16 + 1 Dazzling facts about Hummingbirds

These little creatures are as fascinating as they are beautiful. In fact, they are SO amazing, they’re inspiring a futuristic design for harnessing green energy. Look out for the new fact I’ve added to this article, no. 17!

Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer (@MelissaBreyer)
Science / Animals
January 19, 2017 for Treehugger

These psychedelic pixies of the bird world are all magic and moxie.

CC BY 2.0 Nortondefeis

There are a lot of magical creatures on this planet, but it’s really hard to outdo the hummingbird when it comes to enchantment. They are the nectar-fueled, jewel-hued fairies of the bird world – and they have the moxie to match. These teeny wee things display some of the most vivid colors in the animal kingdom and have prodigious talents unique to themselves – like, you know, they hover – all in a Lilliputian package that weighs as little as a paperclip. I’m not sure they could be anymore bewitching – but if you need convincing, start here.

1. They’re not called hummingbirds for nothing

While they could have been named purringbirds or whirringbirds, the fact remains that they create quite the buzz, befitting of their onomatopoetic name. A hummingbird beats its wings around 70 times per second in direct flight and over 200 times per second while diving.

Francesco Veronesi/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

2. They are aerial acrobats

Hummingbirds can fly up, down and all around – forwards, backwards and even upside down. They can beat their wings in a figure-eight pattern, which makes them the only vertebrates capable of sustained hovering. They can fly 30 mph, and exceed 45 mph during courtship dives.

3. They put their flying to good use

Hummingbirds are found only in the New World, from southeastern Alaska to southern Chile – and of the 340 species of hummingbirds, many of them migrate at least 500 miles every year. The rufous hummingbird migrates 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) from Mexico to Alaska every year; ruby-throated hummingbirds can fly 18 to 20 straight hours to get across the Gulf of Mexico.

4. And of course, they are tiny

Much of the enchantment of these spectacular birds is that they pack so much magic into such a small creature. And in fact, the bee hummingbird of Cuba (pictured below), is around two inches long and weighs in at under 2 grams, is the smallest bird in the world. Theoretically, 16 of them could be mailed first class using a single stamp.

charlesjsharp/Wikimedia/CC BY 2.0

5. They are remarkably flamboyant

Those of us east of the Mississippi only get to enjoy the ruby-throated hummingbird, and in all, only 17 species regularly nest in The States – but in the tropics? The place is humming with them. And like other creatures who live in the lush habitats of South America, many of them are vividly candy-colored with all kinds of frippery to add pizzazz – as can be seen in many of the photos here.

Francesco Veronesi/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

6. The men are dandies

Purple cheek pompoms, exuberant crests, wildly burdensome-looking tails – along with some of the most beautiful colors known to nature, male hummingbirds come with all kinds of wild add-ons to woo the ladies. The tails of species like the long-tailed sylph (Aglaiocercus kingii) and the booted racket-tail (Ocreatus underwoodii) – who also sports some perfectly poofy pantaloons – are completely improbable. (Both pictured below.) Which is also the point; the males who can survive with such beautifully burdensome tails prove to the females how hearty they are and what splendid mates they would make.

Joseph C Boone/CC BY 2.0
Francesco Veronesi/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

7. Their nests could be the work of fairies

Hummingbird nests are the tiny homes of the bird world, usually not exceeding the size of half a walnut shell. They are velvety little cups formed from moss, leaves and plant bits, woven together with spider silk. And into the nests, mama birds deposit one to three tiny eggs the size of small pearls.

Yerandy1990/CC BY 2.0

8. They have the quickest hearts in town

With heart rates exceeding 1,200 beats per minute, hummingbirds have the fastest beating hearts in the animal kingdom.

9. They are gluttons for nectar

To keep their exuberant metabolism fueled, these little guys and gals need a prodigious amount of food, mostly in the form of nectar. One study noted that a hummingbird of 3 grams can devour 43 grams of sugar water in a day; that’s 14 times its body weight. They also eat tree sap, as well as insects.

Bill Bouton/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

10. Bill, please

One of the hummingbird’s hallmarks is its long crazy bill that is specialized to fit into tubular flowers to get the goods. Different species have differently shaped bills in accordance with the flowers they prefer. Some are dramatically curved, others are very long. In the case of the remarkable sword-billed hummingbird, pictured below, so long that they have to hold it upright in order to stay balanced when perching! In fact, it is the only species of bird with a bill longer than its body.

Francesco Veronesi/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

11. Their tongues would demolish a lollipop

Hummingbirds have a long, split tongue that they use to vacuum nectar from flowers; it is such a fast-working tongue that it can flick at a rate of up to 13 licks per second.

12. They never forget

Believe it or not, those wee heads hold a lot of brainpower! One study found that the hummingbird’s hippocampus is significantly larger, relative to telencephalic volume, than any bird examined to date. Why? Because of their extraordinary nectar lust, they visit hundreds of flowers each day. “In order to feed efficiently,” notes the researchers, “they must remember what flowers they have visited, the locations of high nectar-rewarding flowers and a host of additional spatial–temporal information. A combination of field and laboratory studies demonstrate that hummingbirds can remember the nectar quality and content of individual flowers, nectar-refilling rates, spatial location and distribution of flowers, avoid revisiting recently sampled flowers and rely on ‘episodic-like’ memory for daily foraging.”

Francesco Veronesi/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

13. They find walking passé

Have you ever seen a hummingbird walk or even hop? Probably not, since they don’t bother. Their feet are so small and their flying so adept that they have pretty much done away with using them for anything other than perching.

14. They have great eyes

While hummingbirds can’t smell very well, they can see a whole array of colors that we can not, thanks to their ability to process ultraviolet light.

Francesco Veronesi/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

15. They have built-in flying goggles

Hummingbirds are one of the lucky animals that come complete with a third set of eyelids. These “nictitating membranes” are like a translucent curtain that can be drawn to protect the eyes during flight. They’d be all set for Burning Man.

16. Their collective name is a “charm”

Just like we have flocks of sheep and packs of dogs and gaggles of geese, we have charms of hummingbirds. Because, of course – few creatures are as charming as a hummingbird, let alone a group of them!

Francesco Veronesi/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Epilogue: Amazingly, hummingbirds were almost rendered extinct in the 19th century thanks to the Victorian penchant for vibrant feathers and the fashionable collecting of specimens by nature connoisseurs. Thankfully we’ve come to recognize the folly in that, yet these most beautiful of birds, like so many of the planet’s species, now face other risks. Namely, habitat loss and destruction. We can only hope that future generations will be able to admire hummingbirds and look back feeling grateful that 21st century humankind wised up before it was too late.

My comment: How grateful future generations will be to us humans alive today remains to be seen. The best step we can take individually to ensure that there will be left of this wondrous planet something to be grateful for, is to move towards a more plant-based diet. Check out Take Extinction off Our Plates and Eat for the Planet. As lovers of wildlife, we do owe it to Planet Earth as a matter of urgency.

And here’s my no.17. Let’s hope this will help with a greener future for us all.

Artist impression of a field packed with hummingbird-like wind turbines. Credit: TYER WIND

A design for wind turbines inspired by the world’s only bird capable of hovering and backwards flight — the gorgeous hummingbird.

It’s a world first in biomimicry says Tyer Wind, the company trialing this design. The hummingbird’s flight dynamics have never been reproduced in a mechanical device before.

How is this an improvement on the standard turbine model? “This design is a highly efficient wind converter. Million of years of natural selection have turned hummingbirds into some of the world’s most energetically efficient flyers.”

If you’re interested in the biodynamics of this remarkable little bird’s flight, you can see more in the video.


16 dazzling facts about hummingbirds – TreeHugger

Flapping wind turbine mimics hummingbird to produce electricity – ZME Science

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The 3D Printed Dog’s Nose that’s Even Better than the Real Thing

The 3D-Printed Dog’s Nose that’s Even Better than the Real Thing

All of us who share our lives with a canine who spends what feels like hours deciphering all the gossip on the local lamppost, know firsthand just how much our bff is led by his/her nose. A dog’s sense of smell is apparently from 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than ours. Imagine that amount of odour-info bombarding your little doggy brain.

When humans pick up on spectacular abilities in nonhumans we could never match, we are quick to enrol them into our service, almost always, sadly, to the detriment of the animal involved. Dogs’ nasal capabilities are no exception. Sniffer dogs, mostly deployed in law enforcement of one sort or another, get sent into frighteningly perilous situations – better lose a dog than a man/woman, right? At least, that’s the culturally accepted view.

“Of course, the downside [of dogs’ amazing sense of smell] is that while saving human lives, sniffing out explosives is extremely dangerous for the dogs.”

Laura Goldman 

unknown392 days ago today a beautiful Belgian shepherd dog fell victim to man’s inhumanity to man, and yes, to man’s sense of entitlement over Planet Earth and all nonhumans on it. Last November, in a raid on the Paris bombers’ flat, the French police sent their service dog on ahead to sniff out explosives. She never made it through the door. She was shot dead by a terrorist. And she was just 7 years old. Remember Diesel?

Well, there’s nothing so passé as yesterday’s news, and Diesel was soon forgotten.

But this week’s good news brings the lovely girl to mind once again. It’s heartening, but at the same time utterly sad for Diesel that today there would no longer be a ‘need’ to expose her to such danger. Wind the clock forward 392 days and she would still be alive to enjoy all the years of life Father Time intended for her.

How so? Because scientists at America’s National Institute of Standards and Technology have perfected a 3D-printed model of a dog’s snout. And unbelievably, it is even better than the real thing.

If dogs only knew – perhaps they do, who knows – they would pity our pathetic sense of smell. Birds of prey would despise our feeble eyesight – “Can’t you even spot a rabbit 3 miles away from a height of 15,000 ft? Good grief.” And the immortal jellyfish Turritopsis nutricula would surely be thinking, “What do you mean, you die? You just cease to exist? What’s wrong with you!”

But one thing we humans are reasonably good at is sussing out exactly how clever creatures do the astounding things they do. Sometimes. Our biomimicry skills do draw the line at immortality.

The new artificial dog’s nose is far from being the first payoff from our ‘industrial espionage’ on the animals.

In the 2008 Olympics, gold medallist Michael Phelps created quite a splash with his go-faster swimwear mimicking sharkskin. (Now banned in major competitions.) Sharks’ skin under a microscope reveals countless tiny overlapping scales called dermal denticles, which disrupt turbulence and make for smoother faster gliding through the water. Reproduced in Phelp’s speedos.

And architect Mick Pearce’s lightbulb moment came from contemplating, of all things, termite mounds and the ventilation ‘chimneys’ the little insects form for internal temperature control. The result? His groundbreaking design for a green shopping centre/office block in Zimbabwe. The Eastgate Centre has no conventional air-conditioning or heating but thanks to Mick’s piracy of the termites’ know-how, the eco building maintains a constant comfortable temperature.

Nor is The Nose the only example of 3D printing to copy animal features or abilities.

One of the most improbable has to be synthetic rhino horn which, amazingly, is said to be indistinguishable from the real thing. The intention of making this seemingly bizarre product is to flood the market, bring down the sky-high price the horn commands, and by making the trade a lot less profitable for the black marketeers, reduce the incidence of poaching.

That would benefit a whole species, but 3D printing is also being used to benefit individual animals. The technology makes it possible to produce tailor-made prosthetics, like a shell for Cleopatra the tortoise, genetically unable to form her own, and a new beak for Grecia the toucan – the one he was born with was smashed by a gang of youths.

How heartwarming it is to see examples like these, developed purely in the interests of the nonhumans, rather than is so much more often the case, for human convenience.

But back to The Nose.

How would you even go about making a ‘fake’ dog’s nose that works? It sounds about as far-fetched as fake rhino horn. But it’s for real.

It’s all about the unique shape of dogs’ nostrils it seems, and the way that affects the fluid dynamics of the breathed air  – a felicitous benefit of evolution with which my canine companion tests my patience to the limit on a daily basis. Mechanical engineer Matthew Staymates outlines the science for us in this brilliant brief video:

This is The Nose that will rapidly propel Diesel’s bomb-sniffing canine colleagues straight into happy retirement, we hope.

I just wish it had come in time to save that beautiful girl too.



3D-Printed Bomb-Sniffing Dog Noses Could Replace The Real Thing – Care2 Causes

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