North, Central, and South America


Wide variety of habitats, from sea level up to 16,500 feet (5,000 meters)

Little birds with big appeal

Hummingbirds include the smallest birds in the world, but they belong to one of the largest group of birds, the Trochilidae family. These enchanting birds are found in deserts, mountains, and plains, but most live in tropical rain forests. Their name refers to the humming sound made by their tiny, beating wings; each species creates a different humming sound, depending on the speed of its wing beats. In the Caribbean, people call the hummingbird el zunzun. These energetic dynamos have been around for ages; hummingbird fossils found in Germany are said to be more than 30 million years old.

Creatures big and small

There are 328 hummingbird species. The smallest is the bee hummingbird from Cuba, and the largest is the giant hummingbird from South America. Hummingbird bills come in different sizes and shapes, too. The long, slender bill is adapted to collect nectar from flowers. The bill protects the long, split tongue and allows each hummingbird species to feed from specific types of flowers. Hummingbirds are called nectivores, because about 90 percent of their diet is the nectar from flowers. They also snack on insects, which they often catch by “hawking.” A hummingbird “hawks” insects by flying and diving to snap them up out of the air.

Hummingbirds like to take baths several times a day.
One of the fastest birds is the green violet-ear hummingbird. It can fly up to 93 miles per hour (150 kilometers per hour) for short distances.
Hummingbirds are so quick that they can easily escape predators like snakes, falcons, jays, toucans, and cats, unless they are taken by surprise.
The Anna's hummingbird is commonly seen in San Diego gardens all year. It was named for a 19th-century duchess, Anna Massena. The male bird has a red throat and crown.
Hummingbirds have good memories to help them remember where to find their food. It helps if you keep your hummingbird feeders filled for them.
Hummingbirds can move fast and in all directions, reaching freeway speeds when they swoop into a dive.
The average hummingbird eats half its weight in sugar every day.
It’s estimated that the average hummingbird needs a meal every 15 minutes.
The ruby-throated hummingbird has the smallest number of feathers ever counted on any bird.
Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backward.
To conserve energy, a hummingbird’s body temperature drops from 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5 degrees Celsius) to as low as 65 degrees F (18 degrees C) at night.

Our hummingbird aviary

The Kenton C. Lint Hummingbird Aviary opened at the San Diego Zoo in 1964 with 105 Brazilian hummingbirds representing 23 species. Mr. Lint was a Zoo employee for 40 years, including 28 years as our bird curator. He was truly an avicultural pioneer and established 465 bird-breeding records, including the first hatching in a zoo of a thick-billed parrot and a blue-crowned lorry. He is honored as a member of the Avicultural Hall of Fame. Hummingbirds were on his list of favorites; upon retirement, Mr. Lint dedicated his time to writing a book about them.

Today, the hummingbird aviary is home to white-necked jacobins, as well as other birds such as tanagers and sun bitterns. Located between the Zoo’s Wegeforth Bowl and the Children’s Zoo, the aviary has tropical plantings and a natural stone waterfall that helps to maintain high humidity for the birds and plants and serves as a birdbath, too. Visitors may walk though, entering and leaving through two pairs of doors. A viewing area along the south side of the aviary offers a place to sit and watch the birds fly by.


All new birds to the exhibit start out in a “howdy cage,” a cage placed within the exhibit while the bird safely adjusts to its new environment. After a few days, the keeper opens the door to the howdy cage and, when good and ready, the newcomer takes off into its new home. Plants are an integral part of the exhibit, as the birds build their nests with plant material and use the plants as hosts for their nests and to rest on. Plants in our hummingbird aviary include bromeliads, impatiens, fuchsias, and orchids. The hummingbird aviary can be a peaceful place to observe many of nature’s feathered wonders!

Local hummers

Did you know that San Diego County is home to five hummingbird species? Three are migratory—Allen’s, rufous, and black-chinned hummingbirds—and two are residents—Costa’s hummingbirds, often found around desert washes, and Anna’s hummingbirds, the ones we commonly see in our gardens all year. Summer is a good time to look for hummingbirds. Listen for the telltale buzz, and look up—as fast as you can! Are your eyes sharp enough to follow a hyperactive hummer to its next nectar stop?

The metallic or iridescent color of hummingbird feathers and minute size of the bird itself made the hummingbird a target for collectors in the 19th century; wealthy people often displayed a case of stuffed hummingbirds in their home. Fortunately, most hummingbird species have adapted to the presence of humans. It is important to keep native plants in hummingbird habitat so the birds still have food available. Gardens that include hummingbird-friendly flowers have helped strike a balance with humans in hummingbird habitat. However, in many parts of the world the human population is growing so fast that hummingbirds are losing their habitat.

To help hummingbirds in your own neighborhood, check your local plant nursery for plants that attract these tiny treasures. If you’d like to place feeders in your yard for hummingbirds, use a feeder made of glass rather than plastic, and make sure you change the sugar water (four parts water to one part sugar) at least every other day—hummers can get tongue rot from a fungus that forms in standing sugar water. Red dye is not necessary to use in the water for more than just a day or two. As soon as the hummers have found the feeder, discontinue use of the food coloring, as they’ll remember where it is.

And please, if you own a cat, be sure it remains an indoor pet. Pet cats allowed to roam can cause problems for hummingbirds. Be a part of the solution!