Hummingbirds inspire, fascinate, dazzle, and bring joy. Yet, increasing numbers of species are becoming imperiled in a world changing quickly and with increasing impacts.


The hummingbird is an outlier in the avian world. For their size, they have the longest migration, the fastest flight (by body length), largest brain, largest heart, fastest wing-beat. They are the only birds that can fly backwards, have the least amount of feathers, lay the smallest eggs (yet the largest in proportion to their bodies), and despite being the smallest bird in the world, are among the most aggressive in defending their territory, even against birds like jays and crows that are literally hundreds or thousands of times larger. The iridescent, mulit-faceted gorget of the males, shifting in brilliant colors, catches our eye, and our attention.




From Dr. George West, HMN co-founder and co-author of "Do Hummingbirds Hum?: Fascinating Answers to Questions about Hummingbirds" with Carol A. Butler


  • Hummingbirds include the smallest of warm-blooded vertebrates and have the greatest relative energy output of any warm-blooded animal.
  • Hummingbirds are found only in the Western Hemisphere.
  • They are the largest non-passerine family of birds, and the second largest family of Western Hemisphere birds in number of living species (about 335).
  • The smaller species have the most rapid wing beat of all birds (up to 200 beats per second during courtship, and regularly up to 80 wing beats per second in forward flight. They are among the fastest fliers of small birds: 50 - 60 kilometers per hour (30 – 37 miles per hour) in forward flight to 95 kph (60 mph) in dives.
  • Their ratio of heart size to body size is the largest of all warm blooded animals, and their heart rate ranges from 300 to over 1,200 beats per minute.
  • They have the relatively largest breast muscles of all birds (up to 30% of total body weight), and are the only birds whose upstroke provides as much power as the downstroke.
  • The inner wing bone (humerus) is short and heavy but the outer wing bones (manus or hand) are long. There are only about 5 secondary feathers on the inner wing and 10 primary feathers on the outer wing.
  • They have only 10 tail feathers while passerines have 12.
  • Their plumage is among the most densely distributed of all birds, and the feather structure is among the most specialized; but they have the fewest total feathers of all birds (often less than 1000).
  • Their brain size is among the relatively largest of all birds (up to at least 4.2% of total body weight).
  • They have a unique flight mechanism, capable of prolonged hovering and rapid backward flight.
  • They are the only birds that regularly become torpid at night, with a drop in body temperature of as much to as low as 19° C (65°F); however, their normal resting body temperature is among the highest (40°C = 108°F) of all birds.
  • Individual hummingbirds often consume more than half their total body weight in food and may drink up to eight times their weight in water and nectar each day.
  • Nectar consumed passes through the digestive tract in about 20 minutes extracting all the sugar from the fluid.
  • Hummingbirds occupy special habitat niches from sea level to over 14,000 feet in the Andes Mountains in South America and their breeding range extends into Alaska.
  • The country with the greatest diversity of species is Ecuador followed by Columbia, Bolivia, and Venezuela.
  • Hummingbirds are probably the most colorful birds on earth, yet their color comes from feather structure, not pigments.

  • Males play virtually no role in the reproductive process beyond fertilization.
  • Most species have limited vocal abilities, very few have true songs. Many of the identifiable sounds are created through feather vibrations.
  • Many hummingbird species have co evolved with particular flowering plants and their bill size and shape have developed to take advantage of their ability to feed on and pollinate particularly shaped flowers while hovering.
  • Where ranges overlap, some species hybridize. (We found 10 examples in Miller Canyon and 1 in Arivaca.) We do not know if the hybrids (F1 generation) are able to breed and produce F2 offspring.
  • A human, metabolizing energy at the rate of a hummingbird, would have to consume roughly double his/her body weight in food every 24 hours, or about 45 kilograms (99 pounds) of pure glucose, and his/her body temperature would rise to more than 400°C.
  • Names of hummingbirds relate to their size, shape, and color. Examples of groups of species names are: Hermit, Sicklebill, Barbthroat, Sabrewing, Jacobin, Mango, Awlbill, Carib, Coquette, Thorntail, Streamertail, Emerald, Woodnymph, Sapphire, Mountaingem, Brilliant, Coronet, Sunbeam, Hillstar, Velvetbreast, Inca, Violet-ear, Golden-tail, Golden-throat, Snowcap, Blossomcrown, Plumeleteer, Ruby, Jewelfront, Starfrontlet, Saphirewing, Sunangel, Puffleg, Trainbearer, Mountaineer, Helmetcrest, Thornbill, Metaltail, Comet, Sylph, Avocetbill, Visorbearer, Fairy, Sungem, Starthroat, Spatuletail, Sheartail, Woodstar, and Hummingbird.

HummingBird Myths and Stories

(Compiled by Dillon Horger from publicly available sources such as published literature and websites)


With all of these natural characteristics, there is little doubt the hummingbird inspired a sense of awe and confounded humankind since the first time Native American ancestors crossed over the Beringian land bridge and glimpsed a Rufous hummingbird flitting like a glinting ember across a summer meadow or hovering, wings ablur, while delicately feeding from ephemeral flowers. The Rufous hummingbird would soon make their arduous 2,700-mile journey from Alaska down to the Mexican states of Guerrero, Jalisco, Sinaloa, and more. Whereas this journey will take mere days or weeks for the hummingbird, it will be many thousands of years before the people known as the Toltecs, Aztecs, and Maya would arrive and settle in this lush land.

Assorted scientists— ornithologists, aeronautical engineers, physicists, and more—are still actively studying hummingbirds, not only to learn more about their amazing attributes, but also how to possibly apply these qualities to applied science. And even with modern technology, we are still learning about their physiology, biology, and natural history. Native Americans explained the seemingly “magical” traits through a rich culture of folklore, myths, and spiritual revelations.. These legends span the entire length of the Americas, from the Alaskan range of the aforementioned Rufous hummingbird and the Inuit peoples, to the Firecrown hummingbirds and Yamana nation in Tierra del Fuego.

The maps and charts are an attempt to catalogue some of the most prominent stories and allow the reader to discover the similarities, sometimes quite striking and transcending thousands of miles of geographic range. Much can be gleaned from the stories themselves. Aside from giving insight into the imagination and culture that was in many ways far more attuned to the natural world than modern humans, much of the folklore has an underlying moral lesson that applies today as much as it did thousands of years ago.

These stories tell not only of hummingbirds, but of human nature, humans interacting with nature, and of ageless lessons we can learn from the Native Americans’ ubiquitous Hummingbird Teacher.

We will be actively searching for more Native American hummingbird folklore and adding them to these archives—so please bookmark our page to stay informed and please contact us to share your stories.



Their Conservation Needs

Conservation needs of hummingbird populations are similar to other animal populations. They need resources and habitat for their survival, successful reproduction, and maintaining thriving populations. Three primary threats—global climate change, invasive species, and habitat destruction signal the highest concern for hummingbirds. All hummingbirds face habitat loss and degradation of their nectar corridors as millions of acres of vegetation continue to be lost to extensive agriculture, logging, urban development, and climate change.

Because hummingbirds are pollinators and depend almost completely on nectar for their energy supply, their survival depends upon reliable sources of suitable nectar-producing plants. Perhaps, the greatest threats to hummingbird survival is the effect of changing climates on flowering phenology, where even minor changes in climate can produce large changes in nectar availability and in blooming dates that may decouple the mutualism between hummingbirds and the plants they pollinate.

In addition to nectar, hummingbirds prey upon insects for their main source of protein, but there are large gaps in our knowledge about the real dietary importance of insects. For many hummingbird species, aquatic insects are important prey items during the nesting cycle;thus, management of water resources is likely an important conservation issue as well.

Forests are the primary habitat for over 80% of hummingbird species and these woodlands have the highest number of at-risk hummingbird species. Loss of forest habitat either by direct destruction or alteration by invasive plants is of great concern. Modification of hummingbird habitats continues to increase and will likely change the distribution and viability of hummingbird communities.

Despite their wide distribution and cultural popularity of hummingbirds, knowledge of their basic life history and biology has many fundamental gaps. For many species, gaps in breeding biology need to become a priority for future research. For example, nests are un-described for over 60% of the 48 currently threatened or endangered hummingbird species. Additionally, the physiology of hummingbirds during reproduction is almost completely unknown and habitat requirements for all life phases are not fully understood for most species.

Finally, trend data for most hummingbird species are insufficient or non-existent. Existing long-term population trend data are considered adequate for only 4 of the 16 species that regularly breed in the US and Canada. To maintain thriving hummingbird populations, it is important to understand (1) trends in hummingbird distribution, abundance, and movement patterns; (2) population dynamics, such as survivorship, productivity, and other demographic factors; (3) the effects of broader resource changes on hummingbirds; and (4) emerging threats or problems.