The hummingbird, among the smallest bird in the world and a native of the Americas, is the only bird that can fly backward. Its name comes from the hum its wings make as they flap 12 to 90 times per second, depending upon the species and size of the particular hummingbird, as it hovers in mid-air. Hummingbirds have a short life span with many not surviving their first year and most dying within three to four years of their birth. They are found in habitats that range from deserts and plains to mountains and rain forests.
Among the species that migrate to the south during winter months, the reproduction process begins with the hummingbirds' return to their breeding grounds throughout North America. The return migration usually begins in late March. The male birds return to the breeding grounds about a week before the females.
As the female birds begin to arrive, the male birds put on air shows to attract the ladies' attention, going as high as 49 feet before going into top-speed dives and patterns in the air. The sounds of the males' wings hum and they chirp their interest. The female picks her mate from among those putting on the displays. The male hummingbird may mate with several females.
The adult female bird begins to weave her cup-shaped nest with no assistance from the male bird. The nest is most often built in the branches of trees or shrubs. The female bird will often gather spider webs to wrap around the outside of her nest. She will often camouflage the nest with bits of moss and line it with plants. The finished nest will be about the size of a ping-pong ball.
The female hummingbird lays two white eggs, which are the smallest eggs laid by any bird. Occasionally, a female hummingbird will lay only one egg but rarely does she lay more than two. The eggs of most hummingbird species are about the size of peas or jellybeans. The female sits on her eggs from 18 to 19 days, leaving for only about five minutes every hour.
When the babies emerge from their eggs, their mother feeds them by gathering nectar and insects, which she gives the babies by inserting her bill into their bills and placing the food into their gullets. By their eighth day of life, the babies begin to produce their first feathers. They will remain in the nest with their mother for about three weeks after hatching. When they leave the nest, the birds are completely able to care for themselves.
An adult hummingbird will spend the majority of its life eating, needing to eat about every 10 minutes throughout the day. The hummingbird must eat half to two-thirds of its body weight in food every day. Hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of any animal and use their long beaks to suck nectar and fruit juices, along with catching small insects.
About the Author
Bethney Foster is social justice coordinator for Mercy Junction ministry, where she edits the monthly publication "Holy Heretic." She is also an adoption coordinator with a pet rescue agency. Foster spent nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter/editor. She graduated from Campbellsville University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English, journalism and political science.
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