The smallest, but fastest bird, one of the smallest vertebrates and, finally, the only bird that can fly back - all this can be said about the hummingbird. From a distance, this bright, fast bird looks more like a butterfly or some kind of fabulous creature than a bird.
Description of the species
The name of the hummingbird (Trochilidae) defines a family of small birds belonging to the order Swift. The homeland and areola of hummingbirds in nature is exclusively the American continent from South Alaska and Labrador to Tierra del Fuego. About 350 species of this family are known, differing in color of plumage, size and length of beak.
This family includes the smallest birds on Earth:
- The smallest species is the bee hummingbird (Melisuga helenae), which lives in Cuba. Its body length is only 7 cm, and its weight is 2 g.
- The largest species of the family is the gigantic hummingbird (Patagona gigas), which lives in western South America. The size of the “giant” hummingbird is 21.6 cm and weighs up to 20 g.
Hummingbirds are distinguished by a long, thin beak, the upper half of which, as a rule, wraps around the lower half. Bristles are absent at the base of the beak. Depending on the species, the beak can have different lengths and shapes. For example, in a sword-billed hummingbird, it is straight or arcuate, longer than the height of the bird itself.
The hummingbird has a long, forked tongue with which the bird can drink nectar from the flowers. The wings are very developed, long and sharp, with ten (rarely nine) flight feathers and six small ones.
The tail can be of different shapes, consists of 10 feathers (the exception is the racket-tailed hummingbird, whose tail contains only 4 tail feathers). Unlike the wings, the legs of birds are very poorly developed, they are small and not adapted for walking.
The plumage of most species has a bright color. Feathers "play" in the sun - shimmer, visually changing color. At the same time, the color of representatives of different sexes of the same species can vary greatly. Compared to the color of the females, the color of the males is much brighter. Representatives of different sexes also differ in the shape of the tail and head feathers. Males may have feathery crests on their heads and more bizarre tails.
Perhaps the main feature of a hummingbird is in their peculiar manner of movement... They fly very fast and can move in any direction - forward, sideways, and even backward. Their dexterous, maneuverable flight resembles the flight of butterflies.
Small species are the fastest. They are capable of speeds up to 80 km / h, while making up to 100 flaps per second. It is impossible for a person to see such fast movements with the naked eye, their outlines simply merge. But you can hear the buzzing that the birds emit with their wings. Large species are slower, making only 8-10 strokes per second in flight.
Since hummingbird legs are not adapted for walking, birds never land on the ground. They feed in the air. At the same time, they keep in one place in front of the flower, making frequent flaps of their wings.
It's amazing how the bird's heart rate changes during flight. If during rest it is equal, according to various information, from 250 to 500 beats per minute, then during movement it increases to 1200. In general, a hummingbird has a very large heart, which occupies almost half of the body cavity. And their voluminous lungs "absorb" the incoming oxygen 2 times more efficiently than in other species of birds. In addition, the muscles of the hummingbird have a dense capillary network that moves oxygen as quickly as possible.
All these features are "adaptations" of the organism, which the bird received in the course of evolution. It is thanks to them that the hummingbird is capable of such fast flights. However, there are other important factors:
- the need for frequent meals,
- fast metabolism.
Most species feed mostly on flower nectar. Such a diet allows birds to get carbohydrate food, which is "quick fuel" for the body. In addition, food immediately enters the duodenum, bypassing the stomach, which maximizes the process of assimilation of food to obtain the energy necessary for flight.
With abundant nutrition, a small part is deposited in the form of a fat reserve. This reserve is "spare fuel" for hummingbirds, which is quickly consumed. The presence of subcutaneous fat is especially important for migratory species from northern latitudes. For example, the ocher hummingbird travels the distance from Canada to Mexico every autumn, and in the spring - in the opposite direction. And on such a long journey, the bird definitely needs a reserve source of energy.
Flying takes a lot of energy from all hummingbirds, so they cannot be constantly in motion. As a rule, birds are active only 20% of the daytime, and 80% rest, sitting on branches. At night, they fall into a kind of hibernation. This state lasts until sunrise.
The life span of these birds is quite long for such small creatures, on average it is equal to 10 years.
Relations with neighbors
Relationships between individuals of different sexes of the same species can be called competitive. Only females build nests, incubate eggs and feed chicks. They build nests from blades of grass, plant fluff, moss and lichens, hanging their "houses" from the ends of leaves or from branches. Some species, like swifts, glue nests with saliva to rocks.
The female lays 2 white eggs (they are the smallest bird eggs), then incubate them for 14-19 days. Hummingbird chicks have no feathers, they are weak and helpless.
Males do not provide females with any assistance in caring for offspring. In addition, stronger males of some species crowd out females from areas rich in food. So, the males of the purple hummingbird living in the Lesser Antilles are not only larger, but also more aggressive than females. The species feeds on the nectar of heliconia, and the males easily displace the females from the meadows. Fortunately, males have relatively short beaks, so they are only interested in small flowers. Females, having a longer beak, are forced to look for large buds that are unsuitable for feeding the males.
In general, the topic of competition for areas rich in nectar is very acute. Previously, it was believed that each species feeds on the pollen of only one plant, but in reality, only a small part of the family members differ in such selectivity in the diet. For example, the sword-billed caliber eats only the nectar of one type of passionflower - Passiflora mixta. This flower is completely dependent on birds, because its pollen is hidden very deeply and only a sword-beak, which has the longest beak among hummingbirds, can reach it. So this bird is the plant's only pollinator.
But most species feed on pollen of any color... The only division is that individuals with longer beaks prefer large buds, while those with short ones prefer small ones. This division allows long and short billed species to avoid competition with each other.
It's worth noting that nectar isn't the only hummingbird food. Their body (especially during the period when they reproduce) also requires protein. They get it by eating insects. Birds collect insects that sit on flowers or catch them in flight.
Hummingbirds look very attractive. They are champions in several parameters at once - size, speed of movement. Their body has characteristic features, thanks to which a unique manner of movement is possible. You can see hummingbirds in nature only in America, but the uniqueness of these babies is known all over the world.