May "High Desert" Bird of the Month: Rufous Hummingbird
The Rufous is the feistiest hummingbird in North America. The brilliant orange male and the green-and-orange female Rufous Hummingbird are relentless attackers at flowers and feeders. Rufous Hummingbirds are wide-ranging, and breed farther north than any other hummingbird.
Rufous is a fairly small hummingbird with a slender, nearly straight bill, a tail that tapers to a point when folded, and fairly short wings that don't reach the end of the tail when the bird is perched. They have the hummingbird gift for fast, darting flight and pinpoint maneuverability. Like other hummers, they eat insects as well as nectar, taking them from spider webs or catching them in midair.
Rufous Hummingbirds breed in open areas, yards, parks, and forests up to treeline. On migration they pass through mountain meadows as high as 12,600 feet where nectar-rich, tubular flowers are blooming.
Fun Facts About Hummingbirds
- There are 18 hummingbird species in North America. Hummingbirds are found no where else in the world except the New World (North, Central, and South America.)
- The oldest known wild Hummingbird on recorded was a Broad-tailed Hummingbird that was over 12 years old.
- There are over 325 species of Hummingbirds, making them the second largest bird family in the world, second only to flycatchers.
- Hummingbird average weight is 1/10th of an ounce; about the weight of a penny.
- Hummingbirds’ brains are about the size of a BB.
- Hummingbirds have such underdeveloped legs that they are unable to walk.
- A mother hummingbird weighs only about eight times more than her egg.
- Hummingbirds lay the world’s smallest bird egg.
- Hummingbirds generally lay 2 eggs about the size of a blueberry.
- Hummingbirds use spider webs as glue to attach the nest to a tree branch as well as a binding agent for the building materials.
- The nest is about the size of a golf ball; around 1 ½ inches in diameter. Because of its construction, as the nestlings grow the nest will stretch to accomodate them.
- Hummingbirds eat about every 10 minutes.
- They do not have an innate preference for red. Each hummingbird must learn the association between red flowers and food.
- Hummingbirds can drink up to twice their body weight in nectar every day (most birds only eat ¼ - ½ their body weight).
- Hummingbirds lap up nectar with their long tongues. There is a groove on either side of the tongue that creates a capillary action to help draw the nectar up the tongue and into the mouth during the lapping action.
- Hummingbirds can extend their tongue approximately a distance equal to the length of their bill.
- While lapping up nectar, hummingbirds can move their tongues in and out of their bill at a rate of up to 12 times a second.
- Female hummingbirds’ tongues are longer than the males.
- They eat insects and insect eggs on the ground and in trees. They love spiders and spider eggs. They use their bill and not their tongue to catch insects.
- One research study recorded an Anna’s Hummingbird visiting over a 1,000 flower blossoms a day.
- Hummingbirds can fly up to 60 miles per hour, but typically fly at 30-45 miles per hour.
- They can hover and are the only birds able to fly backwards and upside down. They can do this because of an extremely mobile shoulder joint.
- Their wings beat 20-80 times per second.
- Hummers avoid deep water, but will bathe in shallow pools or dishes, and love to take showers in sprinklers and misters.
- To keep their feathers in top shape, hummingbirds will leaf-bathe by fluttering against wet leaves.
- During the night, hummingbirds can enter into a state of torpor to save energy. Similar to a type of short-term hibernation, torpor reduces their metabolic activity and drops their heart rate from 1,200 beats per minute to 50 beats per minute.
- Hummingbirds can be very feisty and aggressive when defending their territories and will even chase away much larger birds.
- The iridescence in the hummingbird’s feathers has led them to be called the “jewels of the garden.”
- The male hummingbird’s gorget (throat patch) is iridescent and reflects certain color wavelengths. Some of these unique throat colors can be used to identify specific male species. Anna’s Hummingbird flashes neon pink; Costa’s is violet; Black-chinned is purple; Rufous is orange-red.
- Hummingbirds have been known to fall prey to Bull Frogs, Praying Mantis and large spiders.