Hummingbirds have always had a very special place in my heart. Mostly this is because my elementary school had houses (yup, like in Harry Potter) named after birds, and my house was hummingbirds. Unfortunately, my house colour was yellow, which was one of my least favourite colours at the time. To make up for my distaste at being in a yellow house, I often bragged about how much cooler hummingbirds were than the other house birds (these being robins, swallows and wrens). Mainly this consisted of pointing out that hummingbirds are the only birds that can hover and fly backwards, which is true, and is something I still find really cool.

So today I’ve decided to share some facts about a particular species of hummingbird, Anna’s hummingbird. I chose this particular species because I got I really neat picture of a hummingbird, and I’m assuming it is an Anna’s hummingbird because it’s the most common type of hummingbird where the picture was taken. Here’s the picture:

It would have been nicer from the front, but I still like the shot.
It would have been nicer from the front, but I still like the shot.

Anna’s hummingbirds lives along the west coast of North America, and is fairly common in California (the picture was taken in Palm Springs). They live in woods, gardens, and parks, pretty much anywhere they can get a ready supply of nectar. For hummingbirds, Anna’s hummingbirds are medium sized (which is tiny compared to most birds). They are about ten centimetres long, and are mostly grey/green, with males having a bright red head and neck.

Like most hummingbirds, Anna’s hummingbird feeds largely on nectar. This energy rich food source is critical to sustain the hummingbird’s ridiculously busy lifestyle (hummingbirds have to beat their wings 12-80 times per second to hover). Hummingbirds hover in front of flowers and stick their their tongue into them, extracting the nectar. Unfortunately for Anna’s hummingbird, nectar is pretty much just sugar water, so they need to eat some other things to get the protein and nutrients they need. They often eat small insects, opening their long beaks wide to scoop them up mid-flight. They also eat tree sap, sticking their silly long beak into tree holes to extract it.

A male Anna’s hummingbird sporting his bright red crown. Image By Becky Matsubara from El Sobrante, California – Anna’s Hummingbird, CC BY 2.0

The main nutritional problem that a hummingbird faces is getting enough energy. They are so active that they constantly need nectar to keep themselves going. At night, this becomes difficult because the bird can’t really see and locate flowers. The hummingbird’s solution is to enter a state of torpor at night. Torpor is basically a shorter and less severe version of hibernation. The hummingbird slows down its basal metabolic rate to consume less energy, and wakes up once the sun has warmed its body in the morning.

Anna’s hummingbirds are sexually dimorphic, with males sporting a bright red iridescent crown on their heads. Each hummingbird has their own territory which they defend vigorously from any invaders. Once the breeding season starts, females enter a male’s territory, and he performs a courtship ritual consisting of a multitude of dives. The female lays her eggs in a nest she build out of spider silk, plants, feathers and hair. She lays 2 eggs, which hatch in two weeks. The mother provides all parental care in Anna’s hummingbird; presumably after he does his business with her he flies off in search of another lucky lady.

Hummingbirds are really neat little birds; they’re so fun to watch flitting from one flower to another. I was proud to be a hummingbird in elementary school, and my fascination with the animal has not waned.

Cover Image by Bryan Hanson from Pixabay