The hummingbird's small stature is to its defensive advantage. From hiding its young in plain sight to eluding potential predators with daring in-flight maneuvers, hummingbirds are well equipped to protect themselves.
The typical hummingbird nest is about half the size of an English walnut. There's no need for a larger one: Hummingbird eggs range in length from one-third of an inch to three-fourths of an inch depending on the species. Most lay only two eggs at a time. They hide their nests from predators by camouflaging the outsides of them with native twigs, leaves and flowers.
The brightly colored males stay away from the nest to protect it from predation. In fact, males' only contribution to the reproductive process is fertilization. Past that, the hatching of eggs and raising of young is left to the females, who do not feature vivid colors. The plain appearance of females makes them less noticeable to predators. They blend in with their surroundings, thus protecting themselves and the nestlings from potentially dangerous attention.
Good luck to any predator trying to catch a hummingbird in flight. These tiny birds ranging anywhere from 2 to 8 inches in length average flight speeds between 25 and 30 miles per hour. With nearly 30 percent of their body weight in flight muscle, hummingbirds have the ability to maneuver quickly. This comes in handy during courtship, when males accelerate their flight speed up to 50 miles per hour.
Diving and Maneuvers
You can liken the hummingbird's flight abilities to those of a helicopter: The hummingbird is able to fly straight up and down, sideways, backwards and in place. The hummingbird's well-developed in-flight reflexes support effortless response when an immediate change in flight direction is necessary. The hummingbird is in a sense also like a fighter jet: He can fly upside-down and can dive accelerating up to 60 miles per hour. Combined, these acrobatic abilities provide significant protection from predators.
To humans, the humming sound made by the repetitive flapping of hummingbird wings is a delight to the ears. That's not the fact for hummingbird predators, especially larger birds. For them, the noise causes confusion. In the predator's attempt to decipher the noise, the predator often moves away from the source of the noise, thus deterring its meal-seeking mission.
- San Diego Zoo's Animal Bytes: Hummingbird
- World of Hummingbirds: Behavior
- Hummingbirds Forever: Interesting Hummingbird Facts
- Chipper Woods Bird Observatory: Antillean Crested Hummingbird: General Information
- The Wild Bird Store: Nesting Behavior of Hummingbirds
- The Independent: How a Hummingbird in Love Can Move Faster Than a Fighter Jet
Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.