Constantly on the move, and with one of the fastest metabolisms in the natural world, hummingbirds are known for their long-distance migrations. A bird of extremes, their tiny body size, rapid wingbeat, and aggressive nature, do hummingbirds also have surprising lifespans? How long do hummingbirds usually live, and what threats do they face to their survival?
Interested in finding out more? Then please read on.
A Broad-billed Hummingbird feeding from a nectar-rich flower
On average, hummingbirds live for between 3 and 5 years, although life expectancy does vary from species to species. Some longer-living hummingbird species live longer, with between 8 and 10 years being fairly common, and the oldest recorded wild individual was 12 years old.
In captive settings, even longer lives are possible for hummingbirds, with two black-chinned hummingbirds that were part of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum collection in Tucson living for 13 or 14 years.
To learn more about how long hummingbirds live and how likely it is for hatchlings to survive to reach adulthood, then keep on reading.
Pictured: A Black-chinned Hummingbird feeding from a Pride of Madeira flower
Hummingbirds typically live in the wild for between 3 and 5 years, although significantly older individuals have been recorded. These remarkable tiny marvels are able to fly within the first month of life and ready to embark on lengthy migrations shortly afterward.
Breeding is possible from the age of one, and most individuals survive long enough to complete several annual migrations and raise at least one brood of chicks.
It’s not unusual for hummingbirds to survive longer, with 8 and 10-year-old birds being fairly regularly recorded.
In captive settings, such as wildlife parks and aviaries and enclosures at zoos or rehab facilities, the maximum lifespan can reach 14 years, if a suitable foraging environment with an abundance of flowering plants is available.
Captive hummingbirds enjoy less stressful lives, without the physically demanding pressures of migration, controlled climates, and suitable nectar-rich flowers.
Pictured: A Rivoli’s Hummingbird. The oldest recorded was a male and was at least 11 years and 2 months old
Hummingbirds may be small, but they are certainly feisty and are exceptionally fast and agile, meaning that they can evade predators a lot more successfully than many larger species. Size and speed are their first lines of defense, as they are hard to spot and almost impossible to catch.
One of the deadliest threats to hummingbirds is extreme weather, with strong winds, rains, and storms being particularly hard to navigate. Hurricanes during migration season are a major risk, and many hummingbirds will instinctively hunker down and shelter in foliage until the danger passes.
Inevitably, the rough weather will claim some hummingbird victims, blowing them off course or making them more energy-intensive if they have to fly against headwinds, causing overpowering fatigue.
Pictured: A Calliope Hummingbird. Cats may pose a threat to hummingbirds feeding in backyards
Bacterial and fungal infections can cause respiratory tract diseases and a swollen tongue in hummingbirds, making it difficult to feed and therefore impacting their energy levels. Spores from moldy feeders pose a high risk of such infections.
Other common but serious diseases include internal parasites that lead to the trichomoniasis virus which can damage the digestive and urinary tracts.
Window collisions may lead to life-threatening impact injuries which a hummingbird’s fragile skeleton may find impossible to recover from. Pesticides are a major danger, with any trace of chemicals or insecticides on the flowers and plants that hummers use as food sources potentially fatal.
Human-caused habitat loss, caused by development and urban growth, has the adverse effect of removing important feeding and breeding grounds, which in turn makes survival more challenging with hummingbirds needing to search further afield to meet their energy needs.
Pictured: A Buff-bellied Hummingbird in-flight
Overall, around 45 percent of baby hummingbirds will survive into adulthood, but a range of factors affect just how successful and long-lived hatchlings from each clutch will be. Each developmental stage brings its own risks and dangers, with adverse weather and predation the leading causes of failed nests and early mortality.
Hummingbird eggs are tiny, and despite nests being intricately and protectively crafted they do fail relatively regularly. Heavy rain and strong winds can easily dislodge entire nests or cause eggs to fall, and unhatched eggs in damaged nests stand practically zero chance of a successful outcome.
Heavy rain and strong winds can easily dislodge the nest of a Hummingbird, or cause the eggs to fall
As many as 75 percent of hummingbird nests fail, and when they do, young hummers have little hope of surviving if they have not fledged. However, hummingbirds are intelligent little creatures and have found ways of adapting their nesting behaviors to maximize survival.
Predation of young is a major cause for concern, yet certain hummingbird species have evolved to choose locations that offer an unlikely source of security – by nesting close to larger predators.
One example is black-chinned hummingbirds, which often choose to build their nests close to hawks. Doing so increased nestling survivability from a lowly 8% to over 70%. How? Because the hawks provide protection from jays who frequently predate hummingbird nests. Whilst the hummingbirds can fly under the hawk’s radar, other birds cannot.
Black-chinned Hummingbirds often choose to build their nests close to larger predators
Reaching the fledgling stage is a major achievement for juvenile hummingbirds because as many as 50 to 80 percent of young hummers will die before they can fly.
By the time they fledge, at around four to five weeks, the survival rate improves to more than 50 percent, with fledgling hummingbirds undertaking epic migration flights within weeks of mastering the art of flight and foraging.
Inexperienced young hummingbirds may be more likely to succumb to the forces of nature when migrating or foraging until they become more skilled at navigating to wintering grounds or gain more awareness of weather hazards and how to conserve energy and consume enough ahead of long flights to avoid potentially fatal levels of fatigue.
A Rufous Hummingbird fledgling resting on a perch after mastering the art of flight
Feisty and territorial, male hummingbirds in particular are not as delicate as they first seem and many are highly vigilant and aggressive when provoked. They have adapted to use any methods possible to survive, including the lively defense of a nest site and females to give their offspring the greatest chance of reaching adulthood.
Their spectacular and impressive courtship displays are necessary to shine among rivals, offering the best possible chance of survival, with access to a prime territory and the opportunity to reproduce with their pick of available female mates.
A hummingbird’s ability to slow down its own metabolism and reduce its energy expenditure overnight is key to its survival. It would be impossible to sustain intense levels of energy consumption for 24 hours a day, so the temporary hibernation-like state of torpor allows them to rest safely without any impact on their health.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Female (left) and Male (right) in courtship display
Hummingbirds are members of an extensive family, consisting of more than 350 species. Although similar in many features, different individual species have varying survival rates. The majority of hummingbirds do not survive beyond their first 12 months, although if they do reach this milestone, their expected lifespan increases steeply.
Allen’s hummingbirds have one of the lowest life expectancies, with a maximum lifespan of up to 5 years. The species has also witnessed a fall in overall population of around 83 percent in the last 50 years, partly linked to habitat loss in both breeding and wintering grounds.
The most widespread hummingbird species, the ruby-throated hummingbird, has a maximum recorded lifespan of 6 years and 11 months, but the range of 3 to 5 years is most common.
Anna’s hummingbirds have a slightly longer average life expectancy, with anything up to 8.5 years being fairly typical.
The oldest verified hummingbird was a broad-tailed hummingbird, observed through ringing data in the wild at 12 years and 2 months.
The Allen's Hummingbird has one of the lowest life expectancies
Awareness of the challenges faced by hummingbirds has increased support provided by bird enthusiasts across North America. An increased number of styles of nectar feeders are now available, and by offering sucrose-rich sugar water, householders have offered a vital lifeline for thousands of hummingbirds that would otherwise have a more energy-consuming and competitive search for food each day.
Conservation efforts, including rewilding schemes and recommendations to think of hummingbirds when landscaping garden flowerbeds, have all had a positive impact on maintaining hummingbird populations and giving these tiny feisty fliers the best chance of survival.
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird drinking sucrose-rich sugar water from a nectar feeder
Extensive development is a huge threat to the survival of hummingbirds and their ability to forage freely for the sugar-rich nectar sources they need to meet their energy demands. Habitat lost to urban sprawl pushes hummingbirds out of their established breeding and feeding grounds and may add additional stress when foraging or migrating if they cannot access sufficient feeding sites.
Pesticides and insecticides are an additional danger, with even the smallest quantities posing severe harm to the delicate bodies of tiny hummingbirds.
The Lucifer Hummingbird is a species that is at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action
If you’re lucky enough to live in a location where hummingbirds may visit your yard regularly and take nectar from feeders or flowers, there are a few tips you can bear in mind to help boost their chances of a long life.
Feeders should be cleaned regularly to avoid transmission of diseases and checked for leaks, so as not to attract ants or hornets, and if possible, it might be wise to try and ensure your yard is cat-proofed.
Pesticides and chemicals should not be used on any part of the garden as even the tiniest quantities may be harmful to hummingbirds. Decals can be added to windows to help minimize the risk of collisions.
Conservation projects are vital in the survival of hummingbirds across the Americas, preserving suitable habitats to ensure that all year-round nectar-rich flowering plants are widely available.
Climate change and habitat loss are serious threats to hummingbird survival, and efforts to develop a network of wildflower meadows help support the diversity and longevity of the more than 350 hummingbird species.
An Anna's Hummingbird about to feed on nectar from a feeder in a back yard
Delicate yet resilient, hummingbirds are surprisingly skilled at surviving against the odds in a world stacked with natural and manmade challenges.
Once they have navigated the early weeks and months of life as a juvenile hummer, survival becomes more achievable, as long as there is sufficient access to safe and abundant foraging grounds that are free from pesticides and predators.
On average, three to five years is a pretty decent lifespan for an adult hummingbird, although longer-lived individuals have been recorded, and those birds raised or cared for in captivity have the potential to live significantly longer lives.
A Juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding in safe and abundant foraging grounds
Hummingbirds do not die if they stop flying, and you shouldn’t be too concerned if you spot a motionless hummer perched on a branch. The likelihood is it’s just resting, in a state of torpor, where it is able to lower its body temperature and go into a temporary state of hibernation while it sleeps.
They are not particularly mobile when perching, but do need to take breaks from their intense flying activity when incubating eggs and raising nestlings.
Hummingbirds are almost always in flight, although do take natural breaks to sleep and rest each evening, to ensure they have enough energy to carry out their foraging activities the following day. Each evening, around 30 minutes before sunset, they find a safe spot to shelter, tucked away in foliage, and attach their feet to a branch.
Hummingbirds are able to slow down their metabolism and heart rate, dropping their body temperature by around 85 percent, and entering a state known as torpor. This allows them to conserve enough energy overnight without burning their reserves at the usual rate needed when active.
This has a positive impact on their lifespan, allowing them to get the vital rest required to remain in prime condition to be able to forage and fly during daylight hours.
Pictured: A Coppery-headed Emerald Hummingbird taking a rest on a branch
A hummingbird’s size and plumage offer some useful clues as to its age and life stage, in the absence of checking a physical banding record. Juvenile birds are smaller than mature adults and have slightly shorter tails, as well as being duller in appearance until their bright iridescent plumage emerges.
Older adults may have less vibrant coloring, and their feathers may be beginning to look worn, particularly on the tail and wing tips. The energy levels of older adult hummingbirds may begin to dip, and they may start to become less agile and slightly slower.
Older hummingbirds continue with the same activity levels as younger ones, including energetic foraging and long-distance migrations. Their reproductive success may decline as they age, but otherwise, a hummingbird’s advanced years will not have a negative bearing on its ability to survive although their agility levels may deteriorate and flight speeds may be slightly reduced.
A Broad-tailed Hummingbird was verified as the longest-lived wild individual at the age of 12 years and 2 months
Female hummingbirds generally fare better than males, with males rarely living beyond 5 years. The heightened demands of defending a territory can negatively affect the lifespan of males, with the additional aggression they show draining their energy resources and potentially leading to life-threatening injuries from heated clashes with rival males.
In captivity, a pair of black-chinned hummingbirds are believed to have reached around 14 years although only sketchy information exists. The oldest verified wild individual was a female broad-tailed hummingbird, banded in Colorado in 1976 and recaptured in 1987, at 12 years and 2 months old.
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