Saturday, August 15, 2009

Those amazing hummingbird wings...and shoulders...and flight muscles...

If you've spent any time at all watching hummingbirds, you've no doubt marveled at their amazing maneuverability. Being able to accelerate and stop instantly, hummingbirds are the only birds who can fly up, down, forward, side to side, backward, and even upside down and backward, changing direction in microseconds and stopping on a dime to hover or perch. These tiny birds are fearless, often hovering inches from your face while staring you down! I love it when they do that. I always wonder what they are thinking, assuming they are operating on instinct, assessing the situation, but mostly making sure I'm not going to try to hone in on their nectar sources!

Hummingbirds use a figure-8 motion to fly and hover.
Their wings are set up differently than other birds, being
more like hands. Hummingbirds can not bend their wings
at the elbow and wrist, but they can rotate their wings at
the shoulder 180 degrees, allowing the figure-8 motion.

The average hummingbird's wings beat
about 50 times a second while hovering!

Hummingbirds have huge hearts for their body size.
The large and strong heart muscle is needed to
pump blood and oxygen to flight muscles that
are often 50% larger than other birds.

Beak Bit
A hummingbird's flight muscles (pectoralis majors and supracoracoideus) contain all red muscle fiber and are packed with mitochondria (which I remember from school are the powerhouses of the cell responsible for producing energy from glucose to make ATP). My brother, Bill (the personal trainer), taught me about red and white muscle fibers a long time ago when I started lifting weights with him. Red muscles fibers are used for sustained aerobic activity, while white muscles fibers are used for short bursts of anaerobic activity. It is logical then that hummingbirds would have all red muscle fibers with lots of energy producing mitochondria. Hummingbirds hover for so long to sip nectar, they need muscles that are capable of long-term endurance. The breast muscles of chickens, however, contain mostly white muscle fibers (the light meat). This type of fiber allows the bird to take off explosively to escape predators, but does not allow the bird to fly far. Most birds have a mix of white and red fibers. The hummingbird is the only bird that does not have any white muscle fibers in both sets of flight muscles. Click here for more detailed information on muscle fibers and mitochondria in birds.

This little bird is a formidable beast uniquely adapted
to live on nectar, a high-energy food source needed
to fuel a high metabolic rate and unique
musculature, but more on that later!

In addition to the sources I've sited above in links, I used information from the National Geographic Reference Atlas to the Birds of North America by Mel Baughman. This is one of my favorite books for little details about bird behavior.


34 comments:

Anna said...

Oh Kelly these are amazing photos of the hummingbirds. I wish I had some here too. Only one showed up in my garden this year, but it is a start, lol. Anna :)

Elaine said...

Absolutely beautiful photos! Every one has been delightful. Hummingbirds are a fascinating little bird and you've provided a lot of good information about them. It's interesting that while you have been posting about the tiny tiny Hummingbird I have been posting about the huge huge Sandhill Crane. Now if I could only get some of that magical light that you had for your photo shoot......

yen said...

fantastic photos, and these are pro photography.

ShySongbird said...

How interesting, I had thought they must have incredible strength to maintain their hovering so it was fascinating to read the details and more lovely photos to illustrate the point. I do wish we had them here!

Connie said...

It's a beautiful bird, but what amazing shots!

DK Miller said...

Those are great photos and info of the hummingbirds. I want a hummingbird feeder now after all these hummingbird posts.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi Kel, That's so much interesting 'stuff' about the hummingbirds. They truly are amazing little birds, aren't they???? Your pictures are GREAT.

Hugs,
Betsy

Laure Ferlita said...

First the WOW factor of the great images and now the knockout punch of teaching me things I never knew and took for granted! Awesome!

JKoenig said...

Very interesting....I wonder how long they ever sit entirely still...like at night for instance. Most of the time they don't even rest while they eat.

It was raining here this morning, so I didn't but my feeder out as early as usual. I noticed two of them buzzing around the place where it usually hangs looking for it. I finally got wet and hung it out for them.

Abraham Lincoln said...

All of a sudden, after my wife fixed our own sugar water for the hummingbirds, that they came. Now, I look up almost any time of day and they are there. Or at least one is.

The appearance of the hummingbird and my eagerness to capture it with my camera and realizing I had thousands of pictures of them, and one more wouldn't make any different, is the reason that I stopped a lot of picture taking and got rid of my archives. LOL

Now I have changed my whole life or am in the process of doing that. Giving up photography just to take a another picture was the hard part.

Montanagirl said...

Kelly, lovely photos of the Hummers. They are such powerhouses of energy and acrobatic flying abilities! Thanks for sharing. I haven't managed to get any really good photos of Hummers in a couple of years.

Andrea said...

Such precious little gems.
Incredible shots!

Bob and Cynthia Kaufman said...

Lovely capture of the hummers in flight, Kelly!

mick said...

Beautiful photos and very interesting text. Such interesting birds - and of course we don't have any here in Australia :-(

holdingmoments said...

Kelly, these pictures are stunning.
A bird I would dearly love to see.
And the information about these little birds very interesting.

Chris Petrak said...

You just keep getting the hummers! I think they are one of a photographer's - and a camera's - real challenges and real tests. You pass!

Laubaine said...

la premiere est magnifique ...

Ladynred said...

These are beautiful hummingbirds.
http://ilovemyguineapigs.com/?p=385

Tammie Lee said...

Kelly
Your portraits are stunning, absolutely!

Nature As Is said...

Kelly Wow!! I'm truly impressed. Alot of people would never go to such lengths to write about the whole anatomy of a Humming bird. Excellent work :)

Midmarsh John said...

Excellent photos and interesting detailed explanation. Thanks for sharing.

Shirleyanne said...

Absolutely stunning!
Lucky enough to have seen them in action a few years ago.
Very memorable.

Texas Travelers said...

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.
Since you are on my blogroll,
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Come visit and tell me what you think,
Troy
.

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gwendolen said...

Kelly, thank you for this incredibly interesting post. And your photography is brilliant as usual.

Kyle said...

Beautiful hummer shots, Kelly! And great info, as well. :-)

Jennifer MacNeill-Traylor said...

Amazing birds! Finally got a few shots of one today in my garden. Thanks for the info!

troutbirder said...

They are trully amazing. I sit on my front porch and watch them feed very close. What a thrill

Dave Lewis said...

Excellent shots!!

Phil and Mandy said...

fantastic photos Kelly, the nearest i have seen to a hummingbird in the uk is a hummingbird moth. Phil

Mary said...

You study each bird so well and give such good information. Hummers are so fascinating for such tiny little creatures.

Rick said...

Kelly,
I've enjoyed your posts and appreciate you fascination with the little hummers. I keep two feeders going all season and love to watch the zippings in and out of our viewing area. I just wanted to post a link to hummingbird nectar formula because I run across so many people who over sweeten their nectar or just don't realize there is a specific formula which is best for the little guys. Here's a link to a responsible outlet for such information which gives a specific recipe for the nectar.
http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ConservationAndScience/MigratoryBirds/WebCam/hummingbird_nectar_recipe.cfm

Kelly said...

Rick....I just noticed your comment. Thank you for the link. I'm going to check it out and bookmark it!!

E said...

They are soo beautiful, I'm never tired of looking at them, great pics. Hugs