Hummingbird Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Terry Dunn

Terry has a master's degree in environmental communications and has taught in a variety of settings.

If you've ever seen a hummingbird, you know they are memorable! Between their size, the way they fly, the way they eat and their beautiful colors, there is a lot that makes them special. Here you will learn more about what makes hummingbirds so remarkable.

Hummingbird Flight

What can fly forward, backward, upside down, and hover in place? It's not Superman - and it's not a joke! It's a hummingbird, and the way they fly is not the only amazing thing about them.

If you've ever seen hummingbirds, you might have mistaken them for giant bees. They are the world's smallest birds and they aren't much bigger than some insects. They even make a humming sound with their wings when they fly.

Annas hummingbird flying
Annas hummingbird flying

What makes their flying abilities really special is how their wings are designed. First, their shoulder bones are attached differently than other birds so they are able to move their wings in a figure-eight pattern, rather than just up and down. That particular motion lets them hover in place. Their elbow and wrist bones are also fused, which is different than other birds. Their chest muscles are big and strong (the chest muscles are actually a third of their total body weight), which makes them able to beat their wings between 50 and 200 times a second. That's faster than you can see!

Hummingbird hovering
Hummingbird hovering in the air

Hummingbirds fly fast too. A few decades ago, scientists got the idea to test hummingbirds in a wind tunnel to see just how fast they can go. What the scientists found out is that hummingbirds normally fly at 30 miles per hour, but when a male dives through the air to impress a female, he does it at 60 miles per hour. That's almost the speed limit on most freeways!

Tiny Hummingbirds, Big Eaters!

All that speed requires a lot of energy, and hummingbirds get energy by eating their weight in sugary food every day. Most of that comes from nectar from flowers, but sometimes they eat insects too. Often, the shape of their bill is similar to the shape of the flower they reach into for nectar. In other words, if a particular kind of hummingbird specializes in feeding on long, curved flowers, then it probably needs a long, curved bill to get the job done. Hummingbirds eat fast too, taking 15 to 20 slurps of nectar with their tongue each second!

Hummingbird with a long, curved bill
Hermit hummingbird

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