight. Their first flights typically happen 18-30 days after hatching.

26. Most Hummingbird Species Are Solitary

Outside of mating, most hummingbird species lead predominantly solitary lives and aggressively defend their territory or food sources from intruders. However, a few tropical species may forage in loose flocks of a dozen or more birds, likely as an anti-predator strategy. Flock members still maintain distinct feeding areas within the group.

27. They Are Resilient Despite Their Small Size

Hummingbirds lead challenging lives with high mortality rates, especially in the first year after hatching. However, if they can survive that initial year, some species may live 5-10 years in the wild. The oldest known wild hummingbird was a female Broad-tailed Hummingbird that was at least 12 years old when recaptured.

28. Predators Include Insects, Snakes, Lizards and House Cats

Given their tiny size, hummingbirds fall prey to surprising hunters like large insects, praying mantises, spiders and tree frogs. Snakes and lizards may also opportunistically grab hummingbird eggs and nestlings. Domestic cats are significant predators of hummingbirds, killing millions each year in North America.

29. Their Distinctive Hum Comes from Wing Trill

The characteristic humming noise is created by their wings beating so rapidly that individual strokes are indistinguishable. The wings move faster than about 20 wingbeats per second, causing a trill or hum. The sound can vary from low to high pitch based on the species and speed of wing movement.

30. Many Species Are Highly Endangered

Habitat loss from human activity, climate change and exploitation are leading to alarming population declines for many hummingbird species. Over 100 are listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable by the IUCN. Most concerning is the Mangrove Hummingbird of Brazil, now believed to be extinct.

31. Hummingbirds Have Excellent Hearing

Hummingbirds rely heavily on vocalizations for courtship, territorial defense, and predator avoidance, so their hearing is well adapted for distinguishing bird calls. They can hear frequencies up to 20 kilohertz and localize sounds well to detect flying insect prey. Males also respond to distinctive sounds from dive feather trills.

32. They Play a Key Role in Plant Pollination

While feeding on nectar, hummingbirds transfer pollen between flowers as they move from bloom to bloom, making them important pollinators. Plants pollinated by hummingbirds tend to have drab colors but provide a high sugar content reward in return for predictive pollination.

33. Their Feathers Lack Melanin

Unlike most birds, hummingbirds completely lack melanin pigments in their feathers. Melanin provides black, brown and gray colors but also adds structural strength. Lacking it allows hummingbird feathers to be incredibly lightweight, essential for specialized flight. But it also makes their plumage prone to degradation from sunlight and requires molting.

34. Many Hummingbirds Winter Farther North Than Expected

Though many hummingbird species migrate long distances, substantial numbers now overwinter in warmer areas of the southern U.S. rather than migrating to Central America or Mexico. Provided enough food sources are available, Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds can survive freezing nights by lowering their body temperature and slowing their heart rate.

35. Hummingbirds Share a Common Ancestor with Swifts

Hummingbirds belong to the exclusive clade of “hyper-specialized hoverers” along with swifts. Evolutionary analysis suggests hummingbirds descended from a common ancestor they share with swifts, likely an ancient swift-like species that adapted to nectar feeding. Despite superficial similarities, hummingbirds are unrelated to insects.

36. Hummingbird Flight Has Inspired Innovations in Aerodynamics

The unique flight dynamics of hummingbird wings are being studied to inform advances in aerospace engineering. Slow motion analysis has revealed new principles about minimization of drag forces, vortex stabilization mechanisms, and efficiency of aerodynamic forces that may be applicable to designing micro-aerial vehicles.

The Charming Nature of Hummingbirds

While tiny, hummingbirds have dynamic personalities that captivate us and unique specializations that enable their specialized lifestyle. Their precision flying skills, intelligence, adaptability, resilience, and vital role as pollinators make them truly remarkable creatures. We are fortunate to be able to share a world with hummingbirds. The next time one visits your garden, take a moment to appreciate the wonder of these energetic little birds!


Hummingbirds may be the smallest birds in the world, but they have huge hearts, appetites and attitudes. Their specialized adaptations allow them to achieve feats of flight unmatched by any other avian species relative to their size. From sustained hovering to backward flight to dive speeds exceeding 60 mph, hummingbirds are unlike any other birds.

While their diminutive size makes them vulnerable, they are also incredibly resilient, intelligent and have excellent memories. From defending fiercely-guarded feeding territory to migrating hundreds of miles, hummingbirds form captivating relationships with the flowers and habitats where they reside. Beyond their vital role as pollinators, observing hummingbirds brings joy and inspiration. Their flashy plumage and animated behaviors showcase the remarkable diversity and strength that can come in small packages.

I hope these 36 fun facts have provided some new insights into what makes hummingbirds such remarkable creatures. Whether it’s their antifreeze blood, UV vision, heart rates over 1,200 bpm or their key mutually beneficial connections to plants, hummingbirds are endlessly fascinating!