Posted in Wildlife

Animal of the Week: The Hummingbird

The Anna hummingbird, native to San Diego county. Photo via San Diego Zoo.

One of the first hummingbirds I was introduced to was Flit from “Pocahontas” (a personal favorite Disney classic). I was recently reminded of these tiny, whimsical creatures after I learned of new research at Stanford University on hummingbirds’ sustained flight. The creatures’ ability to hover and fly very slowly has fascinated researchers, who hope to improve aircraft design via results of the study.

Here are 8 facts that distinguish these feathered creatures from the rest:

  1. Their name originates from the humming sound created by the beating of their wings.
  2. Hummingbirds can beat their wings up to 80 times per second (can you say rapid wing movement?)
  3. They can fly forward, backward, shift sideways and even hover mid-air (the only bird with such capabilities).
  4. About 90 percent of their diet consists of nectar, and the birds must consume their body weight in nectar each day due to their high metabolic rate, and can store just enough food to survive overnight.

    The calliope hummingbird. Photo by Ed Guthro (via Smithsonian Institute).
  5. They have the highest metabolism of any animal, but can slow their metabolic rate to 1/15th of their normal at nighttime (a hibernation-like state known as torpor). During this time, their heart rates and breathing rates slow from the daytime rates of 1260 beats per minute and 250 breaths per minute, respectively, to conserve energy overnight.
  6. The smallest hummingbird is also the smallest animal, with the two-inch tall bee hummingbird of Cuba weighing in at just 1.95 grams.
  7. But lest you underestimate these birds’ capabilities, hummingbirds can fly up to 60 miles per hour (though the usual is around 30 mph), and the ruby-throated hummingbird in particular can fly 18 hours nonstop during the migration season!
  8. Hummingbirds do not flap their wings up and down, but in a figure-8 motion instead.
A Violet Sabrewing. Photo by Karen Sirna (via Smithsonian Institute).

These are small birds that refuse to go unnoticed. Their sheer brilliance and determination is astounding, to say the least, and the features that set these creatures apart continue to marvel the layman and expert alike. Talk about mass appeal.

Back to Flit, here’s a clip from “Pocahontas”. Note Flit’s sustained flight in the video 😉

And with that, Ordinary Phenomena‘s “Animal of the Week” series comes to a close for 2015. Stay tuned, however, for more from the world of wildlife in 2016. We’ve only scratched the surface of all that’s out there of the animal kingdom (my Disney references continue). In the meantime, go here for all of our previous posts in this series.

Stay inspired,

C x N

Sources: Stanford University, San Diego Zoo, Smithsonian Institute, Wild Birds Unlimited

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