Hummingbird Anatomy - An Easy Guide
for Bird Watchers

Hummingbirds are known for their sweet whistling sounds but their whistles alone cannot help us identify them. Read on to learn about their anatomy.

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Iñigo Navarro

May 23, 2021


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What’s This Post About?

As unique as it may appear, hummingbirds have some distinct features that make them different from other birds. Yet, identifying them at first glance can still be quite tricky.

The bird is not only quick to vanish, appears tiny to the naked eye but is also quite adamant when it comes to interaction. Therefore, identifying it often becomes a complicated job for bird lovers who wish to identify the visiting birds in their backyards.

The anatomy of hummingbirds includes its bill, crown, auriculars, chin, throat, bosom, wings, flanks, posterior, legs, undertail coverts, and tail. Understanding the anatomy of hummingbirds helps bird watchers to identify hummingbirds at the first glimpse.

a striking hummingbird

What Is Anatomy?

Anatomy is a detailed study of the arrangement of the body parts and patterns of humans, animals, and various living organisms.

How Can Hummingbirds Be Identified?

To catch a bird's view which is quick to vanish, you need to have a sharp sight like a hawk.

Hummingbirds can be identified through multiple parts of their body including their bill, crown, auriculars, chin, throat, bosom, wings, flanks, posterior, legs, undertail coverts, and tail.

Once you learn about every distinct feature of their body, it becomes effortless to recognize the hovering bird even if it lurks around the secluded attic of your backyard.

Also, the numerous peculiarities of a hummingbird that makes it stand out from the rest of the birds are due to its unique body parts. Read ahead to learn more about its body parts!

What Does a Body of a Hummingbird Comprise?

Ostensibly, a hummingbird has everything that birds normally have. A crown, a tail, and wings. Nonetheless, is it as normal as it seems? The hummingbird is known for its peculiarities and its body is one of the various distinct features it is well-known for.

Let’s understand the anatomy of hummingbirds to study this striking bird in more detail.

1. Bill

a hummingbird bill

The bill of a hummingbird adds to the top of the list of oddities these tiny little birdies have. It was supposed by many that it’s the bill that does the main task in enabling these small hoverers to suck the nectar out of the flower to satiate their never-ending, hefty appetite.

However, the main function of this bill is merely to probe into the tubular body of the flowers.

The bill is a sharp needle-like shape that pokes into the flower, enabling the sweet-whistlers to suck the nectar using their tongue and not their bill to suck it up as straw does.

Fun Fact

The bill of a hummingbird is around 15-20 millimeters in length.

2. Crown

a hummingbird crown

The vibrant and multi-colored top of the bird’s head is known as the crown. To ensure adequate recognition of a hummingbird’s crown, observe the pigmentation on the crown in different shades of light.

The crown is also one of the distinctive body parts of this sweet little whistler and while some may show various shades of hue on their crown, others may have only a single color.

3. Auriculars

The auriculars lie just below the eye of the hummingbirds. They represent the cheekbone patches while displaying the several color patterns on them in varying light.

Sometimes, the female hummingbirds exhibit gray coloration on their auriculars. However, the pigmentations may vary in genders and from species to species.

4. Chin

a hummingbird chin

Since the bird is so puny, therefore, it becomes quite impossible to catch a glimpse of their chin at the first sight. However, it is their very chin that helps us to recognize some species due to their varying coloration on the chin.

For example, some hummingbirds including the broad-tailed hummingbirds have different pigmentations such as purple, gray, white, or even golden and pink.

5. Throat

a hummingbird throat

The throat plays a vital role in the quest of distinguishing hummingbirds from other birds since it is easy to spot. The throat or gorget of these sweet little hovering creatures tends to be immersed in varying colors.

The males mostly display colors such as purple, orange, red, golden, even blue, and pink. Nonetheless, the females tend to exhibit shades of gray or appear pearl white that aids in identifying them from afar.

6. Bosom

a hummingbird bosom

This may be a bit tricky but a breast is the most prominent body part of a hummingbird. Tricky it may be because the color of the throat may not always be different from the chest.

In case the shade is slightly different, to differentiate the bosom from the throat would only be through a fade pigmentation that appears as a boundary between the two parts.

Nonetheless, the disparity of colors on the chest of hummingbirds is an essential identification mark that helps to distinguish between the various species.

7. Wings

hummingbird wings

Listen closely to check if you can hear a buzzy flapping sound in your backyards. The hummingbirds are known for flapping their wings so fast that it becomes impossible to see and distinguish the wings when in motion.

However, as the birds rest, you can observe that their wings appear as sharp blades that help them flap and hover in the air.

Fun Fact

The wings of a hummingbird enable it to beat 70-78 times in a second.

8. Flanks

Flanks are the sides of a hummingbird’s body. It has a different color than the rest of the body. It may be plain or brushed in a faint shade of a pigment.

Regardless, the color transitioning among the bosom and flanks can help determine which species is which, proving itself helpful enough to identify this antisocial yet colorful bird.

9. Posterior

hummingbird posterior

The rump and posterior exhibit a color disparity which makes identification much easier. The contrasting color range of the posterior and rump have always proven to be one of the most accurate pieces of information to distinguish a hummingbird from a regular bird.

Observe closely the varying colors of the rear to distinguish not only between other birds but amongst the species and genders as well.

10. Legs

hummingbird legs

Too tiny to be seen that they may appear as a blotch, the legs of hummingbirds are not easy to observe as they hover around your yard.

They are fragile and may not let these birds hop as the regular birds do.

They may also not play an essential role in helping to identify a hummingbird; however, it is better to know where these legs are located on their body to avoid mistaking those legs as a color spot.

11. Undertail coverts

hummingbird undertail coverts

The unstoppable hovering of hummingbirds in the air has led many observers to have a satisfactory glance at the under-tail coverts. Some species may have a color burst on the under-tail coverts while some may have a pearly white or with a splotch of color on them.

These under-tail coverts have also proven fruitful in identifying the tiny hoverer from others.

12. Tail

a hummingbird tail

The tail of a hummingbird works like a charm when it comes to identification. It has various features that enable bird watchers to identify them in the first catch of the glimpse.

Firstly, their tail is divided into ten feathers, five on each side. Secondly, the tip of their feathers is white which makes them highly distinguishable among other birds.

Warning

Capture them but NOT in a cage but in your camera.

What’s Distinctive about Hummingbirds?

The two most important characteristics that differentiate hummingbirds from other birds include their tongue and their heart rate, two non-visible elements.

1. Tongue

It is not the bill but the tongue that does the main job when it comes to satiating their hefty appetite. The bill is just a protective sheath around the mouth that protects a more important part, the tongue. Their thin and long tongue uses elastic energy to suck up the nectar.

2. Heart Rate

These tiny little hoverers have such a high-paced heart rate that even if we try to hear it beat, all we will notice is a buzzing sound. Scientific data suggests that their wings tend to beat around 1200 times in 60 seconds.

Did You Know?

The hummingbird is the only bird that can fly back and forth and up and down. Also, it is the only bird that can hover in the air for a significant period.

Keep Reading!

When you see a small bird hovering about in the air and flying not only back and forth but also up and down, you can make out that it’s a hummingbird in your backyard.

However, if such is not the case and the hummingbird is resting on a twig, you can identify it through its bill, crown, auriculars, chin, throat, bosom, wings, flanks, posterior, legs, undertail coverts, or tail.

Hummingbirds may appear harmless and sweet. However, they are also known for their anti-social behavior and may not settle easily around you.

To keep them coming to your yard, read our post to know how you can place a hummingbird feeder in its right position, to enable you to have a better observation as they hover around the bird feeder.

Sun or Shade? Somewhere In Between? Hang Your Hummingbird Feeder for Best Results!

Where should hummingbird feeders be placed, in sun or shade? It is better to place them in the shade to protect them from the environment.

Iñigo Navarro Picture

By Iñigo Navarro

Bird Watching USA

My name is Inigo and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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Iñigo Navarro Picture

Iñigo Navarro

Bird Watching USA

My name is Inigo and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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