A Day in the Life of a Hummingbird

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I am a hummingbird.  My name is Archilochus Colubris, but you can call me Josh.  I am also known as a Ruby Throated Hummingbird to distinguish me from other members of my family.  We have over 330 different species in my family.  Much like humans have ethnic groups, we hummingbirds have species.  My family has the distinction of being the smallest members of the bird class known as Aves.

I listen to humans all the time talking about how tough their lives are.  Buddy, you don’t know what tough is.  Humans think they live life in the fast lane.   Did you know I flap my wings at 60 times per second?  That is 3600 times per minute.  Speedy Gonzales can run a mile in 4 minutes, in that time I could go nearly 4 miles.  I can fly upwards of 50 miles per hour.  My heart beats at over 1200 beats per minute.

Human beings, even the busiest ones take breaks several times a day.  Not me.  I almost never stop moving.  My life is constantly in motion.  I don’t have time for breaks.  My life span is only about 4 years.  During that time, I have lots to do.  Humans are always in a hurry and multi-task because they think have lots to do.  I can do in one year what it takes a human twenty years to do.  The cycle of life is the same for all of us.  We are born, grow up, age, and die.  Along the way, we make friends, have babies, eat many meals, sleep every day, and see some of the world.

60395581Did you know that if I am in Wisconsin this summer, I will migrate down to southern Mexico and northern Panama each winter?  I go by myself because hummingbirds tend to be loners.  No flocks or “birds of a feather” for us.  I enjoy the trip down each year by myself.  It takes me about a week to reach my final destination area.  The most remarkable part of my voyage is crossing the Gulf of Mexico.  I will fly non-stop up to 500 miles to reach Central America. It takes approximately 18-22 hours to complete my solitary flight.  I do this each year of my life.  I think even Charles Lindbergh would be impressed with my journey.

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b44b45903b38d29898c4e956efe12218Now I know you are all wondering about my sex life.  I have observed that this is an especially important part of a human being’s life.  So, you are probably asking how often does a hummingbird have sex and how many kids do we have in our short lives.  I probably find a female about three or four times a year to mate with.  I spend a great deal of time trying to impress a suitable mate.  I make the Blue Angels look like novices with the aerobatics I perform to attract a female of my species.  Compared to the time spent attracting a female, our mating goes pretty rapidly.  In about 4 seconds we are both done.  I have heard that some human males are even faster.

Unlike some humans and much like some others, I do not have a big role in the lives of my progeny.  I do not mate for life and I do not help my mate in any way to build her nest or care for her chicks.  In a human, this would be the height of irresponsibility, but it is just not in our DNA to take a patriarchal role with our off spring.  Of course, some human males will identify with my position.  I have observed many human males who take even less of a role than I do with their kids.

6258550c130c5ce0edb04526038302adNow as far as friends and enemies go, I do not have much of either one.  There is good and bad in this.  Humans have many friends and they tend to come and go like the weather.  I don’t have to deal with “fair weather” friends because I never make any friends.  If I miss out on the companionship, it never bothers me.

As for enemies, many birds fear hawks but I do not.  I tend to worry more about cats and praying mantis.  Both of these predators are surprisingly stealthy and have caught many a hummingbird by surprise.  Sometimes wasps, spiders, frogs, and an occasional snake will get lucky and make a meal of us.  Generally, I am speedy enough to avoid any potential predator who sees me as a tasty snack.  Being as small as I am, I cannot make much of a meal.

RubyThroatedHummerMaleAtFlowersNow we come to the biggest and most important part of my day.  Since I expend so much energy just moving and staying alive, I have an enormous appetite.  I love to eat.  My life is one constant search for food.  My favorite meals are nectar and insects.  Because of my high metabolism, I must eat all day long just to survive.  I consume about half my body weight in bugs and nectar each day.  To do this I must feed about every 10-15 minutes and visit 1,000-2,000 flowers throughout the day.  I will eat a few dozen to several hundred or even a thousand or more insects in one day, depending on the availability of insects, the type of insects, and my dietary needs. Imagine a 200-pound human eating about every 15 minutes a day and consuming 100 lbs. a day of meat.  Judging by some of the humans I see, I think some have this as a goal.  It might work for them if they were as energetic as I am, but this seldom seems to be the case with humans.

Eventually, death comes to us all.  We live fast and we die fast.  In only four years (on an average) I will be equal to an eighty-year-old human.  Like humans, hummingbirds die from many causes.  Predators eat us, we fly into stationary objects (especially windows and buildings), we get hit by vehicles, we encounter problems during migration or bad weather, we succumb to disease or other physical maladies, or we just plain get old and die.

The average heart rate of a human is about 70 beats per minute.  Assuming 80 years as an average age for most humans, than a human can expect to have about 100,800 heart beats per day x 365 days in a year x 80 years for a total of 2,943,360,000 heart beats in a lifetime.  Now my heart beats at about 1200 beats per minute or 1,728,000 per day x 365 days in a year x 4 years.  I can expect to have about 2,522,880,000 heart beats in my lifetime.  Given the range in my average age versus the average age of a human, I find it interesting that I have about the same amount of heart beats as a human does before I die.  I think there is a message here.  Maybe we all have the same amount of time on the earth, but we live it at different speeds.  Maybe we should all live each heart beat to the maximum.

I think I gave you more than a day in my life.  But since things move so fast for me, I could not help but give you a lifetime in a day.  Please watch the following video that some friends of mine made.  I am featured prominently in this film.  My one chance for stardom.

“I always loved those little creatures [hummingbird], always feel blessed when they appear nearby. There’s a magical quality to them. I finally put one in a song.” — Leonard Cohen

 

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