Known for their graceful hovering abilities and stunningly colourful plumage, hummingbirds from the family Trochilidae consist of a remarkable 361 species and live solely in the Americas. That’s a vast range of individual species, but what is a group of hummingbirds called?
The most common collective noun for a group of hummingbirds is a charm - an apt name given their preciously small physique. Other popular collective nouns include a shimmer and a bouquet of hummingbirds.
That’s not it, though! Read on to learn more about the fascinating social behaviours of hummingbirds.
Many of these collective nouns are rather poetic in their description of hummingbirds.
A hover is self-explanatory, but a drum refers to the drum-like beating of a hummingbird’s wings - though you’d have to be pretty close to hear it!
After mating - which takes seconds - the male will typically vacate the premises. This is typical of hummingbirds - they are highly independent and solitary throughout the entire year.
Three female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
Despite there being 361 known species of hummingbirds, the vast, vast majority will never form flocks for longer than a fleeting moment whilst feeding.
Hummingbirds are solitary birds and are also very territorial, chasing off other hummingbirds feeding in their territory. It is still possible for multiple hummingbirds to feed from the same source.
The solitary behaviour of hummingbirds even extends to breeding. For example, the Ruby-Throated hummingbird and Calliope hummingbird only socialise briefly during courtship, which lasts just minutes.
A flock of hummingbirds feeding together
It often comes as a surprise to learn that many species of hummingbirds are highly migratory, even despite their tiny wings and diminutive size. In fact, the Calliope hummingbird, measuring just 7.5cm (3in) long, is thought to be the smallest and lightest migrating animal on the planet, travelling from as far north as Canada to as far south as Mexico and Central America during winter.
The Black-Chinned hummingbird is another species that travels thousands of miles south from its breeding grounds to its wintering grounds in Central America. The Rufous hummingbird similarly travels 2,000 mi (3,200 km) across the Rocky Mountains, a notably perilous trip from its most northerly breeding grounds in Alaska.
Perhaps the most impressive is the Ruby-Throated hummingbird which travels some 500 to 1,200 miles without even stopping, quite incredible for a bird that weighs only 3 grams.
The most intriguing aspect of all of these migratory journeys is that hummingbirds travel alone for the duration of the trip. Much to the puzzlement of researchers, hummingbirds have an innate ability to migrate alone - they do not seem to learn their journeys through observation. They do sometimes travel alone alongside other larger birds, however, but certainly not for the entire duration of their trip.
A pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds perched together
One lesser-known hummingbird behaviour is lek mating. Lek mating involves multiple males gathering together in the same area to jointly compete for females, often through some sort of synchronised act.
Both Swallow-Tailed hummingbirds and Guy’s Hermit hummingbirds have been observed forming leks where multiple birds sing the same bird song in unison, with some then progressing to the next stage of courtship, which may involve some sort of dance.
Lekking does not really mean that hummingbirds flock together per se, but it is an example of complex social behaviour between otherwise solitary hummingbirds.
There are scenarios where hummingbirds feed together in their food-abundant tropical and rainforest habitats and around garden bird feeders. This video of a rather large charm of hummingbirds feeding together (or perhaps a bouquet) was taken in Ecuador.
If you do see more than a few hummingbirds together for any sustained period without one chasing the other off, then you’re probably lucky.
With that said, people do manage to attract multiple hummingbirds to their gardens - often of mixed species.
A group of hummingbirds at a backyard feeder
It’s exceptionally rare for hummingbirds to spend any sustained period in a group. Even during the breeding season, male and female hummingbirds don’t usually form bonded pairs - the males tend to be polygamous and vacate the area soon after mating.
The males do tend to put significant effort into the courtship ritual itself, however, as shown by Anna hummingbird males who dive and swoop around the female at speeds of some 60mph. Mating typically occurs in mid-air, lasting just 2 to 5 seconds. This is virtually all the social contact hummingbirds have other than through rearing chicks and feeding together briefly from the same food sources.
There is no specific name for a pair of hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are polygamous, the male often only spending the minimum of time with the female who then takes care of all parental duties, including nest building and feeding.
Both the males and females live solitary, territorial lives, and are often aggressive towards one another and even other small animals or insects that also occupy their territory.
It’s worth mentioning that the behaviours of many species of hummingbirds are poorly documented, for they are small and secretive birds that live deep in their dense habits. In all probability, however, no species of hummingbirds are even remotely monogamous.
A pair of hummingbirds fighting over territory
Many species of birds are solitary, including snipes, flycatchers, chats, warblers and robins. Some of the advantages of solitary behaviour include increased autonomy when selecting nesting sites and food - each bird can make its own independent decision without following the flock.
One of the key reasons why hummingbirds evolved solitary behaviour is likely to increase the probability of successful breeding, as the male can mate with multiple females over the breeding season. Since egg clutch sizes are small, this is likely an advantage given the relatively short lifespan of these tiny birds.
There is no specific collective noun for a group of baby hummingbirds, and instead, they are generally referred to as either hatchlings, nestlings, fledglings or chicks, depending on the stage of life they are at.
To learn about when these names are used for baby birds, check out this article.
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