Hummingbird Facts
Q&A with Lanny Chambers in 2002


Q. How big is the biggest hummingbird ever observed?

A: The largest hummer is the Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas), which lives in the Andes Mountains of South America. It's pretty gigantic for a hummingbird, about 8.5 inches (21.6 cm) long and 20 grams in weight. It weighs about 3 times as much as a Ruby-throated hummingbird. It's so big, its wings beat only 15 times per second.


Q. Would you believe it if someone told you he saw a Preying Mantis eating a hummingbird?

A: Yes, it happens. If I found a mantis on my feeder, I would carefully pick it up and carry it to another part of my yard. Mantises are cool insects and eat lots of garden pests, but anyone who messes with my hummers is in BIG trouble!

Q. I live in Massachusetts. When is the best time to put out my hummingbird feeders? I read that they should be out by March, is this true?

A: That's probably a little early for Massachusetts. the middle of April would be a better time. Watch the Journey North maps and track them as they move north.

Q. How many species of hummingbird can be found in Colorado Springs? The mountains surrounding our town appear to be filled with ruby-throated.

A: Your red-throated hummers are Broad-tailed, not Ruby-throated. You might also see Black-chinned hummingbirds in the summer, and Calliope and Rufous in southward migration during August.

Q. How far can a hummingbird travel in one hour? In 12 hours? 24 hours?

A: Migrating hummingbirds fly at a speed of about 25 miles per hour (40 km/hr). Most of them probably never fly for a solid hour at a time, but many Ruby-throated fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico. That's a 500-mile (800 km) trip, and it takes them 18 to 20 hours, depending on the winds and the weather. Before they start, they eat like little pigs until they double their weight, putting on a thick layer of fat to burn for energy. When they arrive on the other side, they are REALLY tired, and aren't actually capable of flying a full 24 hours because they can't start out with enough fuel--they'd be too fat to take off.

Q. For its size, is a hummer fast? Is a hummingbird faster than you would expect for an animal of its size?

A: Yes, hummers are much faster for their size than other birds. Hummingbirds weighing 3 grams have been recorded at 64 mph (103 km/hr) in a dive, and the fastest bird, the 850-gram Peregrine Falcon, dives at about 200 mph (322km/hr), barely three times as fast, although it's almost 300 times as heavy. Other hummingbird-sized animals are much slower.


Q: What is the health of the hummingbird comparing 2001 and 2002?

A: Except for the Rufous Hummingbird, North American hummingbird species have had stable populations for many years. Most species have adapted well to human activity, and learn to use feeders to compensate for habitat loss. Rufous numbers are declining in some areas, and we're not sure why. It's too early to tell what might happen 2002, since most of the birds are still in Mexico right now (mid-March) and not being studied yet.


Lanny Chambers
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