21 July 2009

Do Hummingbirds Really Hum?

Ready for an old joke? "Why do humming birds hum?Because they don't know they words." (It's okay to groan now!) Hummingbirds lack a true sound. Instead they make a chirping noise.

The hum comes from the super-fast beating of their wings. The smallest hummingbird's wings beat up to 8o times per second. The slower beat of bigger humming birds is 20 times per second. Their wings "buzz" or make a whirring sound while in flight. The hummingbird is able to fly up, down, sideways, forward and backward. 30% of their weight consists of flight muscles.

Hummingbirds are very small birds with a high metabolism. They spend a great deal of energy flying so the need to feed almost constantly. They usually feed on insects and nectar and consume half of their weight daily in sugar. Hummingbirds feed through a long tube-like tongue that darts onto the flower's corolla for nectar.

Hummingbirds radiate color. Early Spanish explorers called them Joyas Volardores or flying jewels. Their color (which comes from iridescence) is structural rather than pigmented. The iridescent colors of the feathers come from layers of special cells within the top layer of the feathers. Light that hits these cells is broken apart . The resulting colors are amazing but can only be seen when the light is hitting the feathers at the right angle.