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There are roughly 340 species of hummingbirds, belonging in the family Trochilidae. Their name came about because of the humming sound made from the rapid beats of their wings. Hummingbirds are native only to the Americas, with most species residing in Central and South America.
One of the many interesting facts about hummingbirds is their small sizes, considering the remarkable abilities they possess. The average hummingbird weighs about 0.106 ounces and has a length of 3.5-4 inches. The smallest hummingbird (and the smallest bird in the world) is the bee hummingbird, weighing about 0.06 ounces and measuring about 2 inches. The largest is roughly 0.85 ounces in weight and 8.5 inches in length.
The hummingbird can flap its wings at a rate of 8-90 beats per second, with the smallest species having the highest rates. Their heart rate is also incredibly fast, reaching as high as 1,260 beats per minute (an average human's heart rate ranges between 60-100 beats per minute). Most organisms that have very rapid metabolisms live a short life. The average life span of a hummingbird is 3-4 years. Many die during their first year and the longest recorded one to survive is 12 years.
Hummingbirds can fly at speeds exceeding 34 mph. They can hover in mid-air, fly vertically, laterally, and are the only group of birds that can fly backwards. Because flying requires much energy, they spend most of their day sitting or perching. During the night, hummingbirds go into a hibernation-like state (torpor) and their heart rate decreases dramatically, about 50-180 beats per minute.
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Another amazing hummingbird fact is their ability to know how much sugar is in nectar. They will reject nectar that contains less than 10% sugar. They prefer a stronger content around 25%. Because nectar does not provide all the essential nutrients needed in their diet, hummingbirds will also prey on insects and spiders.
If you make homemade "nectar", use only white granulated sugar. Other sugars can be dangerous to their health or even deadly. Add 1 part of sugar to 4 parts of water. Brief boiling is recommended to prevent the growth of bacteria. After it cools, pour the liquid into a clean hummingbird feeder. Avoid commercial products that contain preservatives, artificial flavors, and dyes.
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Hummingbird nests vary in size. The average size is about the same as half an English walnut shell. The female hummingbird builds the nest by placing strands of spider web around pieces of plant parts and lichens. The spider web allows the nest to expand as the chicks grow.
Typically, the female hummingbird will lay one egg, skip a day, and then lay one more. Although their eggs are the smallest of all birds, they are relatively large considering the size of an adult hummingbird. Incubation lasts about 16-19 days and when the chicks hatch, they are about an inch long. Initially, the mother will rarely leave the nest but as they grow, she will spend more time finding food to feed her young. Fledging normally occurs 3 weeks after the hatch date.
In general, the male hummingbird does not participate in building the nest or taking care of the young. Hummingbirds will not reuse the same nest but they will often build another one at the same location. Sometimes they will build a new one right on top of an old one.
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More interesting facts about hummingbirds:
• Hummingbirds are important pollinators and do not harm crops or livestock. They do not foul cars or buildings, make loud noises, or bite when handled.
• The most common threats to hummingbirds are habitat destruction and climate change. Other threats include pesticide poisoning, electrocution on electric fences, and collisions with windows, cars, utility lines, and transmission towers.
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Hummingbird picture by Diana (author).
Hummingbird nest picture courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/56361113@N00/249339122/