Male hummingbirds participate in a ritual mating dance that includes flying in certain patterns, flashing their plumage, and dive-bombing their potential suitors. Once a female hummingbird accepts the courtship, copulation and fertilization happens in a mere 4 seconds while the female is perched on a branch.
Despite the elusive nature of hummingbirds, mating practices have been observed and recorded by photographers, ornithologists, and scientists nationwide. As a bird species known for its small size and bright colors, hummingbirds use their physical characteristics to aid in their mating ritual. Through observation, researchers have learned the specifics of how hummingbird mating works.
Many North American states and Canadian provinces are hosts to hummingbird mating season. Read on to find out how hummingbirds mate and the basics of how females raise baby hummingbirds.
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What Is The Mating Ritual For Hummingbirds?
The hummingbird mating ritual is full of flashy displays and daring maneuvers. Starting in the spring season, male hummingbirds will begin to descend to their territories where they will perform acrobatics as they work to impress a female hummingbird. The male hummingbird will conduct a courtship display dance, that includes several flashy loops, zigzags, and dive-bombs.
Male hummingbirds will also fly into the sunlight and show off their colors, flash their tail feathers, and even puff up their chests. The female will just watch attentively as they decide whether or not the male is worth the affair. Female hummingbirds will even be sung to with a few romantic whistles and chirps.
Males perform courtship dives. They fly up into the air and then dive near the ground, pulling up just before they crash in hopes a female will choose to mate with them. Once in front of the female, males flap their wings as fast as possible, creating a humming sound to impress her.
The Females Choose
After females arrive to their spring and summer territory, they begin to build a nest and wait for their suitors. Female hummingbirds ensure the areas they choose have plenty of food sources, whether flowers or hummingbird feeders. Female hummingbirds signal a male to their nesting area.
This is his moment to do his best to impress his potential mate. He begins his courtship ritual as the female watches. Once he’s done, the female will either choose him by pointing her beak straight at him or dismiss him by flying away. If she’s not impressed by his mating display, he’ll have to find another female and start all over.
What Time Of Year Do Hummingbirds Mate?
Hummingbird mating season is in early spring in the US and Canada. In southern places, the mating season can start as early as January as the weather is more permitting and food sources are beginning to thrive. In northern areas, the mating season starts later closer to the warmer months such as mid-march and May. The mating season can begin as early as mid-December in South America and the tropics.
In the US and Canada, Hummingbirds begin arriving in mid-March to their breeding grounds. Males typically arrive 1-2 weeks before females. They stake out the best territories with the most food sources and wait. Once the females arrive, mating season begins.
How and Where Do Hummingbirds Mate?
Though the male performs daring displays in mid-air, the actual process of mating takes place on a branch or other perch where the female can sit. The male must be able to come behind her to fertilize the eggs, and she must stay still. Sometimes the female may join the male in the air during the courtship display, but hummingbirds don’t actually mate in the air.
The male hummingbird presses his posterior opening, called a cloaca, to the female’s cloaca. Male hummingbirds don’t have an exterior penis, so this is how they fertilize the female’s eggs. The act of copulation will last only a short duration, about 3-5 seconds.
Do Hummingbirds Mate For Life?
Hummingbirds do not mate for life. Once the male has finished mating with one female, he flies off to find another female to mate with. Male hummingbirds mate with several females during a season. The rest of the work to continue the survival of the species is left entirely to the female.
Examples of Mating Rituals
Researchers and bird watchers have observed the mating rituals of many hummingbirds. Here are a few specific examples. PBS has even created numerous documentaries on hummingbird life and mating rituals.
Anna’s hummingbirds have a well-known mating ritual. The male hummingbird performs giant swoops through the air. He repeatedly flies to great heights and dive-bombs the female, stopping just inches from her.
During their mating ritual, male Anna’s Hummingbirds fly at some of the fastest speeds recorded of any vertebrae.
Much like Anna’s Hummingbird, the male Rufous flies in an oval shape—first extremely high in the air, then racing down towards the female. When the male gets in close proximity to the female, he also sings.
The male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird doesn’t fly as high as Anna’s hummingbird. Instead, the male Ruby-Throated prefers to fly horizontally in mid-air in front of the female, flashing his red-colored throat feathers.
Much like the Ruby-Throated, male Costa’s Hummingbirds stay lower in the air and fly horizontally in front of the female. They flash their iridescent purple throat feathers in hopes they will get to mate with the female.
How Big Are Hummingbird Nests?
Nests are generally the size of a golf ball. The female Hummingbird is in charge of building the nest on her own and usually does so at the beginning of the mating season even before finding a mate. Nesting material includes
- soft, spongy material like plant leaves
- other soft vegetation
The nests are held together with spider webs. Females line the bottom with a more spongy material to cushion the eggs. Most hummingbirds chose nesting sites in forks of trees or shrubs.
Some hummingbird species build nests at the highest points in the trees, while others prefer to be closer to the ground. Since the nest is made with so much flexible material, it can gently expand as the baby birds grow.
How Many Eggs Do Hummingbirds Lay?
Female hummingbirds lay two eggs at a time. After mating, the female finishes her nest, lays her eggs, hatches them, and feeds her young—all without the help of a male hummingbird. A female can only care for two baby hummingbirds at a time so that she won’t lay more than two eggs. Females have up to 2 broods or two sets of eggs in a nesting season.
The female will incubate the eggs for 16-18 days before they hatch. Females then care for each fledging (baby bird) for 18-22 days. After this, the growing hummingbirds will leave the nest to find food on their own.