Hummingbirds are tiny, but usually beautifully colored, birds. They get their name from the humming noise made by their flapping wings. Like a helicopter, they can hover and fly backwards, but, unlike a helicopter, they can also fly upside down. Hummingbirds have no sense of smell, but they can see farther and hear better than humans.
In the wild, hummingbirds are found only in the Western Hemisphere, with a range stretching as far north as Alaska and as far south as Chile. In total, there are over 300 species of hummingbirds and 18 that breed in the United States and Canada. In fact, many people in the United States grow flowers or put out feeders to attract hummingbirds. Hummingbirds can be found in a variety of different habitats, ranging from lush grassland, wooded and forested areas to desert environments. They can also be found at a range of altitudes, at up to 14,000 feet in the Andes Mountains in South America, for example.
Hummingbirds mainly eat nectar–a sweet, sugar-rich liquid produced by flowers–pollen, tree sap and insects. They have long bills and very long tongues, which allow them to reach nectar deep within flowers. They eat by licking at their food up to 13 times per second. Hummingbirds spend most of their time on the wing, beating their wings at a rate of about 80 beats per second. They perch on flowers to feed, but do not walk or hop. They have fast breathing and heart rates, a high body temperature and the largest brain, in relation to their total body weight, of any bird. All of these factors mean that they need to eat constantly and consume huge amounts of food in a single day.
Hummingbirds are no longer hunted for their colorful, iridescent feathers, but they face a range of environmental threats. Most of these threats are caused partly or completely by mankind. Officially, only the hook-billed hermit hummingbird (Ramphodon dohrnii) is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The hook-billed hermit hummingbird is about four and a half inches in length lives in eastern Brazil. Like other hummingbirds, it is specially adapted to its forest habitat, which is being destroyed by fire and road building. Global warming–the rise in temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere–affects the way that hummingbirds migrate, so that they may find themselves in unusual locations where food is hard to find.