Some birds stick together through thick and thin. Some swans and all ravens mate for life, and they will mourn the loss of their mate. Other birds are in and out, sticking together only long enough to mate before moving on.
So what about those aerial acrobats: the hummingbird? Do they mate for life? Or even a short while?
The short answer is no. These birds are the players of the bird world. They literally unite only long enough to mate, and then they head their own ways. But there are a few exceptions.
Curious about the mating life of hummingbirds? There’s lots to know about these fascinating birds and their mating process, and we’ll explain it all, coming up:
Do Any Species of Hummingbirds Mate for Life?
Hummingbirds come in a huge range of sizes, shapes, and colors, with over three species. From the huge giant hummingbird (Patagona gigas) to the teeny tiny bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae), they look and act very differently from one another.
But hummingbirds, no matter how unique, all have the same mating habit. They’re known as a promiscuous species. They join up for a few minutes, and then they’re gone. They’ll even mate with multiple partners on the same day.
The actual copulation only takes a few seconds as the pair presses their reproductive organs together so the sperm can transfer to the female.
If a mating partner dies, they won’t mourn the death or likely even be aware of it. That’s because the female does all the raising of the chicks, and the male isn’t involved at all.
There are a few exceptions, though. Two scientists at the University of California and Syracuse University identified one species, the Sparkling Violet-Ear (Colibri coruscans), that actually works together.
The male will help with nest building, incubating, and rearing the young.
They also noted that the Fiery-Throated Hummingbird (Panterpe insignis) male will help the female obtain food but doesn’t participate in any other mating efforts.
There might be other species that we just aren’t aware of, but the vast, vast majority of hummingbirds don’t stick together for any amount of time after mating.
When and How do Hummingbirds Mate?
Hummingbirds may mate at any time of year, depending on the species and where they live. Most breed for the first time in the early spring, but others mate in winter or even summer.
Typically, males will set up a territory around a flowering plant, and they guard it ferociously. They’ll drive off all intruders that come in to feed on the flowers. They’ll even act aggressively toward other females, including the ones they eventually mate with. The male will drive off the female after they have mated. They keep their territory safe and secure from any other birds, even birds of another species. They’ll even drive off humans!
If you’ve ever been dive-bombed by a hummingbird during the spring, it’s a safe bet that it’s trying to mate, and it doesn’t like you sneaking into its territory. They’re tiny, but they’re mighty.
To attract a female, the male will climb high into the sky and then swoop down over and over. They’ll climb up to 150 feet high and dive until they nearly hit the ground, swooping off at the last minute. Some birds can even reach an astonishing 60 miles per hour as they swoop and dive! As they dive, they display their colorful feathers to attract the attention of nearby females.
As they dive, they angle their bodies so that their plumage catches the reflection of the light to put on the most dramatic show.
They will also sing, vibrate their wings, and flap their wings and tail to attract a mate.
Sometimes, a female will lure a male to the nest that she is building in order to entice him to mate with her.
Once the male mates with the female, she takes care of all the rest of laying the eggs and rearing the young. She’ll even build the nest and find food to feed her babies, all without the help of the male.
How Many Times a Year do Hummingbirds Mate?
Hummingbirds don’t mate until their second year of life. Males tend to have shorter lifespans than females, which live anywhere from three to five years.
When it’s time to migrate, the males head out earlier than the females, which follow behind a week or two after the males.
Once they reach breeding age, a female can have up to three clutches of eggs per year. Each time they breed, they have an average of two eggs, but they can have anywhere from one to three.
That means one bird might have up to nine chicks each year for several years of its life. But a female can only care for two chicks, so on the rare occasion that it lays three eggs, it will abandon one.
Do Hummingbirds Come Back to the Same Nest Each Year?
With all the work that the female does to build the nest, you might be wondering if she decides to reuse it. The answer is yes. A female will reuse the same nest for a while and might lay several clutches of eggs in one nest.
Not all species will reuse the same nest, and even species that do might decide to build a new nest after a year or two of using one. They might build a new nest right on top of the old one.
Others will start a new nest each time they lay eggs. Hummingbird nests can be extremely fragile, while others are tough and can last for years.
Many species create a nest that can expand as the eggs hatch and the chicks grow. These nests can’t be reused because they are made to break apart.
The actual nest location varies between species. Some build right near the ground, and others build high up in a tree. The nests are tiny, about the size of a golf ball, and the eggs are about the size of a pea.
They take a few weeks to hatch, at which point, the female heads off to gather food for her young. After about a month, the babies leave the nest, and the cycle starts all over.