Hummingbird fossils are inexistent. It is thus very difficult to date their appearance on Earth. However, DNA analysis has permitted the identification of genetic links between various hummingbird species and also with other birds. In light of these analyses, it seems that the hummingbird has the same ancestry as the swift, dating back some 35 million years. This is why trochilidae are part of the same order as swifts, the apodiform order, birds with pointed wings and very short feet.
Hummingbird fossils are inexistent. It is thus very difficult to date their appearance on Earth. However, DNA analysis has permitted the identification of genetic links between various hummingbird species and also with other birds. In light of these analyses, it seems that the hummingbird has the same ancestry as the swift, dating back some 35 million years. This is why trochilidae are part of the same order as swifts, the apodiform order, birds with pointed wings and very short feet.

© Musée de la nature et des sciences de Sherbrooke 2007. All rights reserved.

Chimney Swift

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

Credit: Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada

© Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada


Thousands of plant species depend solely on hummingbirds for pollination. In turn, hummingbirds are very heavily energy-dependent on flowers for their source of food throughout the year. The evolving relationship between hummingbirds and plants is a good example of mutualism, resulting in the multiple adaptations observed in flowers and hummingbirds. The most striking observation is the close relationship that exists between the shape and length of the hummingbird beak and the morphology of the flowers from which they feed. This evolutionary adaptation of the beak took place at the same time as the adaptation of flowers. Certain flowers evolved adapting to the shape of the beak of certain hummingbirds, and certain hummingbirds evolved adapting the shape of their beak to certain shapes of flowers.
Thousands of plant species depend solely on hummingbirds for pollination. In turn, hummingbirds are very heavily energy-dependent on flowers for their source of food throughout the year. The evolving relationship between hummingbirds and plants is a good example of mutualism, resulting in the multiple adaptations observed in flowers and hummingbirds. The most striking observation is the close relationship that exists between the shape and length of the hummingbird beak and the morphology of the flowers from which they feed. This evolutionary adaptation of the beak took place at the same time as the adaptation of flowers. Certain flowers evolved adapting to the shape of the beak of certain hummingbirds, and certain hummingbirds evolved adapting the shape of their beak to certain shapes of flowers.

© Musée de la nature et des sciences de Sherbrooke 2007. All rights reserved.

Purple-throated Carib

Purple-throated Carib (Eulampis jugularis)

Credit: Jean Léveillé

© Jean Léveillé


Hummingbirds bear a strange resemblance to sunbirds, birds in the nectariniidae family that are found mainly on the African continent. These birds do not live in the Americas. As the name of this family would lead us to believe, sunbirds feed on the nectar from flowers. Although they do not have the same origins, these birds have evolved in the same way hummingbirds did. The term "sunbird" refers to the metallic reflections on the plumage of the males.
Hummingbirds bear a strange resemblance to sunbirds, birds in the nectariniidae family that are found mainly on the African continent. These birds do not live in the Americas. As the name of this family would lead us to believe, sunbirds feed on the nectar from flowers. Although they do not have the same origins, these birds have evolved in the same way hummingbirds did. The term "sunbird" refers to the metallic reflections on the plumage of the males.

© Musée de la nature et des sciences de Sherbrooke 2007. All rights reserved.

Variable Sunbird

Variable Sunbird (Nectarinia venusta)

Credit: Jean Léveillé

© Jean Léveillé


Many people confuse hummingbirds with certain varieties of the sphinx moth. Sphinx moths found in Canada belong to the Hemaris genus. They are heterocera moths, active in the daytime, with a very long proboscis allowing them to reach the nectar at the bottom of the corolla of flowers. Like the hummingbird, they can hover in place. The sound they make when maintaining the same position resembles that produced by hummingbirds, but it's weaker. The most common species in Canada is the Hemaris thysbe, more commonly known as the hummingbird sphinx moth.
Many people confuse hummingbirds with certain varieties of the sphinx moth. Sphinx moths found in Canada belong to the Hemaris genus. They are heterocera moths, active in the daytime, with a very long proboscis allowing them to reach the nectar at the bottom of the corolla of flowers. Like the hummingbird, they can hover in place. The sound they make when maintaining the same position resembles that produced by hummingbirds, but it's weaker. The most common species in Canada is the Hemaris thysbe, more commonly known as the hummingbird sphinx moth.

© Musée de la nature et des sciences de Sherbrooke 2007. All rights reserved.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe)

Credit: Serge Beaudette

© Serge Beaudette


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • differentiate between a hummingbird, other birds and insects;
  • illustrate how hummingbirds evolution is related to flowers evolution.

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