Hummingbirds are tiny, often colorful birds with long, slender bills found within the family Trochilidae. More than 350 species of hummingbirds exist within this family and over 100 genera.
These birds are some of the smallest on Earth. As a general biological rule, larger bird species with slower metabolisms tend to live longer, while smaller bird species with higher metabolisms live shorter lives.
Unlike most bird species, hummingbirds do not follow that general rule.
The smallest hummingbird species is the Bee Hummingbird from Cuba, which weighs 0.07 ounces (1.95 grams). The largest hummingbird is the Giant Hummingbird from the Andes Mountains in South America, which weighs between 18 and 24 grams (0.63 to 0.85 ounces).
On average, hummingbirds live between three to five years. Some hummingbirds survive longer, like a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird that lived almost seven years or a Rufous Hummingbird that lived over eight years. The oldest wild bird on record was eleven years old.
While wild hummingbirds do not often have very long lives, captive hummingbirds can live for more than ten years, sometimes reaching twelve or fourteen years old.
Where Do Hummingbirds Live?
All hummingbirds are native to North and South America. Their range extends from Alaska to the southernmost tip of Argentina. They live in habitats that range from deserts below sea level to the Andes mountains at 16,000 feet (4,900 meters).
These birds fill a specific niche as nectar-feeders within all of their habitats. Most hummingbird species are in tropical regions, especially around the Equator, where the warm, humid climate produces plenty of food for hummingbirds year-round.
Hummingbirds also consume insects and arthropods they find when feeding from flowers, giving them additional protein. During the breeding season, some hummingbirds hover in mid-air and catch small flying insects that they can use to feed their young.
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The hummingbirds that live in the mountains at high altitudes also sip sap from holes in trees made by sapsuckers and woodpeckers.
Do Hummingbirds Play Dead?
Hummingbirds that experience periods without food or cold temperatures can enter a state of torpor. They are one of only a few bird species that can do this. Torpor is like hibernation, where the physiological processes of the body slow down, almost stopping, and it can look like death.
Because Hummingbirds have a high metabolic rate, they require a lot of food. At night, their body temperature drops almost to ambient temperature, and their resting metabolic rate decreases, allowing them to survive long periods without feeding.
Sometimes, people find hummingbirds hanging upside down from a wire, especially at night or when the outdoor temperatures are cold. These birds should be left alone. When the temperatures increase, the bird will warm up and continue feeding.
People can help hummingbirds by putting out feeders to help support their local hummingbird population. These feeders have helped to increase the range of several hummingbird species, such as Anna’s Hummingbird whose population extends further north than it once did.
How Do Hummingbirds Die?
Hummingbirds live life on the edge, constantly in danger. The first year of a hummingbird’s life is the most dangerous. Most juvenile birds die during their first year. The birds that survive the year will likely live at least three years or more.
They visit around 2,000 flowers daily to meet their energy requirements. The birds that do not ingest sufficient food each day will slowly starve to death over time, even if they use torpor to slow their metabolic rate and reduce their energy needs.
Hummingbirds are prey for many other animals. Juvenile hummingbirds often fall victim to predation by domestic cats, dogs, frogs, snakes, squirrels, praying mantises, hawks, owls, crows, and orb spiders.
During the annual winter migration, many hummingbirds that travel south across the Gulf of Mexico do not survive the journey. These birds load up on food and eat more than usual to prepare for the trip; however, if they do not store enough energy, they will not survive the trip.
Habitat Loss Affects Hummingbird Survival
Loss of habitat to urban development and a changing climate are two factors causing a decline in some hummingbird populations. Hummingbirds are territorial and protect their food sources, especially when food is scarce.
Individuals who cannot successfully compete with other hummingbirds for territory with sufficient food, especially when they are scarce, will not survive.
Habitat destruction from housing developments has changed many landscapes throughout the Americas. Landscaping with introduced plants in developed areas has replaced native flowering species. These introduced plants do not offer the same nutrition to hummingbirds as the natives.