What do you call a group of hummingbirds? And are you ever going to see hummingbirds flocking together in a group like other social birds?
Most of the time, we see just one hummingbird here or there. Sometimes, you may see several hummingbirds visiting the same feeder or group of flowers. But are they really grouping together in the way that other birds do?
A gathering of hummingbirds has a poetic label. They are called “bouquet,” “shimmer,” or “charm.” What lovely imagery! But these descriptive terms are not ones you’ll use very often, as hummingbirds are actually quite solitary creatures.
Let’s explore when hummingbirds congregate in groups and when they are independent creatures.
Hummingbirds in Groups at Feeders
One of the only places that hummingbirds will congregate is at a feeder — especially if there is not a lot of food in an area or if the feeders provide an especially large amount of their nutrition.
Hummingbirds will gather in groups as large as a dozen, perching in nearby branches, waiting for their turn to feed. They are also watching for danger during this time.
Although they do take turns, they are also willing to skirmish with one another to compete for food sources. Dominant males will chase away “lesser” birds, sometimes engaging in hostile-looking conflicts. They will fight over natural resources, too, not just at nectar-filled feeders.
Some ways to prevent this fighting include having multiple hummingbird feeders, hanging feeders so that they are out of eyesight of one another, and making sure that all of your feeders’ ports are clean and flowing.
Hummingbirds spend the vast majority of their time feeding on their own. They prefer to visit flowers one by one, without company. Because they consume up to half of their body weight in nectar every day, foraging for nectar-rich blooms takes up a big portion of their day!
Males will establish a territory and defend it vigorously from other hummingbirds. They will protect their favorite nectar sources and chase other birds away. Guarding these prime spots also helps them to attract potential mates.
Hummingbird Nesting & Parenting
Many bird species pair up for the nesting and breeding season. They may migrate or overwinter in large groups, but the breeding season is usually more solitary than other times of the year.
Hummingbirds are solitary during this time, too. You won’t encounter a bouquet of hummingbirds during the breeding season because the females are busy raising their young, and the males are busy defending their territory.
The female builds her nest entirely on her own. She constructs a tiny, delicate nest out of spider webs, moss, and down feathers. The 1-2 inch wide cup-shaped nest is placed high in a tree, away from predators. These nests are so small that it is a real treasure to see one!
Their nests remain isolated from one another, providing privacy and security.
The female lays between 1 and 3 tiny eggs in her nest. Each one is only about the size of a green pea! She incubates the eggs on her own, for about two weeks. Although other kinds of birds collaborate with their mate on nesting, male and female hummingbirds have pretty much nothing to do with each other during this time.
In fact, because the colorful male could attract predators’ attention to the location of the nest, females do not even allow their mates to come close to the nest during this time.
The most collaborative interaction hummingbirds will have with others in their lifetime is when they are young. Little hatchlings need to be fed by their mother hundreds of times a day. She consumes insects and nectar and then regurgitates it for them to eat.
Hummingbirds leave the nest after only 2-3 weeks. They are independent immediately after leaving the nest, and they are ready to live their own mostly solitary life.
Hummingbirds in Migration — Do They Travel in Groups?
Birds that are solitary during most of the year sometimes gather together in large, migratory groups. It makes sense to wonder if hummingbirds migrate together, too.
But if you are sensing a theme when it comes to hummingbirds, you’d be right: migration is a solo act, too!
Migration may actually be the greatest demonstration of a hummingbird’s solitary nature. Species like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird undertake incredible nonstop journeys across vast geographic landscapes, like oceans and prairies. In a single night, some hummingbirds can make the 500-600-mile trip across the Gulf of Mexico — all alone!
Western species of hummingbirds traverse huge deserts and mountain ranges during their migration. And not once do these birds congregate in bouquets, shimmers, or charms!
One of the most fascinating parts of this behavior is that it means that hummingbirds don’t learn their migratory behaviors from one another. Young hummingbirds that are making their first-ever migration do not get any guidance from their parents, who travel independently as well. It is fascinating when you realize that hummingbirds travel on their own, intuitively understanding the paths they should take year after year.
Hummingbird Winter Behavior
Once they reach their tropical wintering grounds, hummingbirds’ behavior changes somewhat but remains primarily solitary.
Because they no longer need to attract mates or defend breeding territory, males are less aggressive about defending feeding areas from each other. However, they continue feeding on nectar from flowers and hummingbird feeders across a wide geographic range throughout the day.
Consuming enough calories remains critical for them to survive the winter and prepare for the northward return migration.
To conserve energy on cold nights and during winter storms, hummingbirds rely heavily on torpor. Their metabolic rate and body temperature drop dramatically as they enter a deep hibernation-like state for hours at a time. By early spring, their internal cues tell them it is time to begin the long migration back north to their breeding grounds. Males depart first so they can establish the best territory upon arrival, and females arrive later to initiate breeding season again.
So, Will You Ever See a “Charm” of Hummingbirds?
Although there are names for groups of hummingbirds, you are never going to see a charm or shimmer of hummingbirds in the way that you will see a flock of other birds.
A temporary gathering of hummingbirds may appear to be a friendly social occasion, but these energetic little birds in fact lead primarily solitary lives — and most gatherings are competitive in nature.
From surviving perilous migrations alone to raising young without a mate, hummingbirds are truly on their own. Their brief congregations at feeders provide just a fleeting glimpse into the hummingbird’s largely solitary existence. From migration to nesting, they are truly solo artists.