Hi! Thanks for joining me for the hummingbird nature study today. We’re going to learn about the most agile birds in the world! I’m Mrs. Cindy from No Sweat Nature Study LIVE and here we go…
Hummingbirds Are Agile
What does agile mean? House flies are agile. So are dragonflies. Cheetahs, chimpanzees, and border collies are agile, too. Those animals don’t have a lot in common with each other besides their agility. Can you guess what agile means? Think about the movements of each of those animals.
When an animal (or human) is agile, it means it’s able to move quickly and easily. Someone might call you agile if you’re able to scale the monkey bars fast and you make it look easy. Kids who are good at sports of all sorts are often called agile, too.
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Hummingbirds are definitely agile. Most birds flap their wings up and down to fly, but hummingbirds can flap up and down, front to back, and even in figure 8 patterns. Each of these wing movements helps with moving in various directions quickly and even gives them the ability to hover in the air, which is something most other bird species can’t do.
These wing movements together with their ability to flap between 10 and 80 times PER SECOND are what allow them to move forward, backward, up, down, and do the amazing hovering. The hovering move is what you observe when you see a hummingbird sipping nectar from a flower or bird feeder.
Why do hummingbirds need to move that fast? That agility is certainly a defensive mechanism to help them escape danger. Hummingbirds are some of the smallest of all bird species. The tiniest, called the bee hummingbird from Cuba, is just slightly longer than two inches! Other hummingbird species are bigger than that, but still, the average size is only 3-4 inches long.
You can imagine that plenty of predators would like to catch hummingbirds for a tasty snack. Can you guess some of their predators? Just in case you don’t know, a predator is an animal that hunts other animals for food. It sounds gross, but it’s part of the natural cycle of life and keeps habitats healthy. Some hummingbird predators include bigger birds like owls, hawks, crows, and herons. And, if a hummingbird flies too low or hangs out too long eating nectar, it might be snagged by a snake, lizard, frog, or squirrel.
What Hummingbirds Eat
Let’s go back to the topic of eating nectar. Do you remember us talking about nectar in the podcast episode about pollinators? Nectar is the sugary liquid that plants make that tends to pool at the base of a flower. Its purpose is to feed pollinators. Remember, as pollinators like butterflies, bats, bees, and hummingbirds dive into a flower to eat the yummy nectar, they also help to move pollen from one flower to another so that new flower seeds can grow.
Well, hummingbirds love nectar. In fact, if you’ve ever prepared a hummingbird feeder for your backyard, you made a homemade version of nectar from sugar and water to place in the feeder for the hummingbirds.
While all birds have tongues, hummingbirds have special ones that are so long they extend as far out as the bill or beak is long. This long, forked tongue has little hair-like things called lamellae that gather nectar. Then the tongue goes back into the mouth with the nectar. But, it doesn’t just go back in the mouth as ours does. Because its tongue is so long, it has to coil under the jaw and around the bird’s skull!
Animals who eat plants are called herbivores, but hummingbirds are known as nectarivores because they eat the nectar from plants.
However, nectar isn’t the only food they like to eat. Small insects like mosquitos, gnats, fruit flies, aphids, ants, beetles, and even wasps better watch out because hummingbirds happen to be carnivores, too. That means they eat meat. Because of their interesting mouth structure, they typically catch an insect, toss their heads back, and swallow it whole.
When an animal isn’t only a carnivore or a nectarivore, it gets a special name called an omnivore. That just means it eats more than one type of food. And, boy oh boy, are hummingbirds hungry critters. They eat one and a half to three times their body weight in nectar and insects a day! If you weigh 50 pounds, that would be the same as you eating 75 to 150 pounds of food each day. Wow. I guess they need all that energy to keep moving so fast.
Plants Hummingbirds Love
Besides putting sugar-water feeders in a yard to attract hummingbirds, many people will plant special plants that hummingbirds like to visit. Because they have such an amazingly long tongue, they are happy to visit flowers that are tubular (or shaped like a tube). You might be familiar with some of them! If you’ve seen daylilies, columbines, lupines, or foxgloves, you’ve seen some tubular flowers that hummingbirds love. They also love bee balms, petunias, hollyhocks, and impatiens. Are any of these hummingbird favorites growing near you?
One thing all of these flowers have in common is bright colors. Hummingbirds are definitely attracted to bright colors. I have some bright yellow daylilies growing right next to my back porch and we often see hummingbirds coming for a quick meal!
Hummingbird Nature Study Challenge
It’s time for your nature walk challenge! Grab your nature journal and colored pencils. If you’d rather use watercolors for nature journaling today, bring along your watercolor paints, paintbrushes, a bottle of water, and a paper towel or two.
If you happen to have bird feeders or flowers that attract hummingbirds, you might be able to stay right where you are to observe some. Otherwise, find an arboretum, nature preserve, or another wildlife sanctuary that has an active hummingbird population. Call before you go to be sure your destination has a high probability of seeing hummingbirds.
If you can’t find anywhere to go, watch this video of hummingbirds then choose some still images from this blog post for sketching or painting.
Hummingbirds Don’t Sit Still
Even if you’re able to observe some hummingbirds on your nature walk, it might be hard to observe one closely enough to sketch or paint because they move so fast. If so, you can do one of two things:
- Simply sketch or paint the scene around you. For instance, if you’ve observed a hummingbird flitting around a patch of daylilies, you can sketch or paint the daylilies and maybe add a swirl to represent the quickness of the hummingbird.
- Or, enjoy watching the hummingbird (or birds) in action and then use one of the still images in this blog post as your specimen image for sketching or painting.
Try to write at least three facts that you’ve learned about hummingbirds on your nature page, too!
When your nature journal page is finished, I sure would like to see it! Parents can share the work on social media and tag me @ourjourneywestward so that I’ll be sure to see it. I can’t wait to see the brilliant colors and beautiful details you include on your page!
I hope your hummingbird nature study is successful and I can’t wait to meet with you again next week to discover beautiful daisies. Until then, happy nature exploring!
Nature Study Curriculum
Parents, did you know that members of No Sweat Nature Study LIVE get access to a special download that includes a list of go-along books to read with your children for each episode of the podcast? Join at the monthly level for very affordable video-based science lessons for the whole family or save even more by joining at quarterly or yearly levels. Once you’re in, you’re in. If prices go up, you get to stay right where you are and enjoy all the perks of membership including the twice-monthly classes, a video library of previously recorded classes, regular bonus learning events, free curriculum downloads, shop discounts, and other fun things like the special podcast download that I mentioned.
In fact, many of the video classes waiting for you in the library can dramatically enhance the learning in these podcast episodes. For instance, to take the learning from this episode about hummingbirds to the next level, your children could enjoy 45-60 interactive, video lessons about wildflowers, birdsongs, bird nests, and/or bird eggs. Let me help you teach science. It’s my favorite thing to do!
Links and Resources
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Would you like to record a voicemail to answer this season’s nature study question?
At the end of each No Sweat Nature Study Podcast episode, Mrs. Cindy includes messages from a few of her friends. You have the opportunity to record a message that she might use on an upcoming episode!
All children must have their parents’ permission before leaving a recording. Parents are welcome to record an answer, too!
Each season, there will be a different question to answer. You can see this season’s question below. Think about your answer first and then follow these simple directions:
- Click the button that says “start recording”.
- Tell me your first name. (If you want to tell your age and/or where you live, feel free to do that, too.)
- You will have 60 seconds to answer the question, but try to be concise.
- Push the play button to listen to your recording before sending it to be sure it is recorded properly. If not, simply record it again.