The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY)

A Spark in the Sky


Hummingbir­ds were called “glittering fragments of the rainbow” by the famous bird artist John Audubon. They are the only birds with so many super-bright, shiny colors.

Unusual feathers

Hummingbir­ds get some of their colors from pigments, or chemical colors, just like most birds do. These pigments always show the same color.

For example, a blue jay is always blue, no matter how the light hits its feathers.

But the hummingbir­d’s brightest colors come from the way its feathers are made. Tiny layers of feather cells break the light into brilliant colors, just as water breaks light into a rainbow.

Unless the light hits the bird just right, you can’t see the bright colors at all. The bird just looks dark.

A colorful strategy

The ability to display colors when they want is a great help to hummingbir­ds. A male flashes his bright colors to attract a female or scare off an enemy. Even a hawk can be scared off if it sees a sudden burst of color.

Many females have white tips on their tail feathers. Although most females are not as brightly colored as males, they often flash their white-tipped tail feathers to scare off enemies.

Fantastic flyers

Hummingbir­ds get their name from the hum coming from the superfast beat of their wings. The smallest ones beat their wings the fastest, up to 80 times per second. Even the slower beat of bigger birds, 20 times per second, is so fast that people see only a blur.

A hummingbir­d’s flight muscles make up about one-third of its weight, a bigger amount than in any other bird. They are the only birds that can fly backward, upside down or sideways for more than a few seconds.

They are so good at flying that most don’t ever walk. They use their feet only to perch. Even when they are just changing position on a branch, they fly.

Finding food

Hummingbir­ds are so active that they need to eat at least every 30 minutes when they’re not sleeping. They eat some insects, but their main food is nectar from flowers or trees.

Water makes up about three-fourths of nectar.

Sucrose, or ordinary table sugar, makes up the rest.

They need to eat twice their body weight in nectar every day. To get enough nectar, they must feed from hundreds of flowers.

During the night, or when there is not enough food, they can go into a kind of hibernatio­n.

 ?? photo by Matthew Gilford ??
photo by Matthew Gilford
 ?? ??
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States