More than a third of all hummingbird species live in the Andes, like this guy, the Ecuadorian Hillstar. The Andes are at 16,000 feet elevation (4877 meters). There is forty percent less oxygen there than at sea level.
New research finds that hummingbird species living at high altitudes have evolved super hemoglobin with enhanced oxygen-binding properties.
Another study finds that the rising of the Andes mountain range is tied to the speciation of hummingbirds and predicts that hummingbirds will evolve into twice as many species as we see today. Hummingbirds have been around for 22 million years, and are rapidly diversifying due to new ecological niches being created by Andean uplift, and because of their unique relationship with flowering plants.
Hummingbirds have a tongue that splits in two and it has tiny feathery cilia at the ends that drag fluid in. The tongue is thinner than a fishing line and dips in nectar twenty times a second.
Hummingbirds’ wings work like hands treading water, they achieve updraft on both strokes like an insect.
The tiniest bird species in the world is the Bee Hummingbird. Also known as Cuban bees, they weigh less than 1/15 of an ounce (roughly 1.7 grams)- that’s less than an American dime!
Bee hummingbirds drink eight times their total body mass every day, and eat about half of it.
Even while sleeping the hummingbirds’ metabolism is so high that if they slept through the night, they’d burn too much energy and die of starvation by morning. So each night, the hummingbirds enter torpor, a state beyond sleep. Metabolism slows by ninety percent. Heart rate goes from 1000 beats per minute to a mere 70. Their body temperature falls from 104 degrees F (40C) to close to the ambient air temperature (in the Andes that’s often around 46 F or 8 C).
Inside every hummingbird lurks a bird of prey. Hummingbirds must supplement their diet of nectar with insect protein. They hunt tiny bugs in the open air and catch them in mid flight.
Hummingbirds are restless, high energy creatures. They are constantly fighting over the best place to attract a mate, the best flowers, the best perch to catch bugs from. This intensity inspired them to move all the way from their birthplace in South America up into Central America and then into North America- including Canada. Only 17 species so far have made it to North America but they keep on advancing. A century ago the Anna’s Hummingbird bred only in Baja, Mexico and Southern California. But in just 100 years, their breeding ground has extended all the way up the west coast to the Canadian border and some are now permanent residents in the Pacific Northwest.
Some hummingbirds also do serious migrations each year, arriving from their wintering grounds in Central America and Mexico to breed in the mountains of the American West, just as the flowers begin to bloom.
A Costa’s Hummingbird displaying his beautiful feathers in an aerial dance, in hopes this female will mate with him
For information on other amazing and precious pollinators like bees and bats, click here.
Read here about the tiny hummingbird who fell in love with the dog who saved her. She even bathes in his water bowl.