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Hummingbirds are bird
Birds are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic , egg-laying, vertebrate animals. Around 10,000 living species and 188 families makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from...

s that comprise the family Trochilidae. They are among the smallest of birds, most species measuring in the 7.5–13 cm (3–5 in) range. Indeed, the smallest extant bird species is a hummingbird, the 5-cm Bee Hummingbird
Bee Hummingbird
The Bee Hummingbird or Zunzuncito is a species of hummingbird that is endemic to Cuba and Isla de la Juventud...

. They can hover in mid-air by rapidly flapping their wing
A wing is an appendage with a surface that produces lift for flight or propulsion through the atmosphere, or through another gaseous or liquid fluid...

s 12–90 times per second (depending on the species). They are also the only group of birds able to fly backwards. Their English name derives from the characteristic hum made by their rapid wing beats. They can fly at speeds exceeding 15 m/s (54 km/h, 34 mi/h).

Diet and specialization for food gathering

Hummingbirds drink nectar, a sweet liquid inside certain flowers. Like bees, they are able to assess the amount of sugar in the nectar they eat; they reject flower types that produce nectar that is less than 10% sugar and prefer those whose sugar content is stronger. Nectar is a poor source of nutrients, so hummingbirds meet their needs for protein
Proteins are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. A polypeptide is a single linear polymer chain of amino acids bonded together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of...

, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, etc. by preying on insect
Insects are a class of living creatures within the arthropods that have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body , three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae...

s and spider
Spiders are air-breathing arthropods that have eight legs, and chelicerae with fangs that inject venom. They are the largest order of arachnids and rank seventh in total species diversity among all other groups of organisms...


Most hummingbirds have bills that are long and straight or nearly so, but in some species the bill shape is adapted for specialized feeding. Thornbills
Chalcostigma is a genus of hummingbird in the family Trochilidae. The name of the genus is derived from the Greek khalkos meaning bronze and stigme for a spot or mark, a reference to the beard on the Bronze-tailed Thornbill....

 have short, sharp bills adapted for feeding from flowers with short corollas and piercing the bases of longer ones. The Sicklebills' extremely decurved bills are adapted to extracting nectar from the curved corollas of flowers in the family Gesneriaceae
Gesneriaceae is a family of flowering plants consisting of ca. 150 genera and ca. 3,200 species in the Old World and New World tropics and subtropics, with a very small number extending to temperate areas. Many species have colorful and showy flowers and are cultivated as ornamental plants.Most...

. The bill of the Fiery-tailed Awlbill
Fiery-tailed Awlbill
The Fiery-tailed Awlbill is a species of hummingbird in the Trochilidae family. It is monotypic for its genus.It is found in Brazil, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela....

 has an upturned tip, as in the Avocet
The four species of Avocets are a genus, Recurvirostra, of waders in the same avian family as the stilts.Avocets have long legs and long, thin, upcurved bills which they sweep from side to side when feeding in the brackish or saline wetlands they prefer...

s. The male Tooth-billed Hummingbird
Tooth-billed Hummingbird
The Tooth-billed Hummingbird is a species of bird from the family Trochilidae. It is monotypic within the genus Androdon. It is found in humid forests in western Colombia, north-western Ecuador , and far eastern Panama...

 has barracuda-like spikes at the tip of its long, straight bill.

The two halves of a hummingbird's bill have a pronounced overlap, with the lower half (mandible
The mandible pronunciation or inferior maxillary bone forms the lower jaw and holds the lower teeth in place...

) fitting tightly inside the upper half (maxilla
The maxilla is a fusion of two bones along the palatal fissure that form the upper jaw. This is similar to the mandible , which is also a fusion of two halves at the mental symphysis. Sometimes The maxilla (plural: maxillae) is a fusion of two bones along the palatal fissure that form the upper...

). When hummingbirds feed on nectar, the bill is usually only opened slightly, allowing the tongue to dart out and into the interior of flowers.

Like the similar nectar-feeding sunbirds and unlike other birds, hummingbirds drink by using protrusible grooved or trough-like tongues.
Hummingbirds do not spend all day flying, as the energy cost would be prohibitive; the majority of their activity consists simply of sitting or perching. Hummingbirds feed in many small meals, consuming many small invertebrates and up to twelve times their own body weight in nectar each day. They spend an average of 10–15% of their time feeding and 75–80% sitting and digesting.

Co-evolution with ornithophilous flowers

Hummingbirds are specialized nectarivore
In zoology, nectarivore is an animal which eats the sugar-rich nectar produced by flowering plants. Most nectarivores are insects or birds, but there are also nectarivorous mammals, notably several species of bats in the Southwestern United States and Mexico, as well as the Australian Honey Possum...

s and are tied to the ornithophilous flowers they feed upon. Some species, especially those with unusual bill shapes such as the Sword-billed Hummingbird
Sword-billed Hummingbird
Sword-billed Hummingbird is a species of hummingbird from South America and the sole member of the genus Ensifera...

 and the sicklebills, are co-evolved
In biology, coevolution is "the change of a biological object triggered by the change of a related object." Coevolution can occur at many biological levels: it can be as microscopic as correlated mutations between amino acids in a protein, or as macroscopic as covarying traits between different...

 with a small number of flower species.

Many plants pollinated by hummingbirds produce flowers in shades of red
Red is any of a number of similar colors evoked by light consisting predominantly of the longest wavelengths of light discernible by the human eye, in the wavelength range of roughly 630–740 nm. Longer wavelengths than this are called infrared , and cannot be seen by the naked eye...

, orange
Orange (colour)
The colour orange occurs between red and yellow in the visible spectrum at a wavelength of about 585–620 nm, and has a hue of 30° in HSV colour space. It is numerically halfway between red and yellow in a gamma-compressed RGB colour space, the expression of which is the RGB colour wheel. The...

, and bright pink
Pink is a mixture of red and white. Commonly used for Valentine's Day and Easter, pink is sometimes referred to as "the color of love." The use of the word for the color known today as pink was first recorded in the late 17th century....

, though the birds will take nectar from flowers of many colors. Hummingbirds can see wavelength
In physics, the wavelength of a sinusoidal wave is the spatial period of the wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats.It is usually determined by considering the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase, such as crests, troughs, or zero crossings, and is a...

s into the near-ultraviolet, but their flowers do not reflect these wavelengths as many insect-pollinated flowers do. This narrow color spectrum may render hummingbird-pollinated flowers relatively inconspicuous to most insects, thereby reducing nectar robbing
Nectar robbing
Nectar robbing refers to the act by an animal, typically an insect or a bird, of removing nectar from a flowering plant, most often by drilling a hole in the corolla. In this way animals without morphological adaptations required by the structure of the flower may access nectar...

. Hummingbird-pollinated flowers also produce relatively weak nectar (averaging 25% sugars w/w) containing high concentrations of sucrose
Sucrose is the organic compound commonly known as table sugar and sometimes called saccharose. A white, odorless, crystalline powder with a sweet taste, it is best known for its role in human nutrition. The molecule is a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose with the molecular formula...

, whereas insect-pollinated flowers typically produce more concentrated nectars dominated by fructose
Fructose, or fruit sugar, is a simple monosaccharide found in many plants. It is one of the three dietary monosaccharides, along with glucose and galactose, that are absorbed directly into the bloodstream during digestion. Fructose was discovered by French chemist Augustin-Pierre Dubrunfaut in 1847...

 and glucose
Glucose is a simple sugar and an important carbohydrate in biology. Cells use it as the primary source of energy and a metabolic intermediate...


Aerodynamics of flight

Hummingbird flight has been studied intensively from an aerodynamic
Aerodynamics is a branch of dynamics concerned with studying the motion of air, particularly when it interacts with a moving object. Aerodynamics is a subfield of fluid dynamics and gas dynamics, with much theory shared between them. Aerodynamics is often used synonymously with gas dynamics, with...

 perspective using wind tunnels and high-speed video camera
Video camera
A video camera is a camera used for electronic motion picture acquisition, initially developed by the television industry but now common in other applications as well. The earliest video cameras were those of John Logie Baird, based on the electromechanical Nipkow disk and used by the BBC in...


Writing in Nature
Nature (journal)
Nature, first published on 4 November 1869, is ranked the world's most cited interdisciplinary scientific journal by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports...

, the biomechanist
Biophysics is an interdisciplinary science that uses the methods of physical science to study biological systems. Studies included under the branches of biophysics span all levels of biological organization, from the molecular scale to whole organisms and ecosystems...

 Douglas Warrick
Douglas Warrick
Douglas Warrick, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in biophysics at the zoology department of Oregon State University, specializing in the study of functional/ecological morphology, aerodynamics, and the evolution of vertebrate flight, working with many bird species, including hummingbirds and...

 and coworkers studied the Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
The Rufous Hummingbird is a small hummingbird, about 8 cm long with a long, straight and very slender bill. The female is slightly larger than the male.-Description:...

, Selasphorus rufus, in a wind tunnel
Wind tunnel
A wind tunnel is a research tool used in aerodynamic research to study the effects of air moving past solid objects.-Theory of operation:Wind tunnels were first proposed as a means of studying vehicles in free flight...

 using particle image velocimetry
Particle image velocimetry
Particle image velocimetry is an optical method of flow visualization used in education and research. It is used to obtain instantaneous velocity measurements and related properties in fluids...

 techniques and investigated the lift generated on the bird's upstroke and downstroke. They concluded that their subjects produced 75% of their weight support during the downstroke and 25% during the upstroke. Many earlier studies had assumed (implicitly or explicitly) that lift
Lift (force)
A fluid flowing past the surface of a body exerts a surface force on it. Lift is the component of this force that is perpendicular to the oncoming flow direction. It contrasts with the drag force, which is the component of the surface force parallel to the flow direction...

 was generated equally during the two phases of the wingbeat cycle, as is the case of insects of a similar size. This finding shows that hummingbirds' hovering is similar to, but distinct from, that of hovering insects such as the hawk moths.

The Giant Hummingbird's wings beat at 8 to 10 beats per second, the wings of medium-sized hummingbirds beat about 20 to 25 beats per second and the smallest can reach 100 beats per second during courtship displays.
A slow motion video has shown how the hummingbirds deal with water when they are flying. To remove the water from their heads, they "shake their heads" with incredible speed up to 34G in accelaration forces, but researchers still don't know how out they manage to hover when it is raining.


With the exception of insects, hummingbirds while in flight have the highest metabolism
Metabolism is the set of chemical reactions that happen in the cells of living organisms to sustain life. These processes allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. Metabolism is usually divided into two categories...

 of all animals, a necessity in order to support the rapid beating of their wings. Their heart rate
Heart rate
Heart rate is the number of heartbeats per unit of time, typically expressed as beats per minute . Heart rate can vary as the body's need to absorb oxygen and excrete carbon dioxide changes, such as during exercise or sleep....

 can reach as high as 1,260 beats per minute, a rate once measured in a Blue-throated Hummingbird
Blue-throated Hummingbird
The Blue-throated Mountaingem or Blue-Throated Hummingbird, Lampornis clemenciae, is a species of hummingbird, a member of the Trochilidae family of birds....

. They also consume more than their own weight in nectar each day, and to do so they must visit hundreds of flowers daily. Hummingbirds are continuously hours away from starving to death, and are able to store just enough energy to survive overnight.

Hummingbirds are capable of slowing down their metabolism at night, or any other time food is not readily available. They enter a hibernation
Hibernation is a state of inactivity and metabolic depression in animals, characterized by lower body temperature, slower breathing, and lower metabolic rate. Hibernating animals conserve food, especially during winter when food supplies are limited, tapping energy reserves, body fat, at a slow rate...

-like state known as torpor
Torpor, sometimes called temporary hibernation is a state of decreased physiological activity in an animal, usually characterized by a reduced body temperature and rate of metabolism. Animals that go through torpor include birds and some mammals such as mice and bats...

. During torpor, the heart rate and rate of breathing are both slowed dramatically (the heart rate to roughly 50 to 180 beats per minute), reducing the need for food.

The dynamic range of metabolic rates in hummingbirds requires a corresponding dynamic range in kidney
The kidneys, organs with several functions, serve essential regulatory roles in most animals, including vertebrates and some invertebrates. They are essential in the urinary system and also serve homeostatic functions such as the regulation of electrolytes, maintenance of acid–base balance, and...

 function. The glomerulus
A glomerulus is a capillary tuft that is involved in the first step of filtering blood to form urine.A glomerulus is surrounded by Bowman's capsule, the beginning component of nephrons in the vertebrate kidney. A glomerulus receives its blood supply from an afferent arteriole of the renal...

 is a cluster of capillaries in the nephrons of the kidney that removes certain substances from the blood, like a filtration mechanism. The rate at which blood is processed is called the glomerular filtration rate (GFR). Most often these fluids are reabsorbed by the kidneys. During torpor, to prevent dehydration, the GFR slows, preserving necessities for the body such as glucose, water and salts. GFR also slows when a bird is undergoing water deprivation. The interruption of GFR is a survival and physiological mechanism unique to hummingbirds.

Studies of hummingbirds' metabolisms are highly relevant to the question of how a migrating
Bird migration
Bird migration is the regular seasonal journey undertaken by many species of birds. Bird movements include those made in response to changes in food availability, habitat or weather. Sometimes, journeys are not termed "true migration" because they are irregular or in only one direction...

 Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird , is a small hummingbird. It is the only species of hummingbird that regularly nests east of the Mississippi River in North America.- Description :...

 can cross 800 km (497.1 mi) of the Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

 on a nonstop flight. This hummingbird, like other birds preparing to migrate, stores up fat to serve as fuel, thereby augmenting its weight by as much as 100 percent and hence increasing the bird's potential flying time.


Hummingbirds have long lifespans for organisms with such rapid metabolisms. Though many die during their first year of life, especially in the vulnerable period between hatching and leaving the nest (fledging), those that survive may live a decade or more. Among the better-known North American species, the average lifespan is 3 to 5 years. By comparison, the smaller shrew
A shrew or shrew mouse is a small molelike mammal classified in the order Soricomorpha. True shrews are also not to be confused with West Indies shrews, treeshrews, otter shrews, or elephant shrews, which belong to different families or orders.Although its external appearance is generally that of...

s, among the smallest of all mammals, seldom live more than 2 years. The longest recorded lifespan in the wild is that of a female Broad-tailed Hummingbird that was banded
Bird ringing
Bird ringing or bird banding is a technique used in the study of wild birds, by attaching a small, individually numbered, metal or plastic tag to their legs or wings, so that various aspects of the bird's life can be studied by the ability to re-find the same individual later...

 (ringed) as an adult at least one year old, then recaptured 11 years later, making her at least 12 years old. Other longevity records for banded hummingbirds include an estimated minimum age of 10 years 1 month for a female Black-chinned
Black-chinned Hummingbird
The Black-chinned Hummingbird is a small hummingbird.Adults are metallic green above and white below with green flanks. Their bill is long, straight and very slender. The adult male has a black face and chin, a glossy purple throat band and a dark forked tail...

 similar in size to Broad-tailed, and at least 11 years 2 months for a much larger Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
The Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Amazilia yucatanensis, is a medium-sized hummingbird. It is long and has a mass of .Adults are a metallic olive green above and buffy in the lower breast. The tail and primary wings are rufous in color and slightly forked. The underwing is white. The bill of the male...



Hummingbirds are restricted to the Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

 from southern Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

 to Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago off the southernmost tip of the South American mainland, across the Strait of Magellan. The archipelago consists of a main island Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego divided between Chile and Argentina with an area of , and a group of smaller islands including Cape...

, including the Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

. The majority of species occur in tropical and subtropical Central
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

 and South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

, but several species also breed in temperate climates and some hillstars occur even in alpine Andean highlands at altitudes of up to 5200 metres (17,060.4 ft). The greatest species richness
Species richness
Species richness is the number of different species in a given area. It is represented in equation form as S.Species richness is the fundamental unit in which to assess the homogeneity of an environment. Typically, species richness is used in conservation studies to determine the sensitivity of...

 is in humid tropical and subtropical forests of the northern Andes and adjacent foothills, but the number of species found in the Atlantic Forest, Central America or southern Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 also far exceeds the number found in southern South America, the Caribbean islands, the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

. While fewer than 25 different species of hummingbirds have been recorded from the United States and fewer than 10 from Canada and Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

 each, Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

 alone has more than 160 and the comparably small Ecuador
Ecuador , officially the Republic of Ecuador is a representative democratic republic in South America, bordered by Colombia on the north, Peru on the east and south, and by the Pacific Ocean to the west. It is one of only two countries in South America, along with Chile, that do not have a border...

 has about 130 species.

Only the migratory Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird , is a small hummingbird. It is the only species of hummingbird that regularly nests east of the Mississippi River in North America.- Description :...

 breeds in continental North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

 east of the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

 and Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

. The Black-chinned Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
The Black-chinned Hummingbird is a small hummingbird.Adults are metallic green above and white below with green flanks. Their bill is long, straight and very slender. The adult male has a black face and chin, a glossy purple throat band and a dark forked tail...

, its close relative and another migrant, is the most widespread and common species in the western United States, while the Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
The Rufous Hummingbird is a small hummingbird, about 8 cm long with a long, straight and very slender bill. The female is slightly larger than the male.-Description:...

 is the most widespread species in western Canada.

Most hummingbirds of the U.S. and Canada migrate south in fall to spend the winter in northern Mexico or Central America. A few southern South American species also move to the tropics in the southern winter. A few species are year-round residents in the warmer coastal and interior desert regions. Among these is Anna's Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird is a medium-sized hummingbird native to the west coast of North America. This bird was named after Anna Masséna, Duchess of Rivoli.-Description:...

, a common resident from southern California inland to southern Arizona and north to southwestern British Columbia
British Columbia
British Columbia is the westernmost of Canada's provinces and is known for its natural beauty, as reflected in its Latin motto, Splendor sine occasu . Its name was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1858...


The Rufous Hummingbird is one of several species that breed in western North America and are wintering in increasing numbers in the southeastern United States, rather than in tropical Mexico. Thanks in part to artificial feeders and winter-blooming gardens, hummingbirds formerly considered doomed by faulty navigational instincts are surviving northern winters and even returning to the same gardens year after year. Individuals that survive winters in the north, however, may have altered internal navigation instincts that could be passed on to their offspring. The Rufous Hummingbird nests farther north than any other species and must tolerate temperatures below freezing on its breeding grounds. This cold hardiness enables it to survive temperatures well below freezing, provided that adequate shelter and feeders are available.


As far as is known, male hummingbirds do not take part in nesting. Most species build a cup-shaped nest on the branch of a tree or shrub, though a few tropical species normally attach their nests to leaves. The nest varies in size relative to species, from smaller than half a walnut
Juglans is a plant genus of the family Juglandaceae, the seeds of which are known as walnuts. They are deciduous trees, 10–40 meters tall , with pinnate leaves 200–900 millimetres long , with 5–25 leaflets; the shoots have chambered pith, a character shared with the wingnuts , but not the hickories...

 shell to several centimeters in diameter. In many hummingbird species, spider silk is used to bind the nest material together and secure the structure to its support. The unique properties of silk allow the nest to expand with the growing young. Two white eggs are laid, which, despite being the smallest of all bird eggs, are in fact large relative to the hummingbird's adult size. Incubation
Avian incubation
Incubation refers to the process by which certain oviparous animals hatch their eggs, and to the development of the embryo within the egg. The most vital factor of incubation is the constant temperature required for its development over a specific period. Especially in domestic fowl, the act of...

 lasts 14 to 23 days, depending on species, ambient temperature, and female attentiveness to the nest. The mother feeds her nestlings on small arthropods and nectar by inserting her bill into the open mouth of a nestling and regurgitating the food into its crop.

Sonation during display dives

The outer tail-feathers of male Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna) vibrate during display dives and produce a loud chirp. When courting, the male ascends some 30m before diving over an interested female at high speed and producing a high-pitched sound. Experiments showed that the birds could not make the sound when missing their outer tail-feathers, and that those same feathers could produce the dive-sound in a wind tunnel. The bird can sing at the same frequency as the tail-feather chirp, but its weak syrinx
Syrinx (biology)
Syrinx is the name for the vocal organ of birds. Located at the base of a bird's trachea, it produces sounds without the vocal cords of mammals. The sound is produced by vibrations of some or all of the membrana tympaniformis and the pessulus caused by air flowing through the syrinx...

 is not capable of the same volume. Many other species of hummingbirds also produce sounds with their wings or tail, including the wings of the Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Allen's Hummingbird, Streamertail, as well as the tail of the Costa's Hummingbird and the Black-chinned Hummingbird.

Systematics and evolution

In traditional taxonomy, hummingbirds are placed in the order Apodiformes
Traditionally, the bird order Apodiformes contained three living families: the swifts , the tree swifts , and the hummingbirds . In the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy, this order is raised to a superorder Apodimorphae in which hummingbirds are separated as a new order, Trochiliformes...

, which also contains the swift
The swifts are a family, Apodidae, of highly aerial birds. They are superficially similar to swallows, but are actually not closely related to passerine species at all; swifts are in the separate order Apodiformes, which they share with hummingbirds...

s. However, some taxonomists have separated them into their own order, Trochiliformes. Hummingbirds' wing bones are hollow and fragile, making fossilization difficult and leaving their evolutionary history poorly documented. Though scientists theorize that hummingbirds originated in South America, where there is the greatest species diversity, possible ancestors of extant hummingbirds may have lived in parts of Europe to what is southern Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...


There are between 325 and 340 species of hummingbird, depending on taxonomic viewpoint, divided into two subfamilies, the hermits
Hermit (hummingbird)
The hermits are tropical and subtropical hummingbirds in the subfamily Phaethornithinae, comprising 30–40 species in six genera. They occur from southern Mexico, through Central America, to South America as far south as northern Argentina....

(subfamily Phaethornithinae, 34 species in six genera), and the typical hummingbirds (subfamily Trochilinae
Trochilinae is a subfamily of the hummingbird family . Members of the subfamily Trochilinae are sometimes called typical hummingbirds. They typically display iridescent plumage in metallic reds, oranges, greens and/or blues...

, all the others). However, recent phylogenetic analyses suggest that this division is slightly inaccurate, and that there are nine major clades of hummingbirds: the topazes and jacobins, the hermits, the mangoes
The mangos, Anthracothorax, are a genus of hummingbirds in the subfamily Trochilinae. It contains the following species:*Green-throated Mango, Anthracothorax viridigula*Green-breasted Mango, Anthracothorax prevostii...

, the coquettes, the brilliants, the Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas), the mountain-gem
The mountain-gems are the Lampornis genus of hummingbirds which inhabit mountainous regions from the southwestern United States to the Isthmus of Panama....

s, the bees, and the emeralds. The topazes and jacobins combined have the oldest split with the rest of the hummingbirds. The hummingbird family has the second greatest number of species of any bird family on Earth (after the tyrant flycatcher
Tyrant flycatcher
The tyrant flycatchers are a family of passerine birds which occur throughout North and South America. They are considered the largest family of birds on Earth, with more than 400 species. They are the most diverse avian family in every country in the Americas, except for the United States and...


Fossil hummingbirds are known from the Pleistocene
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years BP that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciations. The name pleistocene is derived from the Greek and ....

 of Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

 and the Bahamas; however, neither has yet been scientifically described, and there are fossils and subfossils of a few extant species known. Until recently, older fossils had not been securely identifiable as those of hummingbirds.

In 2004, Dr. Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Museum
Senckenberg Museum
The Naturmuseum Senckenberg in Frankfurt is the second largest museum of natural history in Germany. It is particularly popular with children, who enjoy the extensive collection of dinosaur skeletons: Senckenberg boasts the largest exhibition of large dinosaurs in Europe. One particular treasure is...

 in Frankfurt am Main identified two 30-million-year-old hummingbird fossils and published his results in Science
Science (journal)
Science is the academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is one of the world's top scientific journals....

. The fossils of this primitive hummingbird species, named Eurotrochilus inexpectatus ("unexpected European hummingbird"), had been sitting in a museum drawer in Stuttgart
Stuttgart is the capital of the state of Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany. The sixth-largest city in Germany, Stuttgart has a population of 600,038 while the metropolitan area has a population of 5.3 million ....

; they had been unearthed in a clay pit at Wiesloch
Wiesloch is a city in Germany, in northern Baden-Württemberg. It is situated 13 kilometres south of Heidelberg.After Weinheim, Sinsheim and Leimen it is the fourth largest city of the Rhein-Neckar-Kreis and is in the north-central area near Heidelberg with its neighbouring town Walldorf...

–Frauenweiler, south of Heidelberg
-Early history:Between 600,000 and 200,000 years ago, "Heidelberg Man" died at nearby Mauer. His jaw bone was discovered in 1907; with scientific dating, his remains were determined to be the earliest evidence of human life in Europe. In the 5th century BC, a Celtic fortress of refuge and place of...

, Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and, because it was assumed that hummingbirds never occurred outside the Americas, were not recognized to be hummingbirds until Mayr took a closer look at them.

Fossils of birds not clearly assignable to either hummingbirds or a related, extinct family, the Jungornithidae, have been found at the Messel pit
Messel pit
The Messel Pit is a disused quarry near the village of Messel, about southeast of Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Bituminous shale was mined there. Because of its abundance of fossils, it has significant geological and scientific importance...

 and in the Caucasus
The Caucasus, also Caucas or Caucasia , is a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia, and situated between the Black and the Caspian sea...

, dating from 40–35 mya; this indicates that the split between these two lineages indeed occurred at that date. The areas where these early fossils have been found had a climate quite similar to the northern Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

 or southernmost China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 during that time. The biggest remaining mystery at the present time is what happened to hummingbirds in the roughly 25 million years between the primitive Eurotrochilus and the modern fossils. The astounding morphological adaptations, the decrease in size, and the dispersal to the Americas and extinction in Eurasia all occurred during this timespan. DNA-DNA hybridization results suggest that the main radiation of South American hummingbirds at least partly took place in the Miocene
The Miocene is a geological epoch of the Neogene Period and extends from about . The Miocene was named by Sir Charles Lyell. Its name comes from the Greek words and and means "less recent" because it has 18% fewer modern sea invertebrates than the Pliocene. The Miocene follows the Oligocene...

, some 12 to 13 mya, during the uplifting of the northern Andes
The Andes is the world's longest continental mountain range. It is a continual range of highlands along the western coast of South America. This range is about long, about to wide , and of an average height of about .Along its length, the Andes is split into several ranges, which are separated...


Wing structure and colours

Many of the Hummingbird species have bright plumage with exotic colouration. In many species, the coloring does not come from pigment
A pigment is a material that changes the color of reflected or transmitted light as the result of wavelength-selective absorption. This physical process differs from fluorescence, phosphorescence, and other forms of luminescence, in which a material emits light.Many materials selectively absorb...

ation in the feather structure, but instead from prism-like cells within the top layers of the feathers. When light hits these cells, it is split into wavelength
In physics, the wavelength of a sinusoidal wave is the spatial period of the wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats.It is usually determined by considering the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase, such as crests, troughs, or zero crossings, and is a...

s that reflect to the observer in varying degrees of intensity. The Hummingbird wing structure acts as a diffraction grating
Diffraction grating
In optics, a diffraction grating is an optical component with a periodic structure, which splits and diffracts light into several beams travelling in different directions. The directions of these beams depend on the spacing of the grating and the wavelength of the light so that the grating acts as...

. The result is that, merely by shifting position, a muted-looking bird will suddenly become fiery red or vivid green. However, not all hummingbird colors are due to the prism
Prism (optics)
In optics, a prism is a transparent optical element with flat, polished surfaces that refract light. The exact angles between the surfaces depend on the application. The traditional geometrical shape is that of a triangular prism with a triangular base and rectangular sides, and in colloquial use...

 feather structure. The rusty browns of Allen's and Rufous Hummingbirds come from pigmentation. Iridescent
Iridescence is generally known as the property of certain surfaces which appear to change color as the angle of view or the angle of illumination changes...

 hummingbird colors actually result from a combination of refraction and pigmentation, since the diffraction structures themselves are made of melanin
Melanin is a pigment that is ubiquitous in nature, being found in most organisms . In animals melanin pigments are derivatives of the amino acid tyrosine. The most common form of biological melanin is eumelanin, a brown-black polymer of dihydroxyindole carboxylic acids, and their reduced forms...

, a pigment.

Lists of species and genera

Feeders and artificial nectar

Hummingbirds will also take sugar-water from bird feeder
Bird feeder
A birdfeeder, bird feeder, bird table, or tray feeder are devices placed outdoors to supply bird food to birds...

s. Such feeders allow people to observe and enjoy hummingbirds up close while providing the birds with a reliable source of energy, especially when flower blossoms are less abundant.

White granulated sugar
Sucrose is the organic compound commonly known as table sugar and sometimes called saccharose. A white, odorless, crystalline powder with a sweet taste, it is best known for its role in human nutrition. The molecule is a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose with the molecular formula...

 is the best sweetener to use in hummingbird feeders. A ratio of 1 cup sugar to 4 cups water is a common recipe. Boiling and then cooling this mixture before use has been recommended to help deter the growth of bacteria and yeasts. Powdered sugars contain corn starch as an anti-caking agent; this additive can contribute to premature fermentation of the solution. Brown, turbinado, and "raw" sugars contain iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

, which can be deadly to hummingbirds if consumed over long periods. Honey
Honey is a sweet food made by bees using nectar from flowers. The variety produced by honey bees is the one most commonly referred to and is the type of honey collected by beekeepers and consumed by humans...

 is made by bees from the nectar of flowers, but it is not good to use in feeders because when it is diluted with water, microorganisms easily grow in it, causing it to spoil rapidly.

Red food dye
Allura Red AC
Allura Red AC is a red azo dye that goes by several names including: Allura Red, Food Red 17, C.I. 16035, FD&C Red 40, 2-naphthalenesulfonic acid, 6-hydroxy-5--, disodium salt, and disodium 6-hydroxy-5--2-naphthalenesulfonate. It is used as a food dye and has the E number E129...

 is often added to homemade solutions. Commercial products sold as "instant nectar" or "hummingbird food" may also contain preservative
A preservative is a naturally occurring or synthetically produced substance that is added to products such as foods, pharmaceuticals, paints, biological samples, wood, etc. to prevent decomposition by microbial growth or by undesirable chemical changes....

s and/or artificial flavors as well as dyes. The long-term effects of these additives on hummingbirds have not been studied, but studies on laboratory animals indicate the potential to cause disease and premature mortality at high consumption rates. Although some commercial products contain small amounts of nutritional additives, hummingbirds obtain all necessary nutrients from the insects they eat. This renders the added nutrients unnecessary.
Other animals also visit hummingbird feeders. Bees, wasp
The term wasp is typically defined as any insect of the order Hymenoptera and suborder Apocrita that is neither a bee nor an ant. Almost every pest insect species has at least one wasp species that preys upon it or parasitizes it, making wasps critically important in natural control of their...

s, and ant
Ants are social insects of the family Formicidae and, along with the related wasps and bees, belong to the order Hymenoptera. Ants evolved from wasp-like ancestors in the mid-Cretaceous period between 110 and 130 million years ago and diversified after the rise of flowering plants. More than...

s are attracted to the sugar-water and may crawl into the feeder, where they may become trapped and drown. Orioles
New World oriole
New World orioles, comprising the genus Icterus, are a group of birds in the blackbird family. They are not related to Old World orioles which are in the family Oriolidae, but are strikingly similar in size, diet, behaviour and in their strongly contrasting plumage, and are a good example of...

, woodpeckers, bananaquit
The Bananaquit is a species of passerine bird of uncertain relation. It is tentatively placed in the tanager family, but classified as incertae sedis by other authorities such as the American Ornithologists' Union. Its classification is debated, and it is often placed in its own family: Coerebidae...

s, and other larger animals are known to drink from hummingbird feeders, sometimes tipping them and draining the liquid. In the southwestern United States, two species of nectar-drinking bats (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae and Choeronycteris mexicana) visit hummingbird feeders to supplement their natural diet of nectar and pollen from saguaro
The saguaro is a large, tree-sized cactus species in the monotypic genus Carnegiea. It is native to the Sonoran Desert in the U.S. state of Arizona, the Mexican state of Sonora, a small part of Baja California in the San Felipe Desert and an extremely small area of California, U.S...

 cacti and agave
Agave is a genus of monocots. The plants are perennial, but each rosette flowers once and then dies ; they are commonly known as the century plant....


In myth and culture

The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, a period referred to as the late post-classic period in Mesoamerican chronology.Aztec is the...

s wore hummingbird talisman
An amulet, similar to a talisman , is any object intended to bring good luck or protection to its owner.Potential amulets include gems, especially engraved gems, statues, coins, drawings, pendants, rings, plants and animals; even words said in certain occasions—for example: vade retro satana—, to...

s, the talismans being representations as well as actual hummingbird fetishes
A fetish is an object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular, a man-made object that has power over others...

 formed from parts of real hummingbirds: emblematic for their vigor, energy, and propensity to do work along with their sharp beaks that mimic instruments of weaponry, bloodletting, penetration, and intimacy. Hummingbird talismans were prized as drawing sexual potency, energy, vigor, and skill at arms and warfare to the wearer.
  • The Aztec
    The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, a period referred to as the late post-classic period in Mesoamerican chronology.Aztec is the...

     god Huitzilopochtli
    In Aztec mythology, Huitzilopochtli, also spelled Uitzilopochtli , was a god of war, a sun god, and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan. He was also the national god of the Mexicas of Tenochtitlan.- Genealogy :...

     is often depicted as a hummingbird. The Nahuatl
    Nahuatl is thought to mean "a good, clear sound" This language name has several spellings, among them náhuatl , Naoatl, Nauatl, Nahuatl, Nawatl. In a back formation from the name of the language, the ethnic group of Nahuatl speakers are called Nahua...

     word huitzil (hummingbird) is an onomatopoeic word derived from the sounds of the hummingbird's wing-beats and zooming flight.
  • One of the Nazca Lines
    Nazca Lines
    The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert in southern Peru. They were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The high, arid plateau stretches more than between the towns of Nazca and Palpa on the Pampas de Jumana about 400 km south of Lima...

     depicts a hummingbird.
  • The Ohlone
    The Ohlone people, also known as the Costanoan, are a Native American people of the central California coast. When Spanish explorers and missionaries arrived in the late 18th century, the Ohlone inhabited the area along the coast from San Francisco Bay through Monterey Bay to the lower Salinas Valley...

     tells the story of how Hummingbird brought fire to the world.
  • Trinidad and Tobago
    Trinidad and Tobago
    Trinidad and Tobago officially the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is an archipelagic state in the southern Caribbean, lying just off the coast of northeastern Venezuela and south of Grenada in the Lesser Antilles...

     is known as "The land of the hummingbird," and a hummingbird can be seen on that nation's coat of arms
    Coat of arms
    A coat of arms is a unique heraldic design on a shield or escutcheon or on a surcoat or tabard used to cover and protect armour and to identify the wearer. Thus the term is often stated as "coat-armour", because it was anciently displayed on the front of a coat of cloth...

     and 1-cent coin as well as its national airline, Caribbean Airlines
    Caribbean Airlines
    Caribbean Airlines Limited operating as Caribbean Airlines is the national airline of Trinidad and Tobago. The airline is also flag carrier to Jamaica through its subsidiary, Caribbean Airlines-Air Jamaica Transition Limited or Air Jamaica....

  • Chrysler
    Chrysler Group LLC is a multinational automaker headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan, USA. Chrysler was first organized as the Chrysler Corporation in 1925....

    's gear-reduction starter motor used from the early 1960s to the late 1980s was nicknamed the "Highland Park Hummingbird" after Chrysler's hometown and the starter's distinctive cranking sound.

See also

  • AeroVironment Nano Hummingbird
    AeroVironment Nano Hummingbird
    The Nano Hummingbird or Nano Air Vehicle is a tiny, remote controlled aircraft built to resemble and fly like a hummingbird, developed in the United States by AeroVironment, Inc. to specifications provided by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency...

     — Artificial hummingbird
  • Macroglossum stellatarum — Hummingbird Hawk-moth
  • Hemaris
    Hemaris is a Holarctic genus of sphinx moths, consisting of about 17 species living in the Holarctic, four of which fly in North and South America, three fly in Europe. Their main host plants are herbs and shrubs of the Dipsacaceae and Caprifoliaceae families...

    — Sphinx moths (hummingbird moths) confused with hummingbirds
  • Violetear — hummingbirds of the genus Colibri, or Kolibri (word for hummingbird in numerous languages)