Did you know that hummingbirds are not only the smallest bird family in the world but also the lightest? With some species weighing less than a ping pong ball, hummers are truly the featherweights of the bird world!
But how much do the largest hummingbirds weigh, and how do these winged jewels maintain their weight while they’re on their long-distance migrations across the sea?
In this article, I’ll be putting hummers on the scales to reveal how these miracles of nature appear to defy every law of physics.
Hummingbirds Species, From the Heaviest to the Lightest
Hummingbirds are a remarkably diverse family that consists of 113 genera, so their size and weight vary considerably from species to species. There’s no such thing as the ‘average hummingbird’!
The Heaviest Hummingbird in the World
The largest and heaviest species of hummingbird in the world is the giant hummingbird (Patagona gigas).
Weighing in at 18–24 g (0.63–0.85 oz), giant hummingbirds weigh about the same as four US nickels. They have a wingspan of approximately 21.5 cm (8.5 in) and a length of 23 cm (9.1 in).
Although they have approximately the same body length as a European starling, the giant hummingbird typically weighs 3-5 g less than that species owing to its incredibly light build and long bill which accounts for much of its total length.
Still, the giant hummingbird’s weight is around 4 times that of the second-largest hummingbird species! The runner-up in terms of size is the long-tailed sylph which can grow up to 19 cm long, but only weigh 5-6 grams!
The Lightest Hummingbird in The World
The world’s lightest hummingbird is also, unsurprisingly, the smallest bird on the planet.
The bee hummingbird, zunzuncito, or Helena hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) are endemic to Cuba in the Caribbean Sea. As with many hummingbirds, the male of this species is slightly smaller and lighter than the females, and only averages an astonishingly minuscule 1.95g (0.069oz) in weight!
This unbelievably light weight can only be comprehended when we offer up this bird’s insect-like dimensions. Male bee hummingbirds measure on average just 2+1⁄8 in – making them only as long as the width of a credit card (mind-bending, I know).
Bee hummingbirds are aptly named since they really might appear more like a large insect than a bird! They’re smaller than several hawk moth and dragonfly species, and can sometimes be preyed upon by spiders!
Beating their wings at over 80 beats per second, bee hummingbirds sometimes need to visit over 1,000 flowers per day just to sustain their body weight.
Bee hummingbirds need to be seen to be bee-lieved! Maybe this video will help you understand their proportions better.
The Heaviest Hummingbird in the United States
The blue-throated mountain gem is the largest species as well as the heaviest hummingbird in the USA. Measuring 4.4-5.0 inches long, males average 8.4 g (0.30 oz), while females are lighter at 6.8 g (0.24 oz) in weight.
Blue-throated mountain gems are only seen in a few states however, when they cross the border from Mexico into Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona for the breeding season.
The Lightest Hummingbird in the United States
The Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope) is the smallest and lightest of all birds in the USA and Canada. Measuring 7-10cm long, Calliopes weigh in at just 2-3g (0.071 to 0.106 oz).
These stunning birds overwinter in Mexico but can be seen in scattered locations in the Western United States and Canada during the breeding season.
Are Male Hummingbirds Lighter Than Females?
There’s a popular notion that female hummingbirds are always larger and heavier than males. While this is true of many smaller hummingbirds including several North American species, other larger hummingbirds reverse the trend.
For example, females of the tiny rufous hummingbird are usually slightly larger than their male partners, but the opposite applies to the larger blue-throated mountain gem.
How Much Do Hummingbird Eggs Weigh?
Hummingbird eggs are so small that they’re often compared to jelly beans! While egg sizes vary from species to species, most eggs of US hummers weigh less than a gram each – yes, that’s less than a paperclip in weight!
Comprehending Hummingbird Weights: Half a Credit Card?!
Hummers are so tiny that it can be difficult to fathom just how little they really weigh. Looking again at some of the species above, how does their weight compare with common household objects?
Half a Credit Card
A useful unit to measure small birds by is the weight of a credit card, which weighs 5 grams.
Amazingly, even the largest of all hummers, the giant hummingbird weighs only as much as 4 credit cards. Believe it or not, the Calliope hummingbird of the Rocky Mountains weighs only as much as a credit card cut in half – that’s about the same as a ping-pong ball!
Less Than a Soda Bottle Cap
Another unit of weight we can all relate to is the lid of a soda bottle.
While soda caps only weigh 2.22 grams, that’s still heavier than the smallest hummingbird in the world. Remember how we mentioned that the male bee hummingbird only weighs 1.95 grams?
Two US Pennies
While old United States pennies were heavier, the newer copper-plated steel pennies weigh about 3.5 grams each.
Two of these weigh 7 grams – about the average weight of the largest hummer in the USA, the blue-throated mountain gem.
The Weight of Hummingbirds Around the World
Did you know that hummingbirds are found wild in most regions of the Americas but not in any other continent? Although fossil records show that hummingbirds once lived in Europe, they’re now only found from Alaska to Patagonia, and some offshore islands.
But how does the weight of the winged jewels vary between regions?
Hummers of the Caribbean
As we’ve already discovered, the tiniest of the tribe, the bee hummingbird can only be found in Cuba.
A close relative of the bee hummingbird, the vervain hummingbird (Mellisuga minima) is probably the second-smallest hummer in the world and is also only found in Jamaica and Hispaniola.
So we know that some of the smallest hummers in the world live in the Caribbean – a truly tropical region where they don’t need as much body weight to insulate themselves against cold temperatures.
Mountain Jewels of the Andes
The world’s heaviest hummingbird, on the other hand, inhabits much more chilly domains than its Caribbean cousins!
Breeding at up to 4600m above sea level, the giant hummingbird needs plenty of extra body weight to pull through cold nights in the Andes of Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.
Scientists studying the giant hummingbird and five other Andean mountain species discovered that these birds maintain their body weights by entering an incredibly deep state of torpor each night.
While their heart rate sometimes exceeds 1000 beats per minute during the day, these mountain hummers reduce their pulse rate to around 50 beats per minute and their body temperature to just above freezing (36°F).
This incredible evolutionary strategy enables them to retain body fat and keep their weight up!
Although there are no true hummingbirds in the rest of the world, there are some exquisitely brightly colored nectar-eating birds in Africa, Asia, and parts of Australasia.
The sunbird family are distant relatives of hummingbirds but are larger and significantly heavier. The largest sunbirds can grow to around 10 inches long and weigh around one and a half ounces.
But while sunbirds are outdone by hummingbirds in the contest for compact size, they beat all other birds in the world in the prize for the longest bird name (I’m not kidding)!
Hummingbird Weight and Migration
For decades, people couldn’t understand how the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird could transmigrate the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean on their way to and from Panama and Mexico to the Eastern United States.
In 2016, researchers finally uncovered some of the incredible strategies that made this feat possible, and recorded adults doubling their fat reserves by feeding greedily on nectar from flowers and hummingbird feeders in the lead-up to their journey.
The fat is then used for energy and hydration to fuel the tiny birds to fly up to 1,300 miles without food or water.
With 366 different species in the family, hummingbirds are a vast and diverse tribe of beautiful birds with some of the most extraordinary evolutionary adaptations in the natural world.
The largest giant hummingbirds weigh around ten times as much as the tiniest bee hummingbirds and some hummingbirds almost double their weight before migrating enormous distances without stopping.
You can learn more about the hummingbird’s epic feats of migration in our dedicated guide, here.