Hummingbirds Nature's jewels

By Anna Zulueta

The hummingbird (family Trochilidae) has inspired many poets with its beautiful iridescent feathers, vivacious colors, and amazing flying dexterity.

How do hummingbirds get their iridescent sheen and bright colors? It is all in the feathers. For example, let's look at the ruby-throated hummingbird.

This male ruby-throated hummingbird has over 900 feathers. When the light shifts on the feathers, the difference in reflecting wavelengths cause us to see different colors. For example, its famed ruby throat sometimes looks black or orange.

However, hummingbirds are not only green and red. Others include:

Left to right: Anna's Hummingbird, Rufus Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird

A Numbers Breakdown:

  • Wings flap 80 times per second.
  • They can reach speeds of 45 mph in dives.
  • They have incredible maneuverability: they can hover, fly up, down, right, left, backwards, and forwards. They can do this by strong wing muscles that can do both up and down movements. They move their wings in a figure 8 motion.
  • They also have amazing stamina: migratory hummingbirds can fly up to 20 straight hours across the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Some weigh less than an ounce. The smallest, the Bee Hummingbird, is only 1.95 grams.
  • A ruby-throated hummingbirds has a resting heart beat of 225 times a minute and more than 1,200 times per minute when flying.
  • To conserve energy, a hummingbird’s body temperature drops from 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5 degrees Celsius) to as low as 65 degrees F (18 degrees C) at night. This state is called "stupor" and if it was extended, it would be called "hibernation."
  • 328 species in North and South America.

Hummingbirds feed at anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 flowers per day. They mostly go to trumpet-shaped flowers because of their beak shape. Additionally, they are attracted to flowers that are the color red (this is why hummingbird feeders are red). When they feed at flowers, they are drinking nectar, a sweet substance produced by the flower. They are also pollinators: when they drink nectar at one flower, pollen from that flower sticks on their beak. Then when they go to the next flower, some of the pollen falls off their beak. The hummingbird's other food source is insects.

Many hummingbird species are listed on the IUCN Red List with their status ranging from least concern to endangered. The main reason they are endangered is because of habitat destruction. People can help hummingbirds by putting out red hummingbird feeder filled with a sugary mixture that mimics nectar.



Created with images by Pexels - "animal bird bloom" • dc_gardens - "Hummingbird"

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