You hang the feeder and within seconds a dozen birds are drinking, flitting back and forth, flying around your head, flying around each other as if they are sparring, which is a fairly accurate way to describe their aggressive behavior. These funny, charming, lovely, and yes, aggressive little birds are hummingbirds, and watching them is pure delight.
Hummingbirds are blessed to have plants built especially for them, plants that grow with their flowers long and thin and hanging from the end of branches to protect them from insects. These flowers are perfect for the hummingbird with its precision flying capabilities, hovering in place like a helicopter while they extract the nectar.
The nectar is pure sugar, high energy food, but it takes a tremendous amount of energy and wing movement for the bird to hover in one place while it finishes its meal! They have to eat every 15 minutes or they will literally starve to death because of the energy required to pump their hearts. In order to survive the night their body temperature drops by half and their heart rate reduces from 600 beats per minute to 36.
Sometimes, all the precision balance in the world will not keep the flower in place, though. We had beautiful, tall, purple flowers growing in the shade behind our house in Texas and just as soon as a flower would bloom on a stalk, a hummingbird would stop by for a drink and knock the flower from the branch. No worries there! The next morning, a new flower would take its place! Like everything else in nature, there is a symbiotic relationship between hummingbirds and many flowering plants.
Flight of the Hummingbird
The most remarkable aspect of hummingbirds is the way they fly. All birds lift on the downstroke, then fold their wings on the upstroke, except for Swifts, who are relatives of the hummingbirds. Their wings beat from 80 to 200 times per second!
Hummingbirds keep their wings stiff and do not fold them. They rotate their wings at the shoulder, which is what gives them power and advantage, the most accomplished flyers that have ever taken to the air, according to Nat Geo. They can remain in the air for hours. They can fly upside down and rotate on the spot to obtain nectar from hard-to-reach flowers. Watching hummingbirds in flight is an amazing experience.
- "Hummingbird." Animals. First aired 2013. Accessed April, 2014.
- "Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air." Nature. PBS.org. Accessed April 9, 2014.