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For more information on the Living With Wildlife series, contact the WDFW Wildlife Program

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Hummingbird

Facts

The four species of hummingbirds that visit Washington are only 3 to 4 inches long from end to end. Their bodies are no bigger than the end joint of your thumb and they weigh no more than a nickel. Yet they expend more energy for their weight than any other animal in the world. This energy is used mainly for flying and for keeping their tiny, heat-radiating bodies warm.

Hummingbirds are like living helicopters. They can hover, fly straight up and down, sideways, backwards and even upside down. This is possible because their wings rotate from the shoulder instead of the wrist, so they get power from both the downbeat and the upbeat. While their average flight speed is 27 miles per hour, they can travel up to 50 miles per hour, with their wings beating 70-80 times a second.

Although hummers often nest in lower tree branches and bushes, people rarely notice the golf ball-sized nest. The female assumes all nesting duties. She sculpts a cup of plant parts, mosses and lichens held together with spider webs for her nest. In it she lays 2 pea-sized, white eggs and incubates them for 14 to 21 days. Once hatched, she feeds the young ones a rich diet of regurgitated nectar. After about 25 days the youngsters leave the nest to survive on their own.

In this country, hummers are eaten by kestrels, magpies, jays, crows, cats, and bullfrogs. Storms and killing frosts are also responsible for some deaths.

Most hummingbirds eat nectar from flowers for instant energy, and insects for protein to build muscle. Protein meals include aphids, small insects and spiders. Hummers meet their high energy demand by eating more than half their weight in food and drinking up to 8 times their body weight in water every day. To eat and drink, a hummingbird’s tongue is divided at the end into two rolled, muscular halves. These halves act like a double trough to soak up nectar and water, while the brushy tips of the tongue trap insects.

In cooler climates like Washington, hummingbirds gather food in their tiny crops (throat pouches) before dark. Then they slowly digest this stored food throughout the night. Hummers also lower their body temperature and heart rate at night to save energy and ensure that the food supply in their crop will last until morning.