Saturday, February 09, 2008

Learning about birds . . . Ruby-throated Hummingbird

We have a number of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visit our yard during the summer months. Our feeder sits just above our deck hanging on branch only a couple of feet above our heads. These little guys zoom in above us whether we are sitting near the feeder or not. I've spent a number of hours over the summer watching the "Hummers" come in for a snack. There were so many cool things about Hummingbirds I wasn't sure what to add here, but I will tell you that a quick search will reveal a tremendous amount of information on these birds. They appear to be quite popular with birders. So here are a few facts that I liked:
  • These tiny birds have devised a fascinating way to conserve energy when they can't be eating—at night or when the weather is too cold or too rainy for feeding. They go into a sleep-like state known as torpor. During torpor, the tiny bird's body temperature can drop almost 50 degrees. The heart rate may slow from 500 beats per minute to fewer than 50, and breathing may briefly stop. A hummingbird consumes as much as 50 times more energy when awake than when torpid. If you were to find a hummingbird in torpor, it would appear lifeless. If a predator were to find one, it would be lifeless indeed! While torpor has benefits, there are risks too. It can take as long as an hour for the bird to come back into an active state, so a torpid hummer cannot respond to emergencies.
  • The extremely short legs of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird prevent it from walking or hopping. The best it can do is shuffle along a perch. Nevertheless, it scratches its head and neck by raising its foot up and over its wing.

Ruby-throated Humming Bird

  • HEARTBEATS: About 250 times per minute while at rest, about 1,220 per minute while flying
  • HEART SIZE: About 2.5% of total body weight
  • BREATHING: About 250 breaths per minute while at rest
  • FLIGHT MUSCLES: Make up about 25% of bird's weight (compared to 5% pectoral muscle weight in human beings)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird