Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Eh?
This post was written by guest blogger Tina-Louise Rossit.
Canada is pretty lucky; we’re home to many animals that stay year-round annnnd we’re also a perfect summer home for a number of species! Around springtime, Canadians get to enjoy seeing spectacular birds, mammals and fish that migrate to Canada for summer. Some animals have pretty neat characteristics that set them apart. Sometimes it’s a funny appearance, other times it’s a unique behaviour, but there’s always an interesting evolutionary history. Learning about them makes us appreciate how fantastic wildlife actually is!
Today’s honourary species is a fan favourite for bird watchers; hummingbirds! Have you ever noticed you can’t really focus on their wings, even if you take a photograph? Ever wonder, how is this tiny bird hovering so fast? Well, today is your day because it’s time to chat about these tiny flyers!
Canada has five species of hummingbirds that migrate here during our warm months. The most widespread species is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird ranging from Nova Scotia to Alberta. It’s easy to recognized hummingbirds since before you see them, you’ll hear them. As their common name suggests, hummingbirds make humming sounds as they flap their wings 80 times per second. They can zip through gardens and flowerbeds foraging for food and hover in the air for long periods of time.
All that flying needs energy, and hummingbirds will feed on nectar primarily, but also tree sap, small insects and pollen. A hummingbird will consume about twice their body weight in nectar per day! They forage for tubular-shaped flowers that fit their long beaks and tongues. When calculated, it’s a lot of non-stop flying! And then, add in the migration mileage every year, it’s no wonder their tiny bodies had to accommodate.
Scientists use newer computer technologies to make 3D stimulations of hummingbird aerodynamics. Results show that hummingbirds have evolved a balanced middle between the insect and the avian flight mechanisms. A hummingbird’s wing is more triangular-shaped then other birds. Their shoulder-to-wrist bones are compacted near their abdomen, leaving a straighter wrist-to-phalanges. This shape allows optimal aerodynamics for lift, wingbeat, and manoeuverability for both hovering and rapid back-and-forth movement.
Physiologically, hummingbirds can uptake oxygen very fast, allowing the heart to beat faster and constantly supply oxygen to their muscles to perform. Their metabolic rate is fast and surprisingly efficient despite the main source of energy being a sugary drink! Even their muscle-mass-specific metabolism, or how each muscle uses up fuel, was found to have the highest rates for vertebrates.
Hummingbirds inhabit a variety of regions from the tropics to the mountains, however changes in altitude and air chemistry doesn’t seem to be a problem for a hummingbird’s cardiac and respiration systems to adapt. Honestly, hummingbirds should make any athletes jealous!
In all, hummingbirds represent many extremes in the natural world. Being so small and so fast is just what we see on the outside. Biologists want to continue studying hummingbird physiology, because there are still unanswered physics related questions! In the meantime, with springtime arriving, keep some binoculars handy to scope out hummingbirds in your area. You can watch them zip through your gardens, flying backwards and forwards, hear their wings humming and see their evolutionary adaptions for yourself!
Tune in every month for many more fantastic animals to read about!