Adaptations That Help Hummingbirds Survive

Every species is unique, even if it has close relatives. And every species lives only in certain places in the world. Some species, like Mallards, are generalists that can survive in many kinds of habitats eating a wide variety of food--Mallards are found on every continent except Antarctica. Other species, like the Nene (also called the Hawaiian Goose) are specialists, living in a more restricted range with special dietary or habitat requirements--Nene's feed on berries and grasses on Hawaiian islands. They have very little webbing between their toes, an adaptation for walking on jagged volcanic rock

Rufous and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are both specialists AND generalists! They migrate and nest over a broad geographical range like generalists. They mostly eat nectar and tiny insects, like specialists, but can branch out to take sap from sapsucker drill holes and can even eat willow catkins when a sudden cold snap makes other spring foods scarce.

Any ornithologist seeing a hummingbird for the first time could instantly guess that this bird eats liquid food from flowers, flies long distances flapping every moment, and has some sort of adaptation for staying alive on freezing nights or cold, rainy days. How? By understanding how bird bodies and behavior are adapted to habitat and food requirements.

In this lesson, we'll look at a hummingbird's body from head to tail tip to see just how this bird is designed precisely for the kind of life it leads. Students will then engage in an activity to see what they'd need to add to their own bodies to live like hummingbirds.

Follow these links to learn about hummingbird adaptations!

Beak and Head




Activity: The Match Game
The most important part of a human body is the brain, which allows us to solve a lot of problems and adapt to a lot of different environments without changing our whole body. Let's think of some human inventions and how they could help us live like hummingbirds.

Human Inventions and Hummer Adaptations!
Directions: Match the hummer's needs with a human invention that allows us to do what hummers do naturally. (Print student worksheet.)

Hummingbird Need

Human Invention

1. Discover flowers and detect enemies from a long distance A. Drinking straw
2. Sit on high tree branches without falling off B. Thermostat
3. Eat nectar fom inside flowers C. Hat, jacket, raincoat
4. Catch flying insects D. Cars, buses, trains, or airplanes
5. Breathe at high altitudes E. Calendar
6. Fly long distances without resting F. Helicopter
7. Migrate long distances without getting lost G. Tree house
8. Keep warm and dry in bad weather H. Map and compass
9. Hover in one place I. Insect net
10. Save energy when sleeping on cool nights J. Oxygen tank
11. Know when it's time to migrate K. Binoculars or telescope