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Bumble hummingbirds are charming birds easily identified with a diminutive slender body, iridescent colors, and bee-like appearances. You can see them darting around nectar feeders and brightly colored flowers in parts bof the US and tropical forests in Mexico. Bumblebee hummingbirds have no sense of smell but have superb color vision.
How much do you know about these tiny, high-energy feathered buddies?
The facts below will surprise you, and learn a few incredible truths about your backyard guests. Let’s get started.
How to Identify a Bumblebee Hummingbird
The Bumblebee Hummingbird is the second smallest bird species in the world. It is 5.9- 7.5cm (2.3- 3.0 inches) in length and weighs 2-2.7gm (0.071- 0.095 oz).
In short, the average weight of a bumblebee hummingbird is less than a nickel. But what they lack in size, they make up for in skills.
Generally, hummingbirds have a long thin bill, slender body and produce a high-pitch humming sound as they fly. There are over 330 species of hummers, but you can easily differentiate them by iridescent body colors and elaborate specialized feathers.
Bumblebee hummer identification is simple as they are green on upper and side feathers and white underneath with a rounded green tail and a rufous base. Both male and female have a white speck behind the eyes and short bills by hummingbird standards.
Hummingbirds exhibit sexual dimorphism, and the bumblebee hummer male is quite different from the female. The males have a broad violet red gorget and are brightly colored. On the other side, Females have a white chin and throat speckled with bronze and overall dull and greyish body color.
You may wonder how they got their name. They were named bumblebee hummingbird because of:
- Their diminutive size
- Buzzing sound from their wings
- Bee-like appearance
- Most importantly, from the way they mimic erratic flight maneuvers of a bee to confuse predators as well as hummingbirds, larger species
The bumblebee hummingbirds are native to Mexico but have spread to the United States. It is widely spread across southern, central, and northwestern parts of Mexico, Cuba, the Isle Haiti, and Jamaica.
A few of the bumblebees migrate to the United States in summer, specifically to southern Arizona, where they breed.
The bumblebee hummingbird occupies montane areas, including scrublands, forests, and humid and semi-humid regions.
What They Live on
Bumblebee Hummingbirds like to remain low in their natural habitats to collect nectar from their lovely surroundings. In a single day, they will devour half of their body weight in nectar and tiny insects. BumbleBee Hummingbirds mainly consume nectar from various brightly colored flowers of trees, herbs, epiphytes, and shrubs.
These cute thirsty birds visit up to 1,500 flowers daily, searching for nectar. They prefer bright flowers with the maximum sucrose content to provide them with the nourishment for their super-active lifestyle.
Hummingbirds are territorial and actively defend areas containing high-energy nectar-producing flowers. Watching them extract nectar with their long, retractable, straw-like tongues while floating with their tails propped upward is mesmerizing. They can lick the nectar up to a whopping thirteen times per second. You can see them majestically hanging from the flower while feeding.
To sustain their bodies and active lifestyle, hummers spend the better part of the day feeding. Each day they eat half their body weight and drink eight times their total body weight in water to support their veracious metabolism.
The forest never disappoints these little creatures. When not consuming nectar from the forest’s beautiful flowers, they hunt unsuspecting spiders and insects.
The tiny spiders and insects are essential sources of protein during the mating season to ensure the optimal development of their chicks. Bumblebee hummingbirds catch insects in flight or snatch them off the green leaves and branches or from spider webs.
Nesting females can catch up to two thousand insects per day.
Like most wild birds, males set up feeding territories which they assertively chase away other males and sizable insects such as hawk moths.
Much of the bumblebee hummingbird’s behavior is dictated by the frequent need to eat. It makes them one of the world’s most territorial birds. To defend their territory, they frighten other hummingbirds and insects such as moth hawks. They will accomplish this by conducting dramatic aerial maneuvers that terrify and irritate the intruding birds into running away.
Bumblebee humming have limited vocalizations, often producing sounds which are not attractive to humans. While perched, they sing “a high, thin, whining song sounding sssssssssss is or seiyuu. This song is usually drawn out and fades at the end. For calls, you will hear high chirps sounds.
Males are more vocal, and when flying, you will hear a buzzing sound from their wings. And during courtships, the buzzing sounds get louder as he tries to woo a female.
The mating season begins at the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the summer months when trees and bushes are in bloom.
It makes a lot of sense to think that bumblebee hummingbirds mate in the air because of their unmatched ability to do everything else in mid-air. After all, their weak legs are nearly useless. And With their capacity to hover while feeding, they could also pull it off. Right? Do these cute birds copulate in the air? Let’s find out.
Bumblebee hummingbirds are solitary, only coming together for breeding purposes. Males form lek flock and do their best to outdo each other in songs to woo females. Females usually visit several leks to find a suitable mate.
After the selection of a mate, she perches on a tree branch for copulation. They’ll separate after about four seconds and will never meet again. The male continues with the hunt for more females.
The responsibility of building the net lies solely on the female. It builds the nest three to twenty feet above the ground in a coppice limb.
The female lines her nest with soft tree fibers, fur, and feathers to make it comfortable and warm for the nestlings. She reinforces it with spider webbing and some other sticky substance to allow it to stretch up to two times its size to create ample room for her growing chicks.
A female bumblebee hummingbird lays two white eggs in a cup-shaped nest. The female incubates the eggs for fifteen to sixteen days. The egg’s size is that of a small jelly bean weighing less than a paperclip (half a gram).
Because eggs are susceptible to predators, the female hummingbird spends most of its time in her nest. She only leaves once in a while to look for food and preen.
Female hummingbirds are single mums. They take care of their eggs until they hatch into delicate featherless chicks. These mothers feed their nestlings by inserting their long beaks into their throats and vomiting a sticky mixture of nectar and bugs. The feeding process looks like the chick is swallowing a sword.
She takes care of the chicks until they are ready to fly out of the nest. It takes twenty-five days for the fledglings to fly out of the nest, but it may take longer depending on the weather.
Mom assists the fledglings, teaching them the way of the wild. She patiently shows them where to catch insects and find nectar before kicking them away to live independently.
Another interesting fact about bumblebee hummingbirds is that some relocate while others remain behind for unknown reasons. Some travel for more than two thousand miles per year. They spend the cold season in Mexico before migrating north to their breeding grounds in Southern Arizona in early spring when the flowers bloom.
Each season before migrations, they gain twenty-five to forty percent of their body weight. The body fat provides them with enough energy to complete their perilous journey. In most cases, migrating hummers fly alone along the same route each year.
Bumblebee Birds fly low, stopping for food and water along the way. Despite their diminutive size and need for lots of food, hummingbirds can fly up to twenty-three miles in a single day.
Hummingbirds are constantly moving and spend almost all their time in the sky. Their legs are so tiny and fragile that they can not walk or hop. But they are experts in the air, only using their legs to move sideways when perched.
Bumblebee Hummingbirds produce a soft humming sound by beating their wings up to eighty times per second. When in flight, their tiny hearts can beat up to one thousand times per minute. This rapid pounding has an effect: Hummingbirds must eat every few minutes.
According to studies, they can remember every flower patch or feeder they visit during their lifetime, thanks to their larger-than-life brain size. Their brain counts for almost five percent of their body weight. Proportionally, that’s twice the size of the human brain.
Bumblebee Hummingbirds have incredible speed and stamina in addition to agility. They can fly at almost 30 mph nonstop and over 45 mph during courting dives.
They move swiftly from one location to another, adapting their body parts to match the speed. When a bumblebee hummingbird is resting, its big heart beats at 225 beats per minute and over 1,200 beats per minute in flight. Its wings beat at around 70 beats every second in routine flight and over 200 beats per second when diving.
Bumblebee Hummingbirds Enter Torpor State to Conserve Energy.
Bumblebee Hummingbirds sleep just like other hummingbird species. They go into torpor, a deep sleep-like state which helps them conserve energy by minimizing energy use, heartbeat, and breathing rates at night while hanging upside-down on a tree or shrub branch. That’s how bumblebee Hummingbirds survive the unforgiving cold nights.
The decline in bodily processes and the falling body temperature are significant during torpor. Hummingbirds enter torpor during the night when they cannot feed, take a break from the high energy required throughout the day, and when the exterior temperature falls.
Torpor, just like hibernation, is a survival strategy used by animals to stay alive during winter. It also includes a reduction in body temperature, metabolism, respiration rate, and heart rate. On the other hand, torpor is an uncontrollable state that a bird or an animal enters as the circumstances dictate.
Bumblebee’s Hummingbirds in torpor drastically reduce their metabolic rate, sometimes by as much as ninety-five percent. They use fifty percent less energy than when it is fully awake.
Body Temperature Is Critical to Bumblebee Hummingbird Sleep
Bumblebee Hummingbirds’ body temperatures are highest throughout the day when flying or hovering over flowers. Still, it drops to a minimum level at night to preserve the priceless energy required to survive the night.
During chilly winter, hummingbirds face a considerable threat since they only have enough energy for a night. It is a tricky situation in which they must survive, but not always.
Bumblebee Hummingbirds rely entirely on body heat rather than insulation. This is because they have fewer feathers than other birds. Fewer feathers provide insufficient insulation from the biting cold at night.
So they sleep with their feathers cocked up and eyes closed to minimize energy loss.
Further, torpor ensures their body temperature safely drops below the daytime temperature of 104-108 degrees. Unfortunately, even in torpor, this low body temperature may not be enough to survive.
Conserving the Precious Energy Is Required in Torpor
Bumblebee Hummingbirds have poor night vision. So they cannot hover at night in search of food to maintain their bodies. Luckily, nature’s remedy to the energy problem is torpor.
As a Bumblebee Hummingbird enthusiast, you may wonder if your friends will survive the cold weather. The good news is that hummingbirds depend on torpor during these times, and most make it.
What matters is that you keep feeding the bumblebee hummingbirds and provide warm water for them. It may be appropriate to bring the feeders inside at night, but please return it outside before daybreak.
Hummingbirds must consume food after torpor. If you can’t get up early, use a heater to keep the feeders warm enough and stop the nectar from freezing.
The hummingbird can appear dead when in torpor without apparent signs of life, such as respiration. Don’t panic; they take twenty minutes to one hour to recuperate from the deep sleep.
Shivering helps them generate body heat with every passing minute. Research has revealed they usually wake up an hour before the sun rises. If you notice a hummingbird that doesn’t recover within this time frame, it is likely sick or dead.
They Like to Groom Themselves
Bumblebee Hummingbirds’ meticulous grooming habits aid in preserving their vibrant colors. Hummers use their bills to spread oil secreted from their body glands to present their feathers.
They also rub against a stem or twigs to spread the oils in spots they can’t reach and to clean their bill of pollen or debris. You will see them making a back-and-forth motion with their beaks rubbing on the branch, similar to sharpening a knife.
Hummingbirds are drawn to water like crazy. They bolt through garden misters or soak themselves in birdbaths.
Hummingbirds position their tiny bodies for a sun bath after finishing their baths and preen themselves dry. To absorb the maximum sun’s warmth, they face the sun, flutter their bodies, and stretch their wings, feathers, and short necks.
Bumblebee Hummingbirds are Aggressive But Don’t Attack Humans.
Males bumblebee hummingbirds are hostile against each other while guarding their territories. Competition for food and mating rights is the main reason for the hostilities.
Females chase away males from nests to protect eggs and chicks. Males are a big threat to the young ones and eggs because their vibrant colors attract predators to the nesting area.
Although males are territorial and aggressive, they hardly hurt each other. They only lose a feather or two and move on with their business unabated. They may have been through a terrible war by the end of the breeding season, but it’s a normal part of being a bumblebee hummingbird.
You can minimize hummingbird conflicts by placing many well-spaced feeders to reduce competition for nectar. It will stop a single hummingbird from defending a single feeder and scaring off others.
Hummingbirds never attack humans; they are simply interested in food and water. They may approach people closely as they know they can dart away quickly. Hummingbirds are super smart.
Bumblebee Hummingbirds are Very Intelligent
The brain of a hummingbird is more prominent in proportion to its body size than any other living bird. They have a fantastic memory and can tell which flower they have visited and how long it will take to refill. And they can recall where every hummingbird feeder is at home and along their migration route every year.
Younger females watch and learn from older ones to construct nests. They also learn who is responsible for refilling hummingbird feeders and who is not.
Bumblebee Hummingbirds Are Introverts
Bumblebee Hummingbirds, like other hummingbird species, are antisocial. They lead solitary lives and only come together to mate or share feeders grudgingly. Despite being the smallest migrating birds, they do not migrate in groups. They may flock to a single feeder on their way through towns for a quick snack, but they don’t fly together.
Bumblebee hummingbirds compete for resources, and with many hummingbirds in a place, it results in a series of fast-paced chases. Mating seasons are also competitive, with males becoming aggressive to each other.
To assert their dominance, males bounce and weave before mercilessly stabbing each other in the throat with their beaks. It is such a violent method of winning a mate.
Female hummingbirds define their colonies by building nests and chasing away males and other intruders for chicks’ safety.
Threats That Bumblebee Hummingbirds Face
Bumblebee hummingbirds are not immune to pain and suffering like all living things. They are prone to dangers, some natural and others artificial.
Here’s what they’re up against.
Poor Weather Conditions
Sudden cold weather is catastrophic to birds. And although entering a torpor state helps them to preserve energy, recovery is a challenge, especially when there is food scarcity.
Storms can also wreak havoc on food supplies, making a recovery from torpor harder than ever.
Loss of Habitat
Bumblebee hummingbirds lose their habitat due to agriculture, logging, and urbanization of tropical areas. Since these birds are small and depend on nectar and insects to survive, changes in their habitat often result in devastating effects on them.
Invasive plants are non-native species with uncontrollable spread.
Although not all non-native plants are terrible, some suppress native crops and hurt the various ecosystems on which several organisms depend for survival.
Plants with tremendous invasive potential are renowned seeders and robust growers, enabling them to adapt easily to different conditions. And because native species do not thrive alongside invasive species, this interferes with hummingbirds’ food.
Invasive plants include Purple Loosestrife, Japanese Honeysuckle, Norway Maple, Kudzu, English Ivy, Japanese Barberry, etc.
Invasive plants are primarily used in landscaping, but they can drive out native nectar-producing plants which hummingbirds depend on for food. The invasive plants are eye-catching but do not produce nectar for hummingbirds.
Bumblebee hummingbirds might not be food to humans but are delicious treats for predators like:
- domestic and wild cats
- giant insects such as orb-weaver spiders and praying mantis,
- lizards and snakes
- big fishes and frogs
- Other small birds such as merlin, American kestrel, etc.
Window collisions are frequent and fatal since most people place hummingbird feeders near windows for better views of the delightful birds. When a bird flies directly to a window, it gets a severe injury or dies. The impact on the window can damage the bird’s bill hampering its feeding.
How to Save Bumblebee Hummingbirds
Recognizing the dangers hummingbirds face can assist birders in learning how to help these flight treasures.
Support Relevant Bumblebee Conservation Projects
You can help save the bumblebee hummingbirds by undertaking the following measures:
Donate to relevant organizations that promote habitat conservation and pick tropical brands manufactured with conservation in mind. Such Products include shade-grown chocolate and coffee.
Supporting local hummingbird organizations such as branding stations, feeding stations, and authorized rehabilitators is a massive step in the right direction.
Helping hummingbirds takes a ton of effort, and lending a hand to these worthwhile organizations will lead to exceptional bumblebee hummingbird care and conservation.
Use Biological Methods to Control Insects
Reduce the use of pesticides in your landscaping. Instead, use biological insect and pest control methods if required. Never spray Insecticides near hummingbird feeders.
If you intend to place hummingbird feeders outside, it’s crucial to understand how to safeguard these vulnerable birds from potential predators, including bees. A bee sting on a hummingbird can be lethal.
Keep bees away from feeders by using red hummingbird feeders, relocating the feeders frequently, plugging leaks, and getting nectar guards.
Use cat repellents to keep domestic and feral cats from preying on hummingbirds.
Use Appropriate Measures to Reduce Window Strikes
Glass windows are dangerous to birds, including hummingbirds. They reflect the sky or foliage, which birds mistake as real, and they fly straight to the wind. The collision with the window is fatal, especially if the bird is flying at top speed.
Due to the overwhelming number of windows, the toll on birds is enormous. According to a study conducted in 2014, nearly one billion birds die in the United States every year due to window strikes.
With a few simple fixes, you can significantly lessen the threat your home’s windows present to bumblebee hummingbirds.
Here’s how to go about it.
- Install Screens: Placing mosquito screens on the exterior of windows can help save the birds from imminent death or injury. Ensure it covers the entire windows.
- Install a Bird Netting: Wrap the outside glass with bird netting at least three inches from the glass window. Ensure the net is tight enough to bounce hummingbirds off before they get to the window. Small-mesh netting of about 5/8′′ or 1.6 cm is best as birds won’t get entangled and can fly away unharmed. You can easily install and remove the netting as the need arises by mounting it on a storm-window frame.
Use the Right Recipe for the Hummingbird Nectar
If you love watching hummingbirds and want to see them more often, plant naturally red or orange flowers to entice them to your space. Also, use feeders that have red coloring in their structure.
Clean hummingbird feeders regularly and use suitable hummingbird recipes. Cleaning and proper nutrition ensures the birds get proper nutrition served with hygienic feeders.
Red dye and nectar concentrates are harmful to the birds, so avoid them when preparing the nectar fix.
During chilly days keep bird feeders in protected areas to prevent nectars from freezing.
Use Native flowers for Landscaping if Possible.
Opt for homegrown flowers to have hummingbird-friendly landscaping and take proper care of the flowers to keep them healthy for abundant blooms. This will ensure that the hummingbirds will never lack the essential nectar.
Bumblebee Hummingbird: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: Bumblebee Hummingbird’s lifespan is unknown, but their closest relatives, bee hummingbirds, live up to seven years in the wild. In captivity, bee hummingbirds can live up to ten years.
Although the IUCN lists the Bumblebee Hummingbird as Least Concern, its low population in some areas is a reason for concern. It is vulnerable in most of its habitat and range mainly because of threats to tropical forests where it lives.
Answer: Bumblebee hummingbirds face two harsh conditions during winter, which often shorten their life expectancy. In winter, they are threatened by food shortage and chilly nights.
To survive these harsh conditions, the hummingbirds depend on:
• During food shortage in winter, bumblebee hummingbirds visits backyard hummingbird feeders.
• Bumblebee hummingbirds survive chilly nights by undergoing topor, a condition which allows it to conserve energy. During torpor session, the bird’s heart rate drops from 1260 per minute to below 50; and their body temperatures plunge from 40°c to below 18°c.
Answer: There are three effective ways you use to attract bumblebee hummingbirds to your backyard. This methods are:
• Hummingbirds love flowers because it is the source of their livelihoods, nectar. So plant enough flowering plants in your backyard.
• Hummingbirds are attracted to red colors. Do not only provide feeders for bumble bee hummingbirds but choose a red one which will call the bird from a distance.
• Ensure your hummingbird feeders are clean and filled with their favorite food at all times, especially during the winter seasons.
The Intriguing World’s Second Smallest Bird
Despite birding for years, I’m always amazed whenever I watch the bumblebee hummingbirds. A wonderful diminutive bird equivalent to the weight of a penny, yet it has an awesome personality, unique behavior, and attractive iridescent coloration.
You always see them buzzing between flowers and hovering briefly for nectar or insects with ease. Or see them preening their feathers for a pristine look. But during the chilly winter, long nights, things change against them, and they face life-threatening situations.
Even though they are adapted to survive through the harsh season, they still need your help. Next time as you admire them in the wild or in your backyard, why not think of how you will help them survive the life-threatening icy winter?
- IUCN red list
- Ortega-Álvarez, Rubén; Benítez, Esteban Berrones; Mena, Israel Medina; Cano, Leonel Valdez; Bautista, Leonel Bautista; Calderón-Parra, Rafael (September 2018) retrieved from Notes on the breeding behavior of the Bumblebee Hummingbird (Atthis heloisa), an endemic species of Mexico: nest, courtship displays, and altitudinal movements (bioone.org)
- Bumblebee Hummingbird – World Land TrustBumblebee Hummingbird – World Land Trust
- Bumblebee Hummingbirds | Beauty of Birds
- Get to Know the Bee Hummingbird, the World’s Smallest Bird | Audubon
- FLORAL TRAITS OF PLANTS VISITED BY THE BEE HUMMINGBIRD (MELLISUGA HELENAE) Bo Dalsgaard1,2, Daniel W. Carstensen3 , Arturo Kirkconnell4 , Ana M. Martín González1,5, Orestes Martínez García6 , Allan Timmermann7 , & William J. Sutherland2 ON 1046.fm (unm.edu)
- “Check-list of North and Middle American Birds” American Ornithological Society. June 29, 2021
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