September is the peak of ruby-throated hummingbirds’ fall migration. They are passing through Brazoria County in throngs during their southbound journey to their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America.

Hummingbirds are incredible creatures, and there are many misconceptions about them. We catch and band hundreds of them every year, many of them during public demonstrations. Here is a list of some of the questions and comments we get about these little gems, with the responses we provide.

  • How long do they live? The oldest ruby-throated hummingbird on record is 9 years old. Other hummingbird species are documented at more than 13 years old.
  • How much do they weigh? Ruby-throated hummingbirds weigh about 3 grams, about as much as a penny – at least most of the time. Twice a year, they build up fat reserves required to make the long migration between their breeding grounds and wintering grounds (some travel 3,000 miles) and can almost double their body weight to more than 5 grams.
  • What do they eat? Obviously, hummingbirds feed on flower nectar, but they also eat small spiders, gnats and other tiny insects. Insects provide the protein, vitamins and minerals in their diet needed for survival.
  • Can they open their bill? Yes, the bill is not shaped like a soda straw. A hummingbird can open its bill wide and often catches small insects on the wing, snatching them in mid-air. The bill is almost closed when feeding on nectar. They dart their long tongue in and out to lap up the nectar.
  • How much do they eat? A typical hummingbird consumes its entire body weight in nectar every day.
  • Why does it seem like they are always fighting? Hummingbirds are very antisocial birds. They are very aggressive toward one another and vigorously defend territory and food resources against all interlopers. During migration, they do not flock together as other birds do. They just happen to be travelling in the same direction, similar to people on a bus during rush-hour traffic.
  • When should I take down my feeders? It is OK to leave hummingbird feeders up year-round.
  • How fast do their hearts beat? A hummingbird’s heart beats 1,200 times per minute.

A few more fun facts:

  • Hummingbirds are the smallest birds and the smallest warm-blooded animal.
  • Hummingbirds are the most maneuverable birds on the planet. They can fly forward, backward, sideways, upside-down and hover in place.
  • There are 340 species of hummingbirds, most of which are found in the tropics. About 25 species have been seen in the United States. In Texas, there have been 16 species reported, more than any other state. At least 12 species have been identified in Brazoria County.

Come out to see a few of them at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, 299 Highway 332 West, in Lake Jackson from 8 a.m. to noon on Sept. 21 for our Xtreme Hummingbird Xtravaganza.

Kay Lookingbill is a research associate for the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the birds and their habitats. Learn more about the observatory at gcbo.org, or call 979-480-0999.

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