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Meet the Hummingbird on Bird Holidays to South America

Bird holidays to South American countries offer the chance to encounter many species of one of the world's smallest birds – the beautiful hummingbird.

Professionally organised bird holidays offer amateur bird watchers the opportunity to encounter a wide variety of species in a range of interesting destinations. Many participants on bird holidays are keen to see the endemic species, others are looking for rare ones, while others may be on the trail of a particular bird. For those travelling to South America, it is often any of the more than 300 species of one of the world's smallest avian species - the hummingbird.

Small But Perfectly Formed

Hummingbirds make up the Trochilidae family, with their name coming from the incredibly fast flapping of their wings (up to 90 beats per second), which emanates a humming noise. The sound is governed by the number of wing flaps per second, and every species has a different 'hum'.

They average in size from around 7-13cm with the smallest, the Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae), measuring just 5-6cm and the largest, the Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas), around 23cm.

Where They're Found

These resourceful little birds exist across a wide geographical area of the Western Hemisphere. Most are found in warmer countries of the southern Americas, but they are found all the way up to southeastern Alaska and down to Chile. Most species do not migrate, but those that do have the stamina and ability to journey vast distances – with some travelling in excess of 2,000 miles, twice a year.

What They Eat

Being so small and expending so much energy (through their rapid heart rate and high body temperature), hummingbirds need to eat a lot and often – up to twice their body weight every day. They have a very long bill, which is tapered in order to get into flowers to reach the nectar, as well as a long tongue covered with tiny hairs to 'lap'. (Contrary to popular belief they do not use their beak as a straw.) They can visit up to 1,000 flowers every day to feed and they also occasionally eat insects, pollen and tree sap. 

Fast Facts

  • They fly in all directions, including sideways and backwards – the only species that can do so.
  • They hover by flapping their wings in a figure-8 pattern.
  • Their feet are so tiny they only use them for perching and they do not walk on the ground.
  • They can hide their iridescent feathers when they need to.
  • They have incredibly well developed hearing and sight, but no sense of smell.
  • The females are larger than the males.
  • During courtship the males' wings flap up to 200 beats per second.
  • Their wings rotate in a full circle.
  • Extremely territorial, it's not uncommon for them to chase away even very large birds.
  • They can fly at speeds of up to 55kph.
  • When resting they go into a 'torpor', when the body temperature drops dramatically and their metabolic rate decreases.

Bird Holidays to South America

For those looking to encounter the hummingbird, professionally organised bird holidays to South America offer the ideal opportunity. Accompanied by an experienced naturalist guideComputer Technology Articles, they take participants to places including the wildlife-rich national parks in the rural lowlands of Bolivia and the diverse landscape of coastal and inland Chile.  

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Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in bird watching. As a passionate lover of birds, Marissa chooses the expert-led bird holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.

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