TECH & SCIENCE

Wangaratta Chronicle - North East Regional Extra - - FRONT PAGE - with CHRIS

OF all the species of bird, the hum­ming­bird (fam­ily of Trochil­i­dae), have to take the cake as my favourite, sim­ply for the bevy of amaz­ing facts con­cernign their bi­ol­ogy and be­havioural habits.

This week, I thought we’d take a look at a few of these facts, and I strongly rec­om­mend check­ing out some video clips of these amaz­ing birds.

1. There are more than 325 unique hum­ming­bird species in the world the ma­jor­ity of which re­side in Cen­tral and South Amer­ica as well as through­out the Caribbean.

2. Hum­ming­birds can­not walk or hop, though their feet can be used to scoot side­ways while they are perched. These birds have evolved smaller feet to be lighter for more ef­fi­cient fly­ing. They will use their feet for itch­ing and preen­ing, how­ever!

3. The bee hum­ming­bird is the small­est hum­ming­bird species in the world and mea­sures 2.25 inches long.

It is only found in Cuba.

4. Hum­ming­birds have 1000-1500 feath­ers, the fewest num­ber of feath­ers of any bird species in the world.

Not only do they not need as many feath­ers be­cause of their tiny size, but fewer feath­ers also keeps them more light­weight for eas­ier flight.

5. The aver­age ruby-throated hum­ming­bird weighs three grams.

In com­par­i­son, a 10 cent coin weighs 5.6 grams. It would take more than 150 ruby-throated hum­ming­birds to weigh one pound.

Roughly 25-30 per­cent of a hum­ming­bird’s weight is in its pec­toral mus­cles.

These are the broad chest mus­cles prin­ci­pally re­spon­si­ble for flight.

6. A hum­ming­bird’s max­i­mum for­ward flight speed is 30 miles per hour.

These birds can reach up to 60 miles per hour in a dive, and hum­ming­birds have many adap­ta­tions for unique flight.

7. Hum­ming­birds lay the small­est eggs of all birds.

Their eggs mea­sure less than 1/2 inch long but may rep­re­sent as much as 10 per­cent of the mother’s weight at the time the eggs are laid.

A hum­ming­bird egg is smaller than a jelly bean.

8. A hum­ming­bird must con­sume ap­prox­i­mately 1/2 of its weight in sugar daily, and the aver­age hum­ming­bird feeds five to eight times per hour.

In ad­di­tion to nec­tar, these birds also eat many small in­sects and spi­ders, and may also sip tree sap or juice from bro­ken fruits.

9. A hum­ming­bird’s wings beat be­tween 50 and 200 flaps per se­cond depend­ing on the di­rec­tion of flight, the pur­pose of their flight and the sur­round­ing air con­di­tions.

10. An aver­age hum­ming­bird’s heart rate is more than 1200 beats per minute. In com­par­i­son, a hu­man’s aver­age heart rate is only 60-100 beats per minute at rest.

At rest, a hum­ming­bird takes an aver­age of 250 breaths per minute.

Their breath­ing pace will in­crease when they are in flight.

11. The ru­fous hum­ming­bird has the long­est mi­gra­tion of any hum­ming­bird species.

These hum­mers fly more than 3000 miles from their nest­ing grounds in Alaska and Canada to their win­ter habi­tat in Mex­ico.

The ruby-throated hum­ming­bird flies 500 miles non­stop across the Gulf of Mex­ico dur­ing both its spring and fall mi­gra­tions.

The peak fall mi­gra­tion pe­riod for hum­ming­birds is from mid-July through Au­gust or early Septem­ber, depend­ing on the route and the ex­act species.

Species that nest fur­ther north gen­er­ally be­gin mi­gra­tion ear­lier.

It is a myth, how­ever, that these tiny birds “ride” on the back of other birds dur­ing mi­gra­tion - they fly this dis­tance com­pletely on their own.

12. Depend­ing on the species, habi­tat con­di­tions, preda­tors and other fac­tors, in­clud­ing threats to hum­ming­birds, the aver­age life­span of a wild hum­ming­bird is three to 12 years.

13. Hum­ming­birds have no sense of smell but have very keen eye­sight.

14. Hum­ming­birds do not suck nec­tar through their long bills, they lick it with fringed, forked tongues.

Cap­il­lary ac­tion along the fringe of their tongue helps draw nec­tar up into their throats so they can swal­low.

A hum­ming­bird can lick 10-15 times per se­cond while feed­ing.

Hum­ming­birds di­gest nat­u­ral su­crose - the sugar found in flo­ral nec­tar - in 20 min­utes with 97 per­cent ef­fi­ciency for con­vert­ing the sugar into en­ergy.

15. Many hum­ming­bird species, in­clud­ing Anna’s, Blackchinned, Allen’s, Costa’s, ru­fous, cal­liope and broad-tailed hum­ming­birds, can breed to­gether to cre­ate hy­brid species.

This is one fac­tor that makes iden­ti­fy­ing hum­ming­birds very chal­leng­ing.

16. De­spite their small size, hum­ming­birds are one of the most ag­gres­sive bird species. They will reg­u­larly at­tack jays, crows and hawks that in­fringe on their ter­ri­tory.

Back­yard bird­ers of­ten have one dom­i­nant hum­ming­bird that guards all the feed­ers, chas­ing in­trud­ers away.

17. Hum­ming­birds are na­tive species of the Amer­i­cas and are not found out­side of the West­ern Hemi­sphere ex­cept in a few zoos or aviaries.

There are no hum­ming­birds found in Europe, Africa, Asia, Aus­tralia or Antarc­tica.

◆ FLAP AWAY: A hum­ming­bird can beat its wings up to 200 times per se­cond. It’s no won­der that it must con­sume half it’s body weight in sugar to ex­pel that kind of en­ergy.

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