How Do Hummingbirds Mate?

By Eric Mohrman; Updated April 24, 2017
How Do Hummingbirds Mate?

Hummingbird Mating Season

Hummingbird mating season begins in early spring. In mid to late March, hummingbirds return to the U.S. and Canada from their southern winter migration to Mexico and Central America. Males of most hummingbird species typically return north 1 to 2 weeks ahead of females to scout out and establish their mating territory. Mating grounds are chosen for the prevalence of food sources, most important among them nectar-yielding flowers.

Male Hummingbirds Attract a Mate

Once the female hummingbirds arrive, the males begin the process of attracting their mates. The main component of the ritual is energetic and showy flight. Besides looping and zigzag patterns, males will fly anywhere from 50 to 150 feet up into the air, then plummet straight down to the ground, pulling up just before impact. Other displays male hummingbirds engage in to win a mate include singing, showing off their feathers (especially in the sunlight) and flapping their wings as fast as possible to create the loudest humming sound they can.

When choosing a male to mate with, female hummingbirds also take into consideration how much food is readily available in the prospect's secured territory. Plentiful food sources are essential, as hummingbirds must eat their own body weight in nectar daily.

Hummingbird Nests

By the time a female hummingbird has chosen her mate, she has already begun building her nest. Different hummingbird species choose different locations for their nests. Some species prefer their nests to remain close to the ground, while others build their nests in the highest branches of trees. Hummingbird nests are tiny, about half the size of a golf ball. They are constructed from twigs and foliage, with spider webs used like mortar.

Hummingbird Reproduction

Hummingbird sex only lasts from 3 to 5 seconds. As male hummingbirds have no external penis, no actual penetration takes place. Instead, the male presses his cloaca (posterior opening) against the female's, and sperm is passed along to fertilize the female's eggs.

After Hummingbirds Mate

After mating, the female hummingbird finishes building her nest. Withing a few days, she will lay two eggs, roughly the size of peas. Though in rare instances a female may only lay one egg, three is almost entirely unheard of. Female hummingbirds are only capable of caring for two chicks. The male hummingbird does not remain with his mate or assist in caring for the eggs or raising the offspring. In fact, he often goes on to mate with a few other females. Hummingbird eggs take anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks to hatch.

About the Author

Jon Mohrman has been a writer and editor for more than seven years. He specializes in food, travel and health topics. He attended the University of Pittsburgh for English literature and San Francisco State University for creative writing.