Nature is multifaceted in its manifestations. This is especially clear when you see a hummingbird: a creature that can easily be confused with an insect or a bright flower. It embodies so much tenderness and beauty that they would be more than enough for several types. But people are amazed not only by the appearance of these unusual birds. Scientists studying the representatives of this family can share a huge number of interesting features of the hummingbird lifestyle, tell unknown facts about the physiology of these tiny birds.
The fact that the hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world is known to everyone from the school curriculum of biology. But for the sake of fairness, it must be clarified that hummingbirds are a whole family, which includes more than 300 different species, and not all of them can boast of miniature size. You will not find giants among them either, but the size of the largest species reaches 21 cm. And although in the world of birds these parameters are quite modest, but within a family of representatives with such sizes, it is quite possible to be considered giants. Ornithologists called this species – a giant hummingbird.
As for the smallest specimens, they are recognized as representatives of the dwarf bee species. In adulthood, they do not exceed 5.7 cm.At the same time, these birds are very light – their weight is only 1.6 g.
Most of the length falls on a thin nose and graceful tail, so the body is completely tiny, it does not exceed a couple of centimeters.
Unsurprisingly, birds have long been considered insects. Only a detailed study of biologists made it possible to establish several centuries ago that these tiny creatures belong to birds, and not to arthropods.
Where are found
These crumbs seem so fragile and delicate that it is hard to believe that they are capable of existing anywhere other than a warm tropical climate. Nevertheless, the glaciers of the Andes, which are located at an altitude of 5 km, chose the type of mountain stars for life. In this zone, there is almost always cold weather with a high level of humidity, but brave birds do not leave these parts.
Mountain stars can be in the glacial zone of the Andes all year round because the norichniks, asters and gentian, which are very fond of this species, constantly bloom here. In order to survive the night frosts, its representatives hide in the depths of the caves. If the weather deteriorates completely, a storm rises or heavy snow falls, then the birds go down a little lower, but as soon as conditions return to normal, they immediately return back.
It is clear that with such a low weight, any creature hovering in the air can be carried away even by a slight breeze. Nevertheless, in the places where this family lives, people know perfectly well that the wind is not an obstacle for the flight of these persistent babies.
The question of how it is possible to maintain a stable position in the air with such a low weight is of interest not only to biologists, but also to technical engineers. This topic was even considered at an international council, the main figure of which was hummingbirds.
The fact is that in most birds, the wings move up and down during flight, due to which the body rises into the air. But in hummingbirds, the principle of flight is different: the wings describe a figure eight, during which they can direct air currents downward to rise or upward in order to descend.
The direction of movement is constantly adjusted to keep the body position stable no matter where the wind flows. For this, the angle of rotation of the wings changes almost every second, and all this happens unconsciously, as when the smartest automatic system is working.
Scientists who want to create an artificial wing of this type have become interested in such a device. Robotic wings are needed to create modern ornithopters – devices that facilitate ornithological research in the air. In addition, the military is keenly interested in such technologies, since small flying devices of low weight, resistant to wind, would facilitate reconnaissance operations.
Seeing how these birds fly, you can freeze in place with surprise. The fact is that they are able to soar not only head first, like all other birds, but also tail first. Having seen this at least once, a person will no longer be able to erase an unusual picture from memory, such a manner of movement looks so unusual.
Small but daring
Despite their size, hummingbirds are very hardy and resilient. The speed with which certain species are able to fly is striking. For a long time, these birds can move at the speed of an average car – 80 km / h. To achieve this, tiny wings flap about 10 times per second, and some species flap up to 80 times per second. If you observe this from the side, the wings are almost invisible, but a foggy halo is visible around the body. When birds linger over a flower, it seems that they are just hanging in the air, without making any effort.
To study the manner of flight in more detail, the scientists used video filming, which then slowed down in the studio.
It was possible to establish an interesting fact: if we compare the parameters and speed of movement, then hummingbirds significantly outrun jet planes and even space shuttles passing through the atmosphere.
And the amazing discoveries did not end there. It turned out that when exiting the peak, this creature is able to demonstrate instant braking. In the video, it looks as if the bird hit a wall invisible to the human eye. This skill is not available to other animals capable of hovering in mid-air at high speeds.
To provide this unique ability, this family has interesting anatomical and physiological features. For example, quite a lot of space in the body of these babies is occupied by the heart. It is three times larger than the stomach, which is also not very small compared to members of other families.
Such huge dimensions of the heart are due to the fact that during the flight, a very fast movement of blood through the body is necessary. To circulate as quickly as possible, the muscles in the heart expand and become powerful, providing high blood pressure. To obtain energy, metabolism is also very fast. In addition, all processes in the body are accelerated and require a large supply of oxygen. To solve this problem, the amount of hemoglobin in the blood is several times increased compared to other birds.
The heart is not just big, it also beats at an incredible speed – 500 beats per second in a calm state and up to 1000 beats per second during flight. During the life of such strokes, about 4.5 billion occur. For comparison, the human heart beats twice less in a lifetime.
Life expectancy of these birds is on average 9 years, but rare “long-livers” in captivity and excellent medical care even reached 17 years.
There are many interesting facts related to hummingbird nutrition. These babies love to eat, which is not surprising: they need a huge amount of nutrients to fly at such an intensity. For a day, these birds need food volume twice their own weight. Only in this way are they able to maintain the required energy level and a stable body temperature. Due to the high energy costs of overweight birds in this family, there cannot be even if they are kept at home with excellent nutrition.
To maintain normal activity, nectar must flow every 6-10 minutes, and most of the free time these creatures are busy with food. So that they could sleep peacefully at night and not search for food, nature gave them an original device: during the day, the body temperature is very high – 30-40 ° C, but at night these animals fall into a kind of suspended animation with a decrease in body temperature to 18 ° C. In this case, breathing slows down to the limit.
Under unfavorable conditions, when food is very difficult to find, hummingbirds can fall into this state for a long time. Some bird watchers view this as a lethargic dream. When the surrounding conditions return to normal, breathing is restored, the temperature rises, and again a period of activity begins.
Beak like a fishing rod
Hummingbirds are big sweet tooth. 90% of their diet is nectar, a little more pollen. Since insects are occasionally found on the menu, this family can be attributed to predators, although with their size it sounds very unexpected.
What flowers these creatures will sit on depends on the shape of their beak: for short corollas, a small beak is also suitable, and an elongated and narrow corolla can only be penetrated with a long, like a fishing rod, beak. The nectar flows through a long tongue in the form of a tube. The tongue analyzes the nectar in a split second for the presence of amino acids necessary for the bird, like a modern chemical laboratory.
The mating season for representatives of this family begins at a time when nature is especially rich in nutrients, which allows you to feed not only yourself, but also your chicks.
The parental mission of males ends exactly at the moment when mating took place. Further, all cares for the offspring are assigned to the mother: she builds a nest in which children will be born, incubates eggs and feeds the babies. Most often, the female lays two unusual eggs. They are very small: from a centimeter to two, and their weight is about 0.4 g.
Hatching eggs is a difficult test for hummingbirds, since 75-90% of the time they have to spend in the nest to the detriment of nutrition. Incubation takes 2-3 weeks. By the time the chicks appear, the mother is quite exhausted.
Cubs during the first days are very weak, blind and naked, they are not even able to make sounds. But after a month they look fully formed, feathered and fully ready for independent life.
People have appreciated the appearance of these birds for a long time. The plumage of many varieties is very bright, and even capable of changing shades depending on the lighting and the angle of light. But such attractiveness became the reason that the most beautiful representatives of the family began to be exterminated very quickly for skinning, plucking feathers and making jewelry from them, which were very highly valued in European countries.
Now many species are under the protection of the law, but it cannot be said that this completely solved the problem of poaching, although the rate of extermination has significantly decreased.
In order to remain beautiful and attractive, these birds very carefully monitor their plumage and regularly carry out water procedures.
They bathe several times a day. The bathroom can be any puddle or stones near the waterfall, on which splashes fall, as during a shower. Sometimes they dive from a height into a reservoir.
You can see how hummingbirds take a shower, knocking moisture from plant leaves, or bathe in the warm summer rain. After the bath, they very carefully work out the plumage with their beaks and paws in order to distribute sebum over it, which protects from cold and wind. Once a year these birds molt, and the grown feathers look even brighter and more colorful.
Songs or screams
It’s hard to believe that these babies of the avian world can sing loudly enough. Although it is rather difficult to call their sounds singing, they rather resemble a short and aggressive cry. Such sounds can always be heard in places where this family lives, since in this way they notify others that this feeding area is already occupied. People find such songs unpleasant to the ear.
In some species, sounds are produced in a frequency range that the human ear cannot pick up. Only in the nightingale saber-wing, singing resembles the vocals of a nightingale, for which a beautiful specific name was invented.
But there is a season when hummingbirds are embarrassed to sing: this tendency can be traced during molting. Apparently, for inspiration, they need an exceptional concert costume, and these birds cannot boast of their plumage at this time.