Douglas “Birdman” Grey, Outdoor Afro Contributor
If you haven’t noticed…birds tend to fascinate me. This month’s feathered friend is like no other. It must be the engineering side of me that marvels at the feats of this month’s tiny avian creation.
We in the engineering world often use the term “operational parameters” when describing a machine or system’s capabilities. It is the operational parameters of this month’s bird, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, which fascinate and marvel me. Here are just a few of these interesting parameters to which I refer:
- They’re able to fly forwards, backwards, sideways, up, down, and stop and hover in one spot (and for short distances they can even fly upside-down).
- They can fly up to 60 miles per hour.
- They can flap their wings 60-80 times per second in normal flight…but can beat them 200 times per second during courtship dives.
- At rest, their heart beats around 250 times per minute, but during flight their heart beats about 1300 times per minute.
- They migrate for thousands of miles…but the most fascinating thing about their migration is that many make a huge jump across the Gulf of Mexico. A trip of about 500-600 miles, which they are able to do non-stop. (All from a bird that weighs only 0.1 ounce.)
- They almost consume their entire weight in nectar, sap, sugar water, and insects every day. When in its active state, a hummingbird will starve to death if it doesn’t eat every few hours.
- Hummingbirds are not only the world’s smallest bird, but the smallest known animal with a backbone.
- Hummingbird eggs are so small, that a penny could cover 3 of them completely.
- Hummingbirds can see and hear better than we humans, but they cannot smell.
- Hummingbirds only live here in the Western Hemisphere. (About 340 different species)
OK…I’ll stop…I could easily continue, but you get the point. Hummingbirds are “very” interesting indeed.
One of my most memorable bird watching sights this year involved a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. While out birding one day, I had the opportunity to observe a “hummer” delicately and precisely dine on insects that it would pluck out of a spider’s nest. What would seem to be an almost impossible task by any other creature, this hummingbird conquered without any difficulty whatsoever. When the builder of the web came out in protest, it was quickly plucked out just as easily as the trapped insects. Watching this bird eat these insects and spider made me realize that these birds eat a lot more protein than I had previously thought; something I was able to research and verify.
Not only am I impressed with the hummingbird because of its abilities, but in my opinion, hummingbirds are some of the world’s most beautiful birds. I’m sure the Spaniards who first laid eyes on them thought so too…because when these early explorers saw them for the first time they called them “Joyas Voladoras” or “Flying Jewels”. A very fitting name indeed!
If you get the chance, check out the making of a wonderful film on hummingbirds.
If you have time to watch the entire PBS nature video “Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air” check it out!
Douglas “Birdman” Gray has been birding almost all of his life. He grew up on a family farm near Clarksville, Tennessee, where they grew crops ranging from apricots to wheat, and most things in between. They also raised chickens, guineas, pigs, horses, and a cow named…….Apples. Doug’s grandfather identified the birds they would see daily on the farm.
Doug now resides in Indianapolis and works in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company. Most of his current birding takes place in Indiana, with a concentration on Central Indiana, where he leads bird walks for “Backyard Birds”. Doug can be reached at 317-255-7333.