These fearless buzzy birds can have quite an impressive lifespan!
Hummingbirds are found throughout the western hemisphere. And while many of us get to enjoy these birds every year, it is not easy to discern if the same individuals return to our yards year after year. While the lifetime of a human might be too long for a hummingbird, readers might still be surprised by their longevity.
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Let's get humming!
What is a hummingbird?
Hummingbirds are a New World family of birds, Trochilidae, found in the order Caprimulgiformes. This order holds the nightjars like the Common Nighthawk, the potoos, the swifts, and the hummingbirds. This may come as a shock, as many bird lovers may think of hummingbirds as songbirds, but they are not related to the other colorful birds of North America. This family includes the smallest species of birds in the world, and the unique anatomy and physiology of hummingbirds allow for more maneuverability, such as hovering. Due to their high metabolic needs, many hummingbirds must enter torpor every night, as a day full of nectar-feeding is not enough to sustain them for a short overnight.
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How many hummingbirds are there in the world?
The hummingbird family is one of the most diverse families of birds in the world. There are approximately 352 species of hummingbirds currently described, with more species still being discovered or described. The taxonomy of hummingbirds has been shifting a lot in recent years due to new information revealed by genetic research.
Where are hummingbirds found?
Hummingbirds are only found in the New World. However, fossil discoveries revealed primitive hummingbirds in Europe that were dated 30 million years old. In the Americas and adjacent islands, hummingbirds can be found in the most extreme of environments. From high within the Andean Mountains, near glaciers and snowfields, to hot, dry deserts, hummingbirds have filled a variety of habitat pollination niches.
What do hummingbirds eat?
Hummingbird feeders are common throughout North, Central, and South America, as most bird enthusiasts know that hummingbirds utilize a lot of nectar. To mimic natural nectar, most hummingbird feeders make homemade hummingbird food or only buy nectar with natural ingredients. However, all hummingbirds require other nutrients such as proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. So, in addition to nectar, hummingbirds eat insects, spiders, and other arthropods. They will catch flying insects like gnats and small flies by 'hawking' insects out of the air, and they will glean insects like aphids off of leaves.
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How long do hummingbirds live?
The most complete records of longevity in hummingbirds come from bird banding records in North America. Thanks to these banding efforts, we have discovered that some hummingbird species can live over a decade! For example, the oldest known hummingbird was a female Broad-tailed Hummingbird recaptured in Colorado in 1987 and was known to be 12 years and 2 months old. Three other species of hummingbird in North America have been recorded to have lived over a decade: Black-chinned Hummingbird (11 years, 2 months), Buff-bellied Hummingbird (11 years, 2 months), and Rivoli's Hummingbird (11 years). The most common species in eastern North America, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, has an individual that was recorded at nearly a decade old. The individual may have reached the ten-year mark, but it was not recaptured again after 2014.
How fast do hummingbird wings beat?
Not all hummingbirds have the blurred wingbeats typically experienced when observing an individual hovering at a flower. For example, the Giant Hummingbird will use updrafts at cliff and mountain faces to aid in hovering, allowing it to feed on flowers growing on cliff walls. Other hummingbirds can beat their wings 50 to 80 times per SECOND. This feat is possible due to the unique ball-and-socket joint of the hummingbird's shoulder joint and elongated hand bones.
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Are hummingbirds endangered?
Over 50 species of hummingbirds are experiencing such population loss, and threats, that they are listed by IUCN from near-threatened to critically endangered. Nineteen species are near-threatened, ten species are vulnerable, seventeen species are endangered, and nine are critically endangered. Two species are known to have gone extinct in the last 150 years, both from the Caribbean. Multiple other species have not been seen in decades and are feared to be extinct. Many more species are faced with growing threats of habitat loss and introduced invasive predators, such as cats.
What flowers attract hummingbirds?
If you live in Ruby-throated Hummingbird territory, you will want to focus your efforts on red flowers like trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, and honeysuckle. If you live in the West, species like Broad-tailed Hummingbirds also like red flowers, but purples and blues will also attract Western hummingbirds. Plant species like penstemons, red columbine, larkspur, and scarlet gilia are all great attractors for hummingbirds in the western states.
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Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures. From their incredible metabolic rates, rapid wingbeats, and impressive lifespans to their extensive migrations and torpor abilities, hummingbirds captivate and enthrall humankind.