Hummingbirds are perhaps one of the most aptly named birds in the world – their wings beat around 50 times per second, producing a low humming noise as they zoom and speed about the place. Given that there are over 350 species of hummingbird in the family Trochilidae, this figure is just an average – the largest species, the Giant Hummingbird, lives throughout the length of the Andes mountain range in South America and can reach up to 20 cm long, but only beats its wings just 10-15 times a second, whereas the smallest hummer in the world, the Bee hummingbird coming in at 5.5cm long, beats theirs at an astounding rate of 80 beats per second.
But the reason why they can do this is down to the design of their wings and flight muscles. Instead of an up and down flapping motion, they rotate their wings through a figure of eight, and it is this unique flight pattern that generates the lift – and their namesake sound – that allows them to hover for long periods of time, and even fly backwards, the only species of bird in the world able to do so.
But this ability requires so much energy – which is why hummers eat almost half their body weight in a sugary liquid known as nectar, every day. Their metabolism is so incredibly fast that they need to refuel at least once every ten minutes – which means they need a constant supply of nectar.
Hummingbirds are vital to the world and the food chain as they are responsible for the pollination and propagation of over 8,000 species of flower and plant, but their long slender bills and tube-like tongues means that they only favor certain plants whose structures allows them access to the goodness within. You’ll notice that just about every hummingbird feeder on the market will have bright red flower shapes around the holes to the chambers containing the nectar.
This is because hummingbird eyes have evolved to seek out those plants whose blooms are red or shades thereof, as it is these plants that produce the most thickly concentrated nectar there is. Therefore, setting out native plants that have red, pink or purple flowers will guarantee bringing these amazing creatures to your yard.
Almost half of all species of hummingbird lives in the equatorial belt, between 10 degrees north and south of the equator, but many species are migratory, wintering in Central America or Mexico then migrating north to their breeding grounds in the southern U.S. as early as February, before a handful of species carry on to areas further north later in the spring. Fewer than two dozen species venture into the U.S. and Canada, and of those, only a few species remain year-round.
Commonly seen species include the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, the only species of hummingbird that breeds in the eastern United States and named after the males' striking red throats surrounded by bright, iridescent green feathers. Anna's Hummingbird is common along the western coast of North America, and their metallic green feathers and a distinctive pink-red head and throat can brighten any gloomy day.
Rufous Hummingbirds are equally stunning, known for their vibrant orange feathers (the word rufous has its roots in the Latin rufus, meaning reddish). All of these birds adore Penstemon, Coral Honeysuckle, Cardinal Flower, and Red-Hot Poker, whose flowers are rich in nectar and provide the perfect food source for these birds as they make their long journey south.
More power to your flower
There are plenty of radiant blooms you can plant to attract hummingbirds, as well as other birds and insects that the world needs for a healthy ecosystem. Salvia is a favorite among hummingbirds, thanks to its brightly coloured flowers. There are many different varieties of Salvia, from the deep purple "Black and Blue" to the bright red "Lady in Red." Regardless of the variety, Salvia is sure to attract those hungry flying machines.
Bee Balm, also known as Monarda, is a showy, fragrant plant that comes in a range of colors, including those all-important reds, pinks, and lavenders. Fuchsia is a tropical plant popular for its delicate, pendulous flowers. These flowers are not only visually stunning but are also a magnet for hummingbirds, and are available in a wide range of colors, from hot pink to pale lavender, adding a touch of elegance to any garden at the same time as drawing in those magical shimmering birds.
As well as attracting everyone’s favorite tiny bird species, it's also important to attract other pollinators to your garden such as bees, butterflies, moths and a whole host of other insects who all play a critical role in pollinating flowers and plants. To attract these creatures, plant flowers like Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, and Milkweed. The hummingbirds may not care for them, but insects make up a portion of their diet too, and sometimes all that sugar can get a bit sickly.
If you are fortunate enough to live in that part of the world where hummingbirds also live, then one of the best things you can do to see them is to create a lively and thriving ecosystem in your garden. Celebrate your local hummingbird population by giving them the right stuff to eat, as not only do these creatures add color and excitement to your outdoor space, but they also play a critical role in the food web by pollinating flowers and plants, helping to maintain the health of the world around you.