Hummingbird – High-Speed Nectar Sipper

The hummingbird is one of the world’s smallest, oldest, and most adapted living bird species. Part of the Trochilidae family, hummingbirds are in the Apodiforme subfamily, which means ‘unfooted’. Because their wings move them around so well, they don’t need feet for much more than perching.

Between North and South America, over 800 plant species have evolved to rely on hummingbirds for reproduction! Basically, most trumpet flowers are shaped to fit hummingbird beaks.


European hummingbird fossils have been found that are between 40-50 million years old.

Species You’ll See in  Nevada County

Calliope, Black-Chinned, Rufous, Anna’s

Anna’s hummingbirds can be full-time Nevada County residents.


Hummingbirds currently live in both North and South America, but many of them are mobile, spending spring in the north and winter where it’s warmer, between Alaska and Mexico.

Distinctive Characteristics

  • Smallest living vertebrate
  • Fastest wing beats of any bird
  • Fastest metabolism of almost all animals some species hearts beat 1,000/minute
  • Needs to eat frequently during daylight hours

Special Adaptations

  • Small feet used for perching not walking
  • Long hover times (compared to other birds)
  • 49 mph in flight diving speeds
  • Consumes more than its body weight of nectar each day
  • Frequent urinator – Urinates more than its body weight every day (to keep water weight down)
  • Excellent visual memory – enlarged hippocampus to remember visited flowers
  • Specialized nectar sipping tongues – channels along both sides open and close, acting like an ultra-efficient sponge
  • Sleep time is torpor time  – 105 degree body temperature drops to around 50 degrees, heartbeat slows to 36 beats/minute (it beats over 1,000 beats per minute when active)
  • Torpor can also be entered if food becomes scarce
  • Bright feather coloring is the result of pigmentation and prism-like cells in a layer on top of the color
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  • Nectar – in the wild, hummingbirds visit flowers for food, extracting nectar, which is 55% sucrose, 24% glucose, and 21% fructose 
  • Insects
  • Aphids
  • Gnats
  • Fruit Flies
  • Mosquitoes
  • Spiders


With such a high-speed metabolism, these tiny birds generate a lot of heat! Instead of sweating, hummingbirds evaporate moisture a and heat on featherless body structures such as around their eyes, feet, and under the wings. Their exhales also expel heat and moisture. 

Hummingbirds are territorial. They’ll defend flower patches and feeders aggressively. Some studies show aggressive behavior increasing with an increased sugar content of feeder water.


Beyond vocalizations, and their unusual ability to remember songs,  hummingbirds also make vibration sounds with their feathers. Some males, such as the Anna’s,  make whistle /chirping noises with outermost tail feathers during courtship displays.

The Male Tail Trill;

  • Announces the sex and presence of a male bird
  • Provides audible aggressive defense of a feeding territory
  • Is an intrusion tactic
  • Enhances threat communication
  • Helps with mate attraction and courtship


The Rufous hummingbird is the most common species you’ll see in Nevada County. Of all the varieties, it makes the longest migration – 3,900 miles – between Mexico and Alaska. Because it spends time in harsher weather conditions, it can survive below-freezing temperatures.

Click on image to visit live migration map (during migrations)

Life Span

While chicks have very high mortality rates, the birds that reach adulthood live between 3-5 years. However, some banded birds were observed living for up to twelve years.


For males, reproduction is about flashy color displays and elaborate dances.

Females are nest builders and egg sitters. A mother will lay two eggs at a time, incubating them between two weeks to 23 days.

In order to sit long enough to keep eggs warm, females go into torpor. Once hatched, newborns hide, hunkering down deep in the nest only reaching out when they feel the breeze from their mother’s wings.

Fledglings remain in the nest for just over two weeks.

Mother’s feed young a nutrient-dense mash of insects, pollen, and nectar.


How Human Activity Affects Hummingbirds

  • Pesticides in the garden and on crops poison the birds directly or indirectly through the food supply
  • Habitat loss – reduces the native plant food supply
  • Feeders reduce plant pollination activities
  • Feeders near windows increase bird into glass collisions
  • Some sweeteners contain iron or bacteria that adversely affect hummingbird health

 Sweeteners NOT to Use in Feeders

  • Brown sugar
  • Agave
  • Molasses
  • Stevia 
  • Splenda
  • Equal
  • Any diabetic sweetener
  • Raw sugar
  • Honey
  • Any packaged hummingbird mix that contains red die, artificial flavors, dietary supplements, or vitamins (native flowers provide everything they need!)

If You Do Feed Wild Hummingbirds

Use this mixture – 1 cup of white sugar to 4 cups water

Hummingbird with pollen on beak. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons Kpts44

Rewild Your Garden

The BEST way to attract and support hummingbirds is with native plants.

“Flowers should be chosen for their ability to produce nectar, to grow well in your particular region, and to be in bloom when the hummingbirds need them.”  – Redbud Chapter California Native Plant Society

Click here for a Redbud Chapter CNPS hummingbird attracting plant list PDF

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Creek Art

If you live outside Nevada County California, click here for a list of North American Native Plant Societies.

If you liked this post, you may also like Lichen: Exploring Microecosystems in Your Backyard

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Resource Videos:


BBC News – Oldest Hummingbird Fossils Found (Germany) 

Hummingbird Central – Migration maps

iNaturalist – Hummingbirds

Independent – Found in France, A 30 million-year-old hummingbird fossil

Nature – Behind the Scenes of Hummingbirds

Popular Mechanics – Hummingbirds Can See Colors We Humans Can’t

Redbud Chapter California Native Plant Society – Native Plants for Landscaping (Pollinators)

Science Alert – Hummingbirds Can See Colors We Can’t Even Imagine, Experiment Reveals

Scientific American – Fossils Reveal Hummingbirds Once Flew Farther Afield

Wikipedia – Hummingbirds

Bat – a Colonial Insectivore

Bats are the only flying mammals. Wing membranes are attached to their fingers. After rodents, they are the largest order of Earth animals. 

Microbats live in California. they are insectivores and can eat their weight in insects daily. (Large bats, such as the Fruit Bat, also known as a Flying Fox, live in tropical climates.)


Roosts, which can contain up to thirty generations of family members, are used for protection, warmth, grooming, eating, resting, and mating. Roosting sites include caves, mines, bridges, buildings, crevices, and tree hollows. Bats are nocturnal. They leave their roosts at dusk to hunt and drink water at night.

Since roosts are where large numbers of bats congregate, it’s a system that provides fertile conditions for the spread of diseases such as, rabies, histoplasmosis, and other viruses. Roosts are where White-nose syndrome is spreading (see below).

The Mexican free-tailed bat or Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) is a migrating bat native to the Americas. Since it roosts in large numbers in few locations, it’s vulnerable to habitat destruction. This bat is considered a species of special concern in California because of declining populations.

Environmental Obstacles:

A keystone species, bats keep ecosystems healthy by controlling insect populations, but they’ve got obstacles. Habitat loss and destruction of roosting sites, wind farms on migratory pathways, and drought are a few.  White-nose syndrome, a muzzle and wing flesh-eating fungus, has decimated bat populations across North America.

Some good news for California bats may be forest lands opened up by wildfires.  UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher Zachary Steel found that certain bat populations have increased in burned forests. The causes are still under study but causes may be increased food sources, roosting locations in dead trees, and/or more space for flight maneuverability 

Special Adaptations:

Bats hunt with echolocation, sounds out of human hearing range that help locate prey.

While bats can use their mouths to catch prey, most bugs are caught in their wing membranes and either eaten in the air or carried to a roosting spot.

Bats have bendy bones which makes them ultra maneuverable. Some say bats have the fastest horizontal flying speed of any animal, close to 99 miles per hour!

Among roosting bats that create large quantities of urine and guano, they’ve developed respiratory mucous Ph buffer. 

Torpor is an important adaptation for microbats. It can range from a partial state of heterothermic arousal to full hibernation. Lowing body temperature reduces the need for food and fat storage.

A new study by University of California, Berkeley, researchers shows that bats’ brain activity is literally in sync when bats engage in social behaviors like grooming, fighting or sniffing each other.

Using scent markers and sound, mothers can locate their own babies out of thousands.

Life Span

10-20 years


  • mosquitos
  • moths
  • beetles
  • dragonflies
  • flies
  • wasps
  • ants
  • grasshoppers
  • termites


Photo Credit: Mnolf

Females can breed after 9 months of age, they congregate in maternity roosts.
Males become sexually mature at two years.
Gestation is about three months.
Generally, one pup is born per year. 
Young suckle for between four to seven weeks.
Mother’s must eat their body weight in insects to keep up with nursing demands.


  • owls
  • hawks
  • falcons

Roosts may come under predation from:

  • climbing animals
  • cats
  • coyote
  • raccoon
  • some species of snakes

Bat Species in Nevada County

  • California Myotis, MYOTIS CALIFORNICUS
  • Fringed Myotis, MYOTIS THYSANODES
  • Little Brown Myotis, MYOTIS LUCIFUGUS
  • L0ng-eared Myotis, MYOTIS EVOTIS
  • Long-legged Myotis, MYOTIS VOLANS
  • Mexican Free-tail, TADARIDA BRASILIENSIS (migratory)

White-Nose Syndrome

“WNS is considered one of the deadliest wildlife diseases, having killed over six million North American bats since it was discovered,” said CDFW Wildlife Veterinarian and Epidemiologist Dr. Deana Clifford. “WNS doesn’t affect human health or pets, but the ecological impacts of bat die-offs may indirectly impact agricultural systems through loss of the natural pesticide effect and nutrient cycling of bats.”

As of spring 2019, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife detected white-nose syndrome in bats in Chester, Plumas County.

Californians Can Help By:

Cavers/Spelunkers Can:

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California Department of  Fish and Wildlife – Deadly Bat Fungus Detected in California

Corkys Pest –Bat Identification 

Northern California Bats – Education, Lectures, Rescue & Resources

Sierra Club – A Song of Bats and Fire

Smithsonian Magazine – What is Killing the Bats?

UC, Berkeley – Bats Brains Sync when they Socialize

USGS – What is White-nose Syndrome?

Washington Post – The batty history of bats in the military and why this new idea just might work

White Nose Syndrom Response Team

Wikipedia – Bat

Wikipedia – Maternity colony

Wikipedia – Mexican Free-tail bat


AUSTIN, TX (May 8, 2019) – Bat Conservation International (BCI) announced today that early signs of the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) have been detected at one of the world’s premier bat conservation sites, Bracken Cave Preserve.

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