Hummingbirds have certain common characteristics. This post will examine each of these specific characteristics. These characteristics are what help make the hummingbird such a unique and fascinating part of the avian world. If you are like my mom, you have probably often wondered why it is that hummingbirds behave in the ways that they do. It is my sincere hope to offer you some insight into this matter.
Flight: a hummingbird can fly right, left, up, down, backwards, and even upside down. The flight power of a hummingbird is obtained from both the downward and upward stroke of their wings. This is not true of other species of birds, who only obtain their flight power from the downward stroke of their wings.
The wings: a hummingbird’s wings are flexible at the shoulder, but inflexible at the wrist. When hovering, hummingbirds hold their bodies upright and flap their wings horizontally in a shallow figure-8. As the wings swing back they tilt flat for a moment before the wings are drawn.
It is virtually impossible for the human eye to perceive when a hummingbird flaps its wings. They do so at a rate of 50 or so beats per second, thus all the human eye will see is a blur. The Magnificent Hummingbird is sometimes an exception, because it sometimes flaps its wings slow enough to allow individual wing beats to be perceived.
The feet: a hummingbird’s feet are used for only one purpose—they enable the hummingbird to perch. No matter what distance a hummingbird must travel, even just two inches, they must fly. When lifting off from a perch, they do so without pushing off and they rise solely through their own power. They obtain this power by flapping their wings at almost full speed before lifting off. They fly at a very high rate of speed and have the ability to stop suddenly and quickly and still make a soft landing. Hummingbirds are extremely light and therefore they do not build up much momentum.
Feeding: a hummingbird must feed every 10 minutes or so all throughout the day, and they can consume 2/3 of their body weight in a single day. They have a fast breathing rate, a fast heartbeat, and a high body temperature. Sugar is a major source of nutrition in a hummingbird’s diet. This is found in the nectar of flowers and also in tree sap. To build muscles, hummingbirds also require protein, so they eat insects and pollen. Their tongue has grooves on the side, which are used to catch insects in the air, from leaves, or from spider webs.
The bill: is long and tapered, which enables it to probe deep within the center of tubular flowers for nectar. When seeking nectar, the hummingbird will take about 13 licks a second.
Memory: hummingbirds are known to have a good sense of memory and can remember food sources from previous years. As they feed and move from flower to flower, the hummingbird will accidentally collect pollen and this helps to ensure that the flowers will continue to reproduce.
The display: hummingbirds communicate with each other through the use of visual displays. Both male and female hummingbirds sometimes do shuttle-flights, which are rapid back and forth movements in front of another bird. During the shuttle flight, the tail and gorget may displayed.
Only the male hummingbird performs a dive display. During the dive, buzzing, whistling, or popping sounds might be made using the wing feathers or vocal cords. The dive is done in a U-shaped pattern.
Courtship: the shuttle-flight is a part of the courtship ritual. The male hummingbird, after finding a ready female, flies in front of her in short, rapid arcs. The dance field may be about ten inches wide.
Some species of hummingbirds, mostly those that are found south of the border, the males gather in communities, which are known as leks. The male hummingbirds all sing together to try to entice females to come into the neighborhood for mating.
Territory: the male and female each establish their own territory. The female’s territory is where the nest will be built and where the young will be feed. The male’s territory is a way for the male to protect a reliable food source. The male does not take any responsibility for the building of the nest or for the care and feeding of the young. If a female hummingbird enters a male hummingbird’s territory, he will perform aerial displays to keep her away. The mating of hummingbirds takes place on neutral ground.
Fight: They will fight for nectar, insects, and to guard and defend their territory. Hummingbirds will use their bills and claws as weapons. Sometimes, the birds may even collide with one another.
Rarely, will a hummingbird be injured during a fight, because their instincts tell them not to risk injuring their bills. Amazingly enough, hummingbirds fight less whenever food is scarce.
Hummingbirds do not attack humans, but they have been known to get within inches of someone’s face. When this occurs, this can be frightening.
The “song”: consist of a number of unmusical calls made by the hummingbird. These can be deep guttural noises or high pitched chirps. The “song” is used by the male to established and protect a territory. If their territory is invaded, many hummers will emit a loud chatter as a way to drive away the intruder.
Grooming: a hummingbird uses their bills and claws to groom its self. Using oil from a gland near their tail, the hummingbird will groom their wings, abdomen, tail feathers and back. They also groom their head and neck with their feet, by using the front three claws like a comb. When they want to groom their beak or neck, the hummingbird will do so by rubbing them against a twig.
Bathing: Hummingbirds will take a bath on a leaf or in a shallow pool of water. They dip their chins and bellies into the water. Sometimes, in an effort to get water droplets on its back, a bathing hummer will throw its head back to make this happen. After bathing the bird will preen and dry its feathers. They are known to play in the fine mist of sprinklers.
Sleep: yes, hummingbirds do sleep. They do so at night by entering into a state known as torpor, which is a state similar to hibernation. Hummingbirds must enter this state to ensure that they won’t actually starve to death before down. Torpor is a type of deep sleep where an animal lowers its hart and metabolic rate. While in this state, a hummingbird lowers its metabolic rate by as much as 95%. A torpid hummingbird consumes up to 50% less energy than when awake. The lowered metabolic rate also causes a cooled body temperature. A hummingbird’s night time body temperature is maintained at a level which is barely sufficient to maintain life. This level is known as their set point and it is far below the normal daytime body temperature of 104°F or 40°C known for other birds of similar size.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading this post on the basic characteristics of hummingbird behavior. May you now have a much greater understanding of why these birds behave as they do. Happy hummingbird watching everyone!