No other bird flies quite like a hummingbird. Because of the way their wings are made, hummingbirds can hover in one spot as well as fly backwards, side to side, straight up and down, and even upside-down! Hummingbirds also flap amazingly fast—from 20 to 200 times per second. The rapidly beating wings make the humming noise that gives hummingbirds their name.
Most hummingbirds are about 3-1/2 inches long. The bee hummingbird is the world’s smallest bird, measuring just 2 inches from bill to tail.
While hummingbirds sometimes eat small insects and spiders, their favorite food by far is the sweet liquid called nectar that is produced inside some flowers. A hummingbird may visit 2,000 flowers in one day in search of nectar. This makes a hummingbird an excellent pollinator. Flowers need pollen from other flowers to make seeds, but they can’t visit other plants to swap pollen. Instead, some flowers get the job done when their pollen sticks to a feeding hummingbird’s feathers and bill. The hummer carries the pollen to the next flower it visits.
Many hummingbirds migrate between the place where they raise their young and the place where they spend the winter. Scientists are studying them to find out more about the migration paths they follow. Many people attract hummingbirds by planting flowers hummingbirds like. Others hang up hummingbird feeders. Some are helping with scientific research through a project called “Hummingbirds at Home.” These citizen scientists keep track of the hummingbirds they see and report their findings to scientists.
Photos: (top to bottom) Kelly Hunt/Photos by MK, Tania Simpson, Richard Pick, Thinkstock. Illustrations: Sherrie York.