There are few glimpses of wildlife in nature that incite the reaction that a hummingbird does, most certainly due to their diminutive size and rapid wing beats, often buzzing up suddenly with no warning. There are more than 300 species of hummingbird in the world, yet less than two dozen inhabit the temperate and colder climes of North America. The majority of those that do reside in North America are migratory birds, spending at least half their time elsewhere. It could be this fact that adds to the mystique of hummingbirds, whom gardeners all over the country try to entice to their locales with sweet nectar producing flowering plants and the ubiquitous red-filled hummingbird feeder.
Hummingbirds are some of the world’s smallest birds, with most species measuring less than 5 inches in height. Their tiny packaging is essential to sustain wing beats of up to 25 per second, and a heart rate that can reach 1,260 beats per minute! They have the fastest metabolism of any animal (excluding insects), and must consume more than their body weight daily to live.
It’s kind of hard to tell if this mechanism was some kind of cruel evolutionary joke, but it’s not without its advantages. The hummingbird is the only bird that can hover in mid-air and move laterally, whereas most birds are confined to forward momentum. Its specially adapted beak is long and slender, which helps it to get to the precious nectar it needs to live.
Certain flower species have adapted over time to accommodate the anatomy of the hummingbird, advertising their wares with vibrant colors and tubular shapes. The hummingbird can even remember the sugar levels in the nectar, allowing it to avoid flower species with a low sugar — and thus low energy — content. In fact, the nectar provides no other nutritional value than energy; the hummingbird feeds on insects and spiders to get protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
Here are a few of the species that you can commonly observe in North America, if you keep your senses sharp and your eyes open!
Green Violet-Ear Hummingbird