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Hummingbird Species | Summit Outside: Hummingbirds: Small But Amazing

Posted By: junmar

These amazing, tiny birds are certainly unique. They are among the smallest of birds, most species measuring in the 3–5 inch range.

Most hummers have a wing beat of 53 times per second and they can fly at speeds exceeding 34 miles per hour.

They are the only birds capable of flying backwards.

The aerodynamics of  their flight has been studied using wind tunnels and high-speed video cameras, showing 75 percent of their weight support is during the down stroke and 25 percent during the upstroke.

They have hollow bones and are unusually muscular for their tiny size.

Hummingbirds’ hovering is similar to, but distinct from hovering insects such as a moth.

Their name comes from the characteristic hum made by their rapid wing beats.

One that was studied had a heart beat of 1,260 times per minute.

They expend a lot of energy, eat up to five times their body weight every day, and need sugary food. With the exception of insects, hummingbirds while in flight have the highest metabolism of all animals. They also consume more than their own weight in nectar each day, and to do so they must visit hundreds of flowers.

Hummingbirds are able to store just enough energy to survive overnight. They slow down their metabolism at night, or any other time when food is not readily available, and enter a hibernation-like state known as torpor.

During torpor, the heart rate, rate of breathing, metabolic rates and of kidney function all slows down.

Studies of the metabolism of hummingbirds show how a migrating ruby-throated can cross 500 miles of the Gulf of Mexico nonstop. This hummingbird, like other birds preparing to migrate, stores up fat to serve as fuel, doubling its weight.

Many  have bright coloration and the coloring does not all come from pigmentation in the feather structure, but rather from prism-like cells within the top layers of the feathers. The result is that, merely by shifting position, the bird will suddenly become fiery red or vivid green.

The rusty browns of Allen’s and Rufous hummingbirds however do come from pigmentation.

Another fascinating characteristic of hummers are their unusual method of feeding. Most hummingbirds have bills that are long and straight, but in some species the bill shape is adapted to feeding on certain flowers.

The two halves of a hummingbird’s bill have a pronounced overlap, with the bottom half fitting tightly inside the top half.

When hummingbirds feed on nectar, the bill is usually only opened enough to let the long, grooved tongue to dart out and into the interior of flowers.

While hummers may perch upon commercial feeders, they routinely hover over flowers.

Hummingbirds drink nectar, a sweet liquid inside certain flowers. Like bees, they are able to assess the amount of sugar in the nectar they eat, and reject flower types that produce nectar containing less than 10 percent sugar.

Nectar provides energy, but hummingbirds meet their needs for protein, vitamins, minerals, etc. by eating insects and spiders.

Hummingbirds pollinate plants with flowers in shades of red, orange and bright pink, though the birds will take nectar from flowers of many colors. It is thought that the narrow range may make hummingbird-pollinated flowers relatively inconspicuous to most insects, thereby reducing nectar robbing.

The nests of hummingbirds are tiny, only slightly larger than a silver dollar, cup-shaped and tightly woven.

Many use spider silk to bind the nest material together and secure the structure to its support. The unique properties of silk allow the nest to expand.

The nest can be located anywhere from near the ground to the tops of the evergreens, even attached to leaves.

The female lays two eggs, a couple of days apart and are about the size of a white navy bean. Incubation lasts 14 to 23 days, depending on species.

After the eggs hatch, the nest expands to accommodate the growing nestlings.

Their mother feeds the nestlings insects and nectar by inserting her bill into the open mouth of the young and regurgitating the food into its crop.

Hummingbirds are thought to live three to four years but one broad-tail female captured and banded in Colorado in 1976 was captured once more in Colorado in 1987 making her at least 12 years old.

There are at least 10 species of hummingbirds that can be seen in Colorado in the summer: Anna’s, black-chinned, blue-throated, broad-billed, broad-tailed, calliope, green violet-eared, magnificent, ruby-throated, Rufous and white-eared. Four of these species, black-chinned, broad-billed, calliope and Rufous are the most common and two of these species, the broad-billed and black-chinned nest in Colorado.

The broad-tailed usually arrives in Colorado in mid-April and will nest in the foothills and mountain forests, close to a water supply. The male of this species are brilliantly marked with metallic green feathers on their backs and crowns, white feathers on their breasts and rose-colored feathers covering their throats.

The Rufous travels through Colorado in July and August on its southward journey in the winter. The male is reddish brown, on the crown, tail and sides with orange-red feathers covering its throat and white feathers on its breast. The female will have green feathers on its back and crown, and a white breast.

Rufous hummingbirds have the longest migration of any hummingbird. From wintering grounds in Mexico, they move north along the Pacific coast to nesting areas in the Northwest, British Columbia and up into Alaska. In mid-summer they head south again, moving along the Rocky Mountains.

Breckenridge resident Dr. Joanne Stolen is retired from teaching microbiology at Rutgers University, and has taught classes at CMC. She is now pursuing a career in art, specializing in nature and many of the animals she writes about. Her work can be seen locally

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