See that ruby-throated hummingbird sitting on a branch in the picture above? Let's say the branch is on a mimosa tree, and let's say that mimosa tree is located in Atlanta, Georgia. Suddenly, the hummingbird takes to the air, with wings beating an average of about 50 times per second. If it flew as far as it possibly could without stopping, where do you think it would land? On the other side of the city? Or could that little ruby-throated hummingbird make it all the way to Alabama or Tennessee, all in one flight?
Guess again, but think farther — much, much farther.
New research published today in the journal The Auk: Ornithological Advances shows that the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) can fly approximately 1,370 miles (2,200 kilometers) without taking a break. That's like flying non-stop from Atlanta to Albuquerque, from Beirut to Budapest, or from Tokyo to Taipei.
Every fall the birds migrate from the eastern U.S. all the way to Central America. During the seasonal migrations from 2010 to 2014, the University of Southern Mississippi researchers behind the new study captured 2,729 individual hummingbirds as they migrated through southern Alabama. The scientists tracked the birds' habits and measured their flight, then analyzed mass and wingspan and used a computer program to predict flight range.
Full-grown specimens of the red-throated hummingbird usually measure about 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) long, meaning they can fly a mind-boggling 29 million times the length of their body in one go. Relative to human body size, that'd be like Superman leaping into the air and taking one-and-a-half trips around the globe before landing, traveling 33,000 miles (53,000 kilometers).
Scientists don't know whether the ruby-throated hummingbird migrates across the Gulf of Mexico or travels around the body of water, but the research suggests that, given favorable weather conditions, it's possible.