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May 05, 2006

Rufous hummingbird (with a little tongue)

Ever wondered what hummingbird tongues look like? I know I have, but I'm admittedly unusual. Anyway, now you know.

I just hope hummingbirds don't spread bird flu. That would just be too cruel.


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I bet they'd spread it really fast, too.


Did you know that the Hummingbird beats his little wings so ferociously that he burns a tremendous amount of energy? It seems they have this internal guidance mechanism that sets a flight path everyday so they can collect enough nectar to provide the energy to go about their day and safely return home!

Now, you know those hummingbird feeders that you fill with that sugary nectar. (you know, with the fake flower receptors for that little tongues)

Well, it seems that they provide so much nectar (& energy) at once, that upon discovery a hummingbird will lock its location into its little guidance computer. Often it will fly well out of its reasonable flight path depending on this ample nectar to be there.
Tragically, people allow these feeders to run dry rather often. Result, lots of dead little hummingbirds having flapped their little wings to no avail. They expend so much energy getting there that they cant find enough nectar around to get back home.
The moral of this story?
Don’t use those damn feeders! (and discourage there use among others)

That's so sad. I had no idea hummingbird feeders were a problem. What if you live in a neighborhood with lots of hummingbird feeders and have neighbors who are diligent about keeping them full?

Well, that’s better but I don’t think it solves the problem.
Its like bear’s at the local dump. As long as they know there is a ready supply of food there, they won’t go any were else.
There is also the problem of when the fall season sets in. The little guys know when to start preparing for winter when the flowers die & the nectar runs out. If people fill there feeders into the fall months, the humming birds are literally “left out in the cold”.

All in all, its better to just plant a lot of flowers.

From species accounts on Cornell lab of ornithology's "the Birds of North America Online" website "conservation and management" sections. The following species are those found over most of the contigous 48 states. There are other species in the South West.

Roufous hummingbird-
Provide artificial food supplementation during periods of flower unavailability early or late in season, and after weather or disease have decimated natural flower patches. May elevate populations above natural levels. May also subject birds to unnatural predation, disease, or other mortality (e.g., collisions with windows). J. Hoy (pers. comm.) attributed hypothermia and deaths of Rufous Hummingbirds to drinking an excess of cold sugar water at feeders with perches where the heat was not generated by hovering. Although this explanation is disputed (Cook 1992), artificial feeders, frequented by cats, mold, hornets, or causing collisions with window glass reflecting open sky, may be fatal attractions.

Degradation of habitat
Short-term effects of tree-cutting may allow seral flowers to achieve greater abundance than under forest canopy. Forest openings in old-growth allow suitable flower species to re-establish. Long-term effects of deforestation via climate (moisture and seasonal phenology) unknown.

Allen's hummingbird-
Human activity has likely had a profound effect on this species, especially on sedentarius. On the islands, planted eucalyptus groves, which bloom during the winter, provide an ample supply of nectar at a time of year when native nectar sources are most limiting. Exotic tree tobacco established on some islands also provides source of nectar during periods of low native nectar availability. Fall-and winter-blooming ornamentals in gardens—along with artificial feeders in the town of Avalon on Santa Catalina I.—have had the same effect. Eucalyptus, gardens, and feeders may have also enabled the nonmigratory race to gain a foothold on the Palos Verdes Peninsula by providing a winter food source.

These same factors have also provided extra food for the migratory Allen’s Hummingbird when they are on or migrating to/from breeding grounds. However, supplemental feeding and nonnative food sources also have undoubtedly favored the sympatric Anna’s Hummingbird (see Grinnell and Miller 1944, Zimmerman 1973), enabling it to expand into the northern part of Allen’s range and increasing its numbers elsewhere in Allen’s range. In at least a portion of its range, Allen’s Hummingbird seems to be at a competitive disadvantage with the Anna’s (see Behavior: interspecific behavior, above), so the net result may be a depression of the numbers of Allen’s.

Ruby throated hummingbird-
Artificial feeders sometimes claimed to be responsible for delaying migration; no evidence to support this (N. L. Newfield pers. comm.). Feeders may, however, contribute to predation by house cats and to increased incidence of window collisions.

Degradation of habitat
Long-term effects of deforestation in breeding and overwintering areas unknown. In study of silvicultural herbicide use in Nova Scotia, no Ruby-throated Hummingbirds found in plots where succession inhibited by herbicides (MacKinnon and Freedman 1993). Effects of pesticides apparently unstudied. Plantings of hummingbird flowers in gardens could improve breeding habitat, but this has not been investigated.

Anna's hummingbird-
Exotic plants
Stiles (1973) states that the introduction of tree tobacco and eucalyptus are the most significant human impacts; they bloom when native flowers do not. Before the introduction of so many exotics, it is likely that all Anna’s Hummingbirds left the breeding areas in chaparral in s. California for high elevations or distant places; many now spend the summer and fall in the area. One of Stiles’s richly planted study areas supported 2–3 times as many birds as one of predominantly native vegetation; in a 1.5-ha plot with an understory of many introduced species, he found 25 nests in 2 seasons (Stiles 1973).

Undoubtedly raise population levels in urban and suburban areas, but actual impact unstudied. Provide source of energy when traditional sources are unavailable, as in California breeding areas. Adverse effects of feeders may include increased vulnerability to predators (especially cats), collision with windows or other birds during chases, and disease from spoiled sugar water. Flowers are usually preferred over feeders when a choice is available.

Calliope hummingbird-
Provide resources when flowers unavailable (early or late in breeding season and migration, and after weather or disease have decimated natural flower patches); may elevate populations above natural levels.

Possible short-term effects may be to allow seral flowers to achieve greater abundance than under forest canopy. Forest openings in old-growth allow suitable flower species to reestablish. Calliope Hummingbird seems to select early shrub stages after clear-cutting (Marcot 1984, pers. comm.). Long-term effects of deforestation on migratory and wintering sites via climate (moisture and seasonal phenology) unknown.

I had never wondered what hummingbird tongues look like, but now I've seen one, I can't help wondering what they taste like.

Here is the birth of a hummingbird.
Go to this address to see this amazing photo essay.
Courtesy of our friend Linda W.

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