Villa Quetzal

Villa Quetzal

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Happy as a Hummingbird!

When I think about hummingbirds, I find myself thinking about a sweet beverage, and a happy-active day.  My husband often tells me that I am like a hummingbird, because I love to have my coffee extra sugary every morning, some sort of coffee nectar.

In reality, hummingbirds are very small birds with a high metabolism.  They spend a great deal of energy when they are flying; therefore, they have to feed constantly, consuming up to twice their body weight in nectar every day.  Their diet is very simple, nectar and insects.  Some people believe that hummingbirds have a hollow tongue like a straw to lap up the nectar.  The research shows that their tongues have grooves on the sides to collect the nectar.  When the bill constricts, the hummingbird can swallow the nectar from flowers and feeders.
The life of a hummingbird resembles a survival-dinning adventure.  They need to eat more than any other bird in the animal kingdom, and since they have to eat over their own weight in food every day, they eat several times every hour; of course, they have to arrange their lives around eating, to minimize the danger of starvation.

          Hummingbirds are amazing creatures; they can float in mid-air, and fly deliberately backwards, forwards, horizontally or vertically, and always maintaining their position while drinking from the flower blossoms.

Hummingbirds have the ability to perch, but they rarely do it in the wild; they do it, mostly when they find a home feeder, or go to sleep.  Because they fly so much, and usually eat while flying, their feet are poorly developed; therefore, they can barely walk, that might explain why they look happier when flying.

Costa Rica has 52 of the 320 species known within the Western Hemisphere.

Hummingbirds are in my experience, magical fairyland creatures, with their brilliant plumage and their tiny whirligig wings; they are fascinating performers.

Here are few of the fun and amazing facts about these birds:
  • They fly forward, backward, shift sideways, and stop in midair
  • They can fly up to 60 miles per hour
  • They can live 5-6 years in the wild
  • They can beat their wings 60- 200 times per second
  • They have between 1000 and 1500 feathers, being the fewest number of feathers among all birds in the world.
  • Their pectoral muscle carries 25 – 30 % of their total weight
  • They lay the smallest eggs in the bird kingdom; they measure less than ½ inch long; however, they represent as much as 10% of the mothers' weight at the time of being laid.
  • They eat 5-8 times per hour
  • The average hummingbird’s heart rate is more than 1200 beats per minute
  • At rest, a hummingbird takes an average of 250 breaths per minute.

Surprisingly, most hummingbirds are solitary creatures; they do not seem to need a social network.  They do not cooperate in food searches, nesting, or any other activities, simply because they do not need to do so.  Therefore, when you see two hummingbirds chasing each other in the garden, it may be a competition for food, and not any kind of socialization.
Hummingbirds communicate through a variety of vocalizations and visual displays.  The males tend to defend vigorously their breeding grounds by sparring and jousting with their long, slender bills.  These battles, according to National Geographic, are often punctuated by a “raucous chatter and the shrill, metallic wing trill of adult males."

According to the Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center, the closest hummingbirds get to socialize, is when they form the so-called “leks” in the tropics.  This can be described as the grouping of different species of male hummingbirds with the purpose of singing songs to attract a mate.  As the female birds begin to arrive, the males put on a special air show to attract the ladies’ attention, going as high as 49 feet before going into top-speed dives while doing patterns on the air.  Once they attract their female, they complete mating with her.  It is worth adding that each male may mate with several females.

The solitary tendencies of the hummingbird extends even to the mating behavior.  After they mate, they do not form pair bonds.  The male flies off and the female is left to build the nest, protect, and feed the baby birds.

Hummingbird nest in tress, and rarely do it in birdhouses.  The nest itself is very small, in general not bigger than a ping-pong ball; of course, their eggs are extremely tiny.  Females usually lay two eggs, and they take from 11 to 17 days to hatch.  While the babies are in the nest their diet must be high protein; therefore, the mama hummingbird must work hard to keep the baby birds alive.  After 21 days, the nestlings are ready to fly away and begin their own hummingbird lives.

            Have you thought about how and when hummingbirds sleep?  Well, it is a fascinating process; they sleep through the night, around eight hours, just as we do.          Since they could not survive more than two hours without eating, Mother Nature has bestowed them with a great tool called Torpor.  This is a state much like a mini hibernation.  During this state, their metabolism lowers to one fifteenth normal.  Their body temperature drops to a point of becoming hypothermic.  Their heart rate drops to about 50 beats per minute.  Their breathing slows to the point that it looks like they have stopped breathing.  By sleeping this way, they can save up to 60% of their available energy.

When hummingbirds sleep and are in the Torpor state, they have been known to hang upside-down.  If you find a hummingbird that is hanging inverted, and they appear to be dead, it is actually more likely that they are just asleep.  They will probably not even respond if you touched them.  If possible, leave them alone, and they will wake up when they get warmer.

It is a very special gift to be able to see these beautiful creatures.  I feel truly blessed when I receive the visit of a hummingbird coming for breakfast at my window frame while I am having my sweet coffee in the morning.

When you visit Costa Rica, remember that a hummingbird might come to say Good Morning to you!  I assure you; it will make your day sweeter.

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