The Bird That Kisses Flowers

Hummingbird (13K)

B RAZILIANS call it beija-flor (the bird that kisses flowers.)


That name well fits the role of the hummingbirds among blossoms.


 Other observers, noting the bird’s vivid plumage, call these tiny creatures “living jewels” or “lovely fragments of the rainbow.” They thus give various species exquisite names, such as ruby-topaz, glittering-bellied emerald, bronze-tailed comet, or ruby- throated hummingbird.


The spectacular coloring is mostly visible on the special feathers around the throat area and crown of male hummers. Their feathers have layers of cells filled with air, and these cells refract light waves into a rainbow of color somewhat like millions of tiny bubbles can.


A beautiful description of a cinnamon`colored rufous hummingbird, common to western North America, is found in the book Creature Comforts, by Joan Ward-Harris: “His jewel lies on his throat, ----the gorget... It extends below his cheeks and under his chin to his throat and chest, like a baby’s bib. The effect of the flared gorget is breathtaking—the bird looks twice its usual size and seems literally on fire.” As the rufous streaks away, his gorget may flash violet, emerald, or even all the colors of the spectrum. But let him turn from the light, and the gorget suddenly becomes a deep, velvety black.


Aerobatic Wonder


Hummingbirds are known for aerobatics par excellence. For a moment, one will hover at a flower, drinking its nectar, with its hummingbird wings a misty blur. Then, with a start, this mighty mite darts forward, backward, sideways, or even upside down with 50 to 70 –(sometimes, it is said, even 80) – wing-beats per second. Reportedly, it can reach speeds of 30 to 60 miles per hour and then come to an abrupt stop. What makes the hummingbird capable of such unbelievable, amazing feats?


The secret lies in the hummer’s marvelously designed body parts. Well- developed muscles, fastened to a prominent breastbone, make up 25 to 30 % of its body weight. Its wings, rigid from shoulder to wingtip, allow for power in both upward and downward beats, rather than just in the downstroke, which is true of other birds. Thus, both strokes provide life and propulsion, while shoulder joints allows 180-degree rotation. Little wonder that the bird’s acrobatics can enthrall you!


Would the hummingbird pass an endurance test? Most assuredly! For example, each year some rufous hummingbirds migrate more than 2,000 miles from their winter homes in Mexico to as far north as Alaska. The perils of high-mountain passes, open water, and bad weather do not seem to faze them.


Voracious Eater


The love affair that hummingbirds have with the flowers they visit serves a very useful purpose----cross-pollination. However, the real attraction that motivates them is the nectar. To fuel its tremendous energy requirements, the hummer needs to eat about half (some experts claim twice) its weight in carbohydrate-rich nectar each day. (the hummers never suffer from a weight problem so would have no use for the popular Atkins and South Beach diets that preach low consumption of carbohydrates) BUT, can you imagine a proportion requirement for daily food for a human?


Unlike most birds, hummingbirds rarely, if ever, walk. They feed on the wing. With bills varying in length and shape according to species, they choose blossoms that particularly suit them. They supplement their daily nectar diet by catching fruit flies and plucking aphids off vegetation. How does the bird get nectar from the flowers it kisses?


The hummer’s feeding tool is its tongue. Joan Ward-Harris writes: “A hummingbird tongue is long, narrow, forked and slightly hairy at the tip; curled furrows divide it, creating tiny troughs along which nectar is carried by capillary action until it is swallowed.”


If you attract hummingbirds to a feeder near your window, you will absolutely never tire of the endless entertainment these fascinating bundles of energy will give you. However, only start to feed them if you are willing and prepared to care for them throughout the entire season; since they will depend on your food source and will not migrate south as they should do and will expect to raise their family in a nearby nest also.


Courtship Rites


Some hummingbird species in Central and South America attract their ladylove by means of their singing. The wine-throated hummingbird, of Guatemala, is most musical in its cadences. And the white-eared hummingbird’s song sounds like “the chiming of a small sweet-toned silver bell.” Most, though, are not known as songsters. They simply repeat a few monotonous, metallic notes over and over again or at other times hum with beaks closed and gorget swelled out.


Some hummers put on a dazzling display of aerobatics in their courtship ritual. This is really true of the rufous, a fiery streak that plummets from great heights to a point just above the watching female and then----just in the nick of time-----swoops skyward to describe the letter “ J .” Now, to and fro, he maneuvers on the base of the J until returning again to the high point, or instead, maybe flying off with his new mate. (His wing-beats during this inspired, showy display may reach 200 per second.)


Dainty Homes


The hummingbird’s nest is “one of the daintiest structures in the world,” claims one observer. Joan Ward-Harris showed an Awake! Reporter a nest she had found. It was one and three inches across and about three eights of an inch deep, constructed in such a way that as the bumblebee-size babies grew, their cozy home would expand to accommodate them all. To have a nest in the palm of your hand is a thrill----a little doll’s cup of soft plant materials. Nests are also made of fine feathers woven together with cobweb interiors for softness. In it are laid two to three pure-white eggs, “like evenly matched pearls.”


In feeding her babies, the mother inserts her beak far into their little, tiny throats, regurgitating the needed nourishment. Usually, after just three weeks, the fledglings instinctively take off on their own, feeding and growing until their internal clock sends them on their long migration toward milder winter weather.


Fearless


A most surprising characteristic of the hummingbird is its absolutely fearless nature. You can see a display of this when tempers seemingly flare over stations or territory. In South America, two velvet-purple coronets were observed darting courageously at an eagle that had invaded their nesting area, showing their willingness to take on the Goliath when necessary. But hummingbirds sometimes lose their lives to other enemies such as snakes, frogs, spiderwebs, prickly flowers, and human collectors.


Yet, many humans befriend them and eagerly await the hummingbirds’ return each season to resume their purposeful life-style. To study these sparkling gems of creation more closely will surely enhance your delight in them----if they choose to kiss the flowers you’re growing in your garden, as they surely will.

 





HUMMINGBIRD FACTS





* With 320 species, hummingbirds make up the second-largest bird family in the Western Hemisphere.


* They are the minikin of the bird world: The bee hummingbird of Cuba measures 2.25 inches from the tip of his tail to the tip of his bill.


* The largest hummingbird is 8.5 inches in overall length and is found in western South America from Ecuador to Chile.


* Their main habitat includes the equatorial zone across South America from sea level to more than 15,000 feet and some islands of the Caribbean and the Pacific.


* During summer months they are found as far north as Alaska and as far south as Tierra del Fuego.


* At one time, millions were regularly slaughtered to provide decorations for the European millinery trade, likely even exterminating some species also.

 






Editor’s Note



 

True story from a lifetime lover and admirer of these magnificent flying machines.

Oxnard, California, early summer of 1932. As told by “Uncle Buster”. to Editor.


As the sun started for the horizon, on what had been a warm summer’s day, Uncle Buster decided it would be a good idea if he watered the yard to help it resist the heat of the day. After he had barely finished the driveway and arrived in the rear yard the hummingbirds arrived. They possess an uncanny ability to detect water mist in the air from a great distance. They also throughly enjoy cavorting in and through the mist cloud the hose water makes as the watering continues. This was a common occurrence that was equally enjoyed by man and bird. However, after a few minutes, Buster noticed that there was a routine to the hummingbirds flight path he had never observed before. 

 

The pretty bird would come up to Buster and into the water mist, but, rather than stay and enjoy it as they normally had done, this one would fly to the rear of the garage and then hover there for some short period of time. This he continued to do for several times as Buster watched. His path never varied, nor did his flight routine. Confused, curious and pulled from his watering by something he felt; he lowered the running hose to the ground, slowly walked to the spot at the rear of the garage, an stopped in utter amazement. There before him, beneath the eaves of the garage at the corner, helplessly trapped in the spider’s web was a small beautiful ruby-throated hummingbird. Very carefully Buster retrieved the bird, wiped her clean of the webs, and released her.

 

 


 

 

Some Design Features in Hummingbirds

 

Rod Reid, a graduate student at ICR, researched the unique design of hummingbirds under the direction of Dr., Ken Cumming. The multitude of precisely balanced design features demonstrated the impotence of step-by-step mutation and natural selection as their causative agent.

 

The hummingbird seem to have gotten its name from the humming noise that is created when its wings beat at such an incredible rate during normal flight. John James Audubon said that the hummingbird’s beauty must cause one to “turn his mind with reverence towards the Almighty Creator,” and that the hummingbird isas a glittering garment of the rainbow.” John Gould called them “wonderful works of creation.” The hummingbird is figured most prominently in many Native American Indians accounts of Creation, particularly in the stories of the Great Flood, in which it is often depicted as the bird sent out to see if the waters had subsided.

 

Hummingbirds are nectarivorous, arthropodivorous, and insectivorous members of the avian order Apodiformes, in the family Trochilidae, with 116-121 genera and 319-338 species, depending on the source used. They are found only in the new world. These birds have the most rapid wing beat known in the world, recorded at 200 per second (50-65 kilometers/hour) in forward flight and up to 95 kilometers per hour in dives! Flight is accomplished by a unique rotating of the whole wing with little or no wrist action or elbow flexing. A deep keel, enlarged sternum, and four pairs of ribs (compared to six pairs in most other land birds) creates a most powerful and graceful flyer, to say the least.

 

A hummingbird has the ability to fly through twigs and leaves without injury while focusing its attention on a desired flower and then, with the utmost ease, thrust its bill into a tubular flower blossom which is being blown around by a gust of wind. Forward and backward flight along with prolonged hovering are accomplished in part by having short humerus and by reversing the primary feathers during flight through rotary movements of the shoulder and wrist and in the bones supporting the primaries. Just like aerial “oars”, they are able to generate power from both the downstroke and up stroke.

 

Prolonged flight requires dark rich, vascular pectoral muscles. These muscles contain a large number of giant mitochondria, myoglobin (giving dark color, and enzymes. Most birds can only generate power in the downstroke with their pectoralis muscles. But the amazing hummingbird uses the supracoracoideus which raises the wings by a pulley-type mechanism with a tendon running through a hole in the bones of the shoulder attaching to the sternum. (Believe it or not) If that isn’t amazing enough for you, try this: they can even fly upside-down, aided by vital organs located in the center of their body; and light, small, porous bones, strengthened with a series of strut; and with completely hollow bones in their legs and wings.

 

They can, and do, perch but cannot run and can barely walk at all. Truly, and ignoring their great beauty, hummingbirds are remarkably designed for the most intricate aerial acrobatics know to man.

 

Grzimak make as interesting observation for creationists: “We know nothing about the evolution of hummingbirds in the course of paleontology, nor do we know their origin. Because of their small size and their amazing fragile skeletons, it is not surprising that there are no known fossils of hummingbirds in the world.”

 

Source: Institute For Creation Research

P. O .Box 2667, El Cajon, CA 92021

Vol. 28, No. 3, March 1999. 



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