Hover Craft

Hummingbirds. You have to be quick to spot them.


With wings that flap from 20 to 200 times a second, hummingbirds are fast flyers, able to dart up, down, sideways, upside down and even backwards—the only bird to do so.


Plus they know how to hover, maintaining their position in midair. This is key. Ninety percent of the energy required to fuel their flights comes from flowering plants (and nectar from feeders). These nectivores that weigh in at less than a nickel (5 grams) round out their diet with protein rich insects. During the day they are busy snacking every 15 minutes. With all that eating, adjusting for size, a hummingbird eats 77 times more a day than an average human. When night comes they switch to a form of hibernation, slowing their heart and breathing rates and lowering their body temperatures.

Hummingbirds on feeder. Photo Virginia Lawrence
Hummingbird eggs measure 1/2 inch in length. Photo Betty Wheeler
Hummingbird sitting on eggs in nest. An adult measures 3-4 inches in length. Photo Betty Wheeler

In our area the most common are Anna’s Hummingbirds (Calypte) and Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus Alexandria) though there more than 300 species world wide. Hummingbirds who are named for the cadence of their rapid wing rhythms are rarely together in groups, but if you see a gathering, the choice of terms to describe them includes a bouquet, a shimmer, a glittering, a tune or a hover. But most prefer living solo even when taking a long trip. This smallest of migrating birds typically travels singly for up to some 500 miles at a time. The exception? Mating season when the more colorful male springs into action to attract a female. His part is initiating an impressive mating ritual to show off as best he can. His courting strategy involves flashing what he hopes are his irresistible iridescent feathers while simultaneously serenading his intended. If he is successful, his job is done. The female takes over from there. She creates her nest from spider webs and other super soft fillers, lays her eggs, usually two the size of tiny jelly beans, incubates her eggs for about 16 days till they are hatched and feeds the chicks for three to four weeks till they fledge.


Hummingbirds’ lifespan is from three to five years though they do face daily dangers from getting tangled in a spider’s web to being lunch for a praying mantis, or fellow birds such as orioles and roadrunners.