Liberal Arts Blog — The Mysterious Humming Bird

Liberal Arts Blog — Wednesday is the Joy of Science, Engineering, and Technology Day

Today’s Topic — The Mysterious Humming Bird — Easily Mistakable for a Dragonfly or a Very Large Bee

I still remember the shock of realizing that what I thought was a large flying insect was in fact a beautiful tiny bird. The iridescence is stunning. The hovering is mesmerizing. The shape intriguing. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

THE DIMENSIONS OF IT: size, wing beat, longevity

1. Smallest: 2 inches (“bee hummingbird”), average: 3–5 inches, largest 9 inches (“giant humminbird”).

2. Comparisons: largest bee (1.5 inches), average dragon fly 1–4 inches, largest dragonfly ever (30 inches).

3. Wingbeat: smallest: 80 beats per second!!!!! largest: 12 beats per second.

NB: Speed — from 34 mph (normal flight), 49 mph for courtship dives. Longevity: up to 11 years. Longest non-stop flight: 500 miles (across Gulf of Mexico). Heart rate: up to 1260 beats per minute! But during “torpor” down to 80 to 180. Breathing rate: up to 250 breaths per minute.

THE IRIDESCENCE — purposes, sources, mechanism

1. Purposes: courtship, territorial competition.

2. Sources: pigmentation in feathers and “prismal cells within the top layers of feathers of the head, gorget, breast, back and wings.”

3. Mechanism: “When sunlight hits these cells, it is split into wavelengths that reflect to the observer in varying degrees of intensity with the feather structure acting as a diffraction grating.”

NB: “By merely shifting position, feather regions of a muted-looking bird can instantly become fiery red or vivid green. In courtship displays for one example, males of the colorful Anna’s hummingbird can orient their bodies and feathers toward the sun to enhance the display value of iridescent plumage toward a female of interest….One study of Anna’s hummingbirds found that dietary was an influential factor in feather color, as birds receiving more protein grew significantly more colorful crown feathers than those fed a low-protein diet. Additionally, birds on a high -protein diet grew yellower (higher hue) green tail feathers than birds on a low-protein diet.”

THE RANGE — Americas from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, concentrated in the tropics

1. Colombia has 160 species, Ecuador 130. The US only 25 and Canada only 10.

2. Hummingbirds are found at altitudes up to 17,100 feet.

3. “Most North American hummingbirds migrate southward in fall to spend winter in Mexico, the Caribbean islands, or Central America.”

NB: “As calculated by displacement of body size, the rufous hummingbird makes perhaps the longest migratory journey of any bird in the world. At just over 3 in long, rufous birds travel 3,900 miles one-way from Alaska to Mexico in late summer, a distance equal to 78,470,000 body lengths.”


10 Most Beautiful Hummingbirds In The World


The World’s Largest Bee Is Not Extinct (Published 2019)

A link to the last three years of posts organized by theme:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to science, engineering, or technology. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to science and engineering.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. Or to cement in your mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store