There are approximately 328 different species(1) of these amazing little birds, which are a part of the larger order of birds known as Apodiformes. The term “Apodiformes” means “without feet”. This name can be a little deceiving because hummingbirds do have feet, it is just that there legs and feet have limited use except for perching. Other members of this order include are tree swifts and swifts.(2)
Hummingbirds consume both flower nectar and insects to survive. 90% of their diet comes from flower nectar and the remaining 10% is from insects. The insects provide hummingbirds with protein, and the sugar-rich flower nectar provides them with energy. It is estimated that hummingbirds may drink up to two times their body weight in nectar every day.(4)
Hummingbirds are very small birds and usually weigh around 4 or 5 grams.(3) So at first this might not seem like a big task to drink around 10 grams of nectar a day. But imagine extracting the nectar drop by drop with your tongue. This could take quite a bit of time.
In order to gather all this nectar, an average hummingbird will visit anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 flowers a day.(5) As they visit all these flowers, they pick up pollen. When they move to the next flower, they bring this pollen with them. Thus joining the other pollinators in spreading pollen between plants.
Hummingbirds, just like many of the other pollinator species, are struggling with habitat loss and food loss. Since hummingbirds are migratory birds, changes in their migratory routes can have big impacts on their ability to survive. In fact, the 17 hummingbirds on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species are all there because of the loss of habitat.(5) This is very concerning given the important role that hummingbirds play in the ecosystem. And even though the problem is large, there are ways that you can help.
Many organization have taken on the plight of the hummingbird. There are larger organization like Audubon that have programs targeted at helping hummingbirds, and then there are smaller groups like Operation Ruby Throat that are working with teachers and students to effect change. The common recommendations across all these organizations is to create habitats that welcome these birds. This would include planting native tree and flowers, provide access to water, and create nesting habitats. If you are interested in learning more about how to support the hummingbirds in your area, check out these resources:
- Hummingbirds at Home
- Audubon.org: How to Create a Hummingbird-friendly yard
- Pollinator Partnership
- Operation Ruby Throat
If you know of a person or a group that is doing great things to help the hummingbirds or pollinators, please let me know in the comment section. It would be great to spread the word about this important work!