Nonfiction Hummingbird Article for Children.
|This article was written in 2000
JEWELS OF THE AIR
It has been called a “living jewel,” can out-maneuver a helicopter, and “kisses” flowers. What is it? That’s right, it’s a hummingbird!
These “living jewels’ flit in and out of your garden like tiny helicopters. Wings humming, they glitter with all the colors of the rainbow as they “kiss” flowers” (real or fake) to drink the delicious nectar. They can take-off and land vertically, as well as fly sideways or backwards. When threatened they make a quick exit by flipping into a backwards somersault and flying upside down for a beat or two before rolling upright. This is an aerobic feat even a helicopter cannot execute!
DISTRIBUTION AND HISTORY
There are 338 different species of hummingbirds listed. Most of them live across the countries of South America. Hummingbirds can be found from Tierra del Fuego, at the southern extremity of South America, to Alaska, the extreme northwestern region of North America. There have been 16 species identified as nesting in the United States. Only the ruby throated hummingbird nests east of the Mississippi.
These amazing birds have fascinated humans wherever they have been found. The Aztecs named them ‘huitzil’, which means, “shining one with weapon like cactus thorn”. To the Caribbean Indians, hummers are known as ‘colibri’ or “sun god birds”. In Portugal they are called ‘beija-flor’ meaning, “kiss flower”. The Spanish name is ‘joyas voladoes or “flying jewels. The small size of the hummingbird inspired the French to call them ‘oiseau-mouche’ which means, “fly-bird.” The early New England colonists brought the name ‘humbird’ into wide usage. These are just a few of the names hummingbirds are known by.
AEROBICS AND WING SPEED
The unusual structure of a hummingbird’s wings enables him to hover. Most bird wings have a number of moveable joints. The only movable joint a hummingbird wing has is in the shoulder. It has a ball and socket joint that enables the wing to move freely 180 degrees. While hovering the wings move in a figure eight. The up and down stroke match, pinning the hummer in place. We might compare this movement with the way a swimmer moves his shoulder joints as he treads water.
Because of its wing structure the hummingbird is able to tilt the front edge of its wing backwards and fly in reverse. The hummer’s small size, light weight, strong flight muscles, and tapered wings combine to make it highly maneuverable.
Hummer wings average between 50 and 70 beats per second. When performing aerial dives, as the males do during courtship, the wings can beat 200 times per second. This quick wing movement causes the humming sound you hear.
Constant hummingbird activity burns an incredible ten times the amount of energy as a marathon runner. Hummers eat every 7 to 15 minutes for about 30 to 60 seconds at a time. They eat most frequently in the early morning and late afternoon hours. Their main food is nectar, but as they sip they are constantly on the alert for small insects to add to their diet.
If an adult human were able to burn energy as efficiently as a hummingbird, he or she would need to eat 155,000 calories a day. This would be the equivalent of 553 Snickers or 574 Hershey’s Mr. Goodbars. If you prefer to consume your calories in liquid form, try drinking 387.5 one-liter bottles of root beer. Talk about a sugar high!
The hummingbird glows like a sparkling jewel because of the specialized structure of its feathers. The outer third of each feather contains
miniature air bubbles. There are dark spaces between each bubble. As light bounces off the bubbles at different angles they seem to glow with iridescent color. This is similar to the way we see different colors bouncing off a soap bubble. The specific color of the feather is determined by the thickness of the bubble as well as the amount of air it contains.
There are two ways to attract hummers to your garden or porch. The first way is by planting flowers hummingbirds are known to be fond of. These flowers include fuchsias, honeysuckle, petunias, salvia (such as red sage) and zinnias. Check with your local gardening center to find a larger list.
The second way to attract hummers is to use an inexpensive feeder such as you can buy at pet shops and drug stores. Use commercial nectar, or make your own. To make your own solution, mix one part sugar with four parts water. Boil the solution for one or two minutes to kill all bacteria. Allow the mixture to cool. Use a small amount in your feeder until the hummingbirds are consuming it quickly. Store extra solution in the refrigerator for later use.
You must change the nectar at least every other day. If you don’t the solution can ferment and, over time, become alcoholic. Also, be sure to clean the feeder out with hot water mixed with vinegar at least once a week. If you don’t have time to perform these necessary chores, you, and the hummingbirds, would be better off with a combination of flowers that provide them with a safe and natural food source.
Why not take the time to attract these “jewels of the air” to your garden or patio? You will be delighted by the aerobics of these “miniature helicopters” as they “kiss” your flowers.