Hummingbirds: Trochilidae

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Hummingbirds received their name because of the humming sound their wings make. They have powerful wings and can fly backwards, upside down, and quickly change direction. Hummingbirds hover when feeding, remaining motionless in the air. They feed by dipping their long bills and long, forked tongues into flowers.

Hummingbirds range in size from the bee hummingbird, which is 2.25 inches (5.7 centimeters) long, to the giant hummingbird, which is 8.5 inches (21.6 centimeters) long.

Hummingbirds are sometimes called "flying jewels" because of their colorful plumage, feathers. Some feathers are iridescent, which means the colors appear to change depending on where light shines on the plumage. Males are usually more colorful than females. Plainer coloring helps the female stay hidden from predators that would hunt the female and young.


Hummingbirds live in North, Central, and South America.


Hummingbirds live in coniferous forests where trees do not undergo seasonal change. They range in rainforests where year-round rain produces abundant growth and in deciduous forests where trees shed leaves during certain seasons. They are also found in grasslands, deserts, and wetlands like swamps.


Hummingbirds drink nectar, a sweet liquid inside flowers. They are attracted to red, orange, and yellow flowers. When hummingbirds feed, they pollinate flowers. Pollination is the transfer of flower pollen, the male sex cells, from the stamen to the pistil, the organ that bears seeds. This transfer allows seeds to form and new flowers to grow. Hummingbirds pollinate thousands of flowering plants.

Hummingbirds also eat insects. The size of this prey, creature hunted for food, depends on the size of the hummingbird.


Hummingbirds are active during the day. They are solitary, alone, pairing up only to breed. The birds are polygamous (puh-LIH-guh-mus), having more than one mate at the same time. After the birds mate, the male leaves. The female lays one to two eggs. The female incubates, sits on, the eggs to keep them warm. Eggs hatch in two to three weeks, and young birds leave the nest three weeks later.

Some hummingbirds are territorial and chase other birds away from their feeding area. Cold weather causes hummingbirds to enter torpor, a type of hibernation in which their heartbeat and other body functions slow down.


For centuries, hummingbirds have fascinated people. In Latin America, people once thought the sun disguised itself as a hummingbird. In some countries, people thought they would find romance or wealth if they used a powder made of hummingbird bodies. Europeans used to decorate hats with hummingbird feathers.

During the twentieth century, laws were passed to protect hummingbirds, and modern people appreciate the beauty of the "flying jewels."


Nine hummingbird species are listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction, dying out, in the wild. Eleven species are Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild, and nine are Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction. Threats to hummingbirds include loss of habitat as trees are cut down for lumber or land is used for farming.


Physical characteristics: Hairy hermits are also called rufous-breasted hermits. Rufous is the reddish brown color on the hummingbirds' chests and lower feathers. Upper feathers are green. Males have darker chests, and their wings are longer than female birds. All birds' bills curve down, but males' bills curve more.

Hairy hermits measure 4 to 4.7 inches (10 to 12 centimeters). Males weigh 0.21 to 0.28 ounces (6 to 8 grams). Females weigh from 0.19 to 0.26 ounces (5.5 to 7.5 grams).

Geographic range: Hairy hermits live in South America and are found in countries including Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, Suriname, Panama, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago.

Habitat: Hairy hermits live in rainforests, other wooded areas, and wetland.

Diet: Birds drink nectar and sometimes eat small spiders.

Behavior and reproduction: Hairy hermits are solitary unless breeding. During the day the birds eat. They also bathe by hovering close to water and then diving in partly or all the way.

Hairy hermits are trapliners, they look for food in a large area instead of a small territory. Trapliners usually follow a regular route, line, to flowers, their traps.

During the breeding season, males form a lek, a group of up to twelve birds. Males sing so that females will choose them for mating. After breeding, the male leaves. The female flies to a nest located under leaves, hidden from predators like snakes and larger birds.

The cone-shaped nest is made of plant material. The female lays two eggs. Sometimes two females will share a nest, so there may be more eggs in the nest. The female incubates the eggs, which hatch after seventeen to nineteen days. Chicks are black with gray down, soft "baby" feathers. Birds fledge, growing feathers needed for flight, in twenty to twenty-five days. Fledglings stay with their mother for three to four weeks.

The breeding season varies by location. Birds mate in September through May in Brazil and from January to July in Trinidad.

Hairy hermits and people: People travel to see hairy hermits in places like Machu Picchu, the ruins of an ancient city in Peru.

Conservation status: Hairy hermits are not threatened with extinction. ∎


Physical characteristics: Sparkling violet-ears are part of a genus (JEE-nus), group of animals with similar characteristics, of hummingbirds named for the bluish purple color of feathers near their ears. These large feathers are long and stiff. The sparkling violet-ear's upper body feathers are metallic green. Lower feathers are green, and the bird has a blue stomach. The tail is iridescent green with a blue band.

Male and female birds have similar coloring. Birds range in length from 5.1 to 5.5 inches (13 to 14 centimeters). This length includes the tail that is about 2.2 inches (6 centimeters) long. The hummingbird's black bill curves down and is approximately 1 inch (2.5 meters) long.

Male birds weigh 0.27 to 0.3 ounces (7.7 to 8.5 grams). Females weigh from 0.24 to 0.26 ounces (6.7 to 7.5 grams).

Geographic range: Sparkling violet-ears live in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela.

Habitat: Sparkling violet-ears live near coniferous or evergreen eucalyptus forests, gardens, and plains areas.

Diet: Sparkling violet-ears drink nectar. These birds will also catch and eat insects in flight.

Behavior and reproduction: Sparkling violet-ears are solitary and aggressive. Birds declare their territory by singing. The birds sing much of the day, and sub-groups develop their own calls.

Breeding seasons vary by region. Birds in Venezuela mate from July through October. Birds find mates at leks, areas where groups of males try to attract a female to mate. After mating, the male leaves. The female lays two eggs in a tiny, cup-shaped nest made of twigs and other plant material. Eggs hatch in seventeen to eighteen days. The young fledge in three weeks.

According to reports, male sparkling violet-ears were seen twice caring for their young. Normally, male hummingbirds have little to do with their young.

Sparkling violet-ears and people: People travel to Latin America to see and photograph sparkling violet-ears.

Conservation status: Sparkling violet-ears are not in danger of extinction. ∎


Physical characteristics: Anna's hummingbirds have tube-shaped bodies, long foreheads, and short, straight bills. All birds have green feathers. The male has a black bill, and a red crown, top of the head, and throat. The female has a gray head. The male has gray tail feathers; there are white tips on the female's tail feathers.

Birds range in length from 3.9 to 4.3 inches (10 to 11 centimeters). Males weigh from 0.12 to 0.2 ounces (3.5 to 5.8 grams). Females weigh from 0.12 to 0.17 ounces (3.3 to 4.7 grams).

This hummingbird was named for the wife of a nineteenth-century bird collector, Duke Victor Massena.

Geographic range: Anna's hummingbirds range in southwest Canada, the western United States, and northwest Mexico. Birds migrate during the winter, traveling south from locations such as Oregon to Arizona and Mexico.

Habitat: Birds live in forests, grasslands, and in towns and neighborhoods near gardens and parks.

Diet: Anna's hummingbirds drink nectar. They eat flies, wasps, bees, spiders, and insects. Hummingbirds take prey off plants or catch it while flying.

Behavior and reproduction: Anna's hummingbirds are solitary, and males defend their territory. The breeding season lasts from November to May, sometimes extending to July. During that time, the female may have two or three broods, groups of young birds hatched at the same time.

The male leaves after mating. The female lays two eggs in a nest located on the branch of a tree or bush. The nest is made of material including leaves, feathers, and spider webs. The female incubates the eggs that hatch in fourteen to nineteen days. The birds fledge in eighteen to twenty-six days.

Anna's hummingbirds and people: Many people in North America put feeders containing sugar water in their yards so they can watch Anna's hummingbirds.

Conservation status: Anna's hummingbirds are not threatened with extinction. ∎



Burton, Robert. The World of the Hummingbird. Kingston, Canada: Firefly Books, 2001.

Howell, Steve N.G. Hummingbirds of North America. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 2002.


Dunn, Terry. "Hummingbirds: Frantic and Fascinating." Zoogoer 31, no. 2 (2002). Online at (accessed on July 19, 2004).

Web sites:

"Hummingbird." San Diego Animal Bytes. (accessed on June 24, 2004).