The Life of a Hummingbird, Summarized

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January 18, 2022
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Hummingbirds often find themselves placed at the top of quite a few lists. They are some of the smallest birds found in the world, some of the smallest birds known to migrate long distances, have some of the fastest-known metabolisms, and lay some of the smallest eggs.

To add to that list, it is generally thought that hummingbirds have some of the shortest lifespans among their avian friends, even with variations between different hummingbird species. The oldest recorded hummingbird was a female broad-tailed hummingbird that was banded in 1976.

She was found again in 1987 in the same place, 12 years and two months after the first encounter. She was never seen again, presumably dying of old age. With 12 being considered a record for hummingbirds, you may be curious to know what goes on in the relatively short lifespan of the hummingbird.

The Development and Birth of a Hummingbird

Hummingbirds produce some of the smallest eggs of any bird, which makes sense given the fact that hummingbirds are generally some of the smallest and lightest birds to be found on the continent of North America. Their eggs are comparable in size to a jelly bean and weigh no more than a standard office paper clip.

As with any bird, their development begins within the egg. Eggs develop between 24 and 30 hours after mating has completed. When a female hummingbird lays her eggs, there are almost always two eggs that are spaced one to two days apart. Depending on the species of hummingbird, the egg can take between two and three weeks to hatch.

The mother hummingbird is almost completely responsible for the development of the baby birds. The only role that the male hummingbird plays in this process is being the mate to the mother, leaving as soon as mating has ended to find a new mate for the season. The mother will build the nest, incubate the eggs, feed, and protect her young until it is time for them to become independent.

A Hummingbird’s Life Before It Leaves the Nest

When hummingbirds are born, they are much like any other bird. They are born with closed eyes, no feathers, and often unable to stand at all. They cannot keep themselves warm, feed themselves, or otherwise keep themselves alive. In essence, they are wholly and entirely dependent on the mother hummingbird for support until they mature more.

The mother hummingbird will feed the babies a high-protein diet focused mainly on insects, though nectar will be supplied as well to keep their metabolism satisfied. The babies are fed several times a day through the usual regurgitation process that birds follow. This will be done for around one month as the babies mature, growing feathers, opening their eyes, and learning how to vocalize. Tropical species will take slightly longer to mature, often taking closer to two months to mature.

Hummingbirds begin learning how to fly at approximately two weeks of age. Their feathers will fully come in at around three weeks of age. Between this time, the baby hummingbirds will exercise their wings to prepare to fly. Shortly after, they will begin flying on their own, and once that month (or two) have passed, the hummingbirds will be considered mature and independent, leaving their nest to begin their lives.

The Cyclic Migration of the Hummingbird

In the United States and Canada, hummingbirds are mainly migratory birds. There are a few pockets in the United States where hummingbirds live year-round, often in the Gulf area and other southern regions, excluding one species that lives in the Pacific Northwest for the entirety of its life. Hummingbirds that are found in Asia, South America, and Central America may or may not migrate, being much more varied in their habits.

Hummingbirds that do migrate often follow the seasons where flowers bloom and summer insects are common. After all, that is what these birds eat. During the summer and including the fringes of early spring and late autumn, hummingbirds will fly all across the United States, following warm temperatures and humid climates.

During the winter, these hummingbirds will begin to migrate southward, toward tropical regions. Some species will stop near the Gulf in the United States while others will make their way to Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and other areas around the equator. They will remain here until there is too much competition with other birds, migrating northward as the seasons shift from winter into early spring.

How and When Do Hummingbirds Mate?

Hummingbirds will breed at different times in the year, and the exact times will depend on the species of the hummingbird. Hummingbirds that migrate to much more northern regions, such as Canada, will have a short breeding season that ends shortly after spring. Hummingbirds that migrate to warmer regions will generally have a longer breeding season, sometimes lasting as long as from November to June.

It is considered the male hummingbird’s job to impress the females. The male hummingbirds will put on diving and chasing displays for the female birds, and the female will choose a mate that has shown sufficient prowess in his ability to dive and chase. Mating will occur and the male will set off to find another mate while the mother bird begins preparing a nest.

Male hummingbirds will mate numerous times throughout the breeding season. Females may have more than one set of babies in the breeding season, but this is dependent on how long the breeding season lasts, given that it takes around half a month for eggs to be ready to come out of the mother, another three weeks for the eggs to hatch, and then another month for the babies to be independent.

The End of a Hummingbird’s Life Cycle

The next part of a hummingbird’s life is a cycle of migration and breeding until the bird is ready to meet its end to old age or predation. If you want to know how long do hummingbirds live, the answer to this can be a little bit murky. The lifespan of the hummingbird is highly dependent on species, with some hummingbirds only living three years and other hummingbirds being able to average around eight years.

It should also be noted that most hummingbirds will die within the first year of life. This is due to natural threats ranging from predation to human interference. If a hummingbird is able to make it past the first year of life, it is generally able to live for several more years, as it has proven that it is capable of avoiding predators.

Out of the most common hummingbird species in North America, there are a few that should be considered. The ruby-throated hummingbird is known to live between three and five years. The collared Inca hummingbird is known to live for around five years. Anna’s hummingbird is known to live for around eight years. The rufous hummingbird is also known to live for around eight years.

The Takeaway

Out of all the birds in the world, it is estimated that hummingbirds have one of the shortest natural lifespans, even when they are able to live beyond the first year of life. They make up for this by being one of the fastest birds to develop from conception to being mature enough to leave the nest.

Once a hummingbird begins producing eggs, it can be expected that as long as a hummingbird survives, it will leave its nest in about two and a half months, fully independent and ready to live on its own. If it survives past its first year of life, depending on the species of hummingbird, it will then live between three and eight years.

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