Amazing Memories of Hummingbirds

March 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Flitting from one flower to the next, their long, narrow beaks perfectly adapted to reach seemingly inaccessible nectar, hummingbirds hover with their wings a blur, their iridescent feathers shining in the sun. New research has revealed that these fascinating little creatures are even more amazing than previously thought. While they may be tiny, it has been discovered that the area of the hummingbird’s brain related to learning and memory – the hippocampus – is the largest in comparison to body size of any other bird, and up to five times larger than that found in seabirds, songbirds and woodpeckers. With the frantic activity of hummingbirds requiring relatively large quantities of nectar to fuel it, it makes sense that this huge memory is likely to be used in pinpointing where the prime locations of this sweet substance are.

It has been noted by researchers that hummingbirds retain this memory of where each feeder is located, both when it is at home and as it travels along its migration path. This ability to remember locations of food sources, and therefore plan their route with precision, referred to as episodic memory, was previously thought to have been restricted to humans. Not only do they remember where all the prime sources of nectar are, field studies reveal that they appear to be able to judge how long the flowers will take to produce more nectar after they have emptied them, and do not revisit those particular flowers until they have something worthwhile to offer.

In addition to field observation, the study included dissecting the brains of several species of wild hummingbirds, as well as related common swifts, using the data to compare with stored data relating to hippocampus development of 77 other species of birds. The conclusion of the dissection study was that the hippocampus of the humming bird is substantially larger than that of any other bird on record, relative to size. Scientists are of the opinion that, given the long distances hummingbirds travel, they cannot afford to waste time or energy searching for food sources, and the brain has compensated for this by developing the hippocampus and facilitating a large memory.

Attracting Birds: Seed Preferences

July 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Birding Tips

There is no better way to decorate your garden than with a collection of wild birds that bring color and song to the trees and landscaped areas. Luring a variety of birds to a garden is not always as easy as it may sound. Most birds know exactly what they like and will travel to an area where they know they can eat their preferred seed or form of food. Fortunately, if you know what birds you want to attract, you can purchase the seeds and items that draw these species into your garden.

It is important to fill a variety of bird feeders and place them in different locations throughout the garden. This way birds will not be fighting to get to the food and a greater number of birds will frequent the feeders. Putting out their favorite foods is the best way to ensure that they will continue to return, and in winter bird feeders assist a great number of birds to survive the cold weather. Wild birds will not usually eat artificial pellets or processed seeds as they are not accustomed to them, so natural seeds are the key.

Sunflower seeds are generally a safe bet, as a wide variety of birds will eat them, such as chickadees, nuthatches, finches, cardinals, grosbeaks, sparrows, blackbirds, jays, woodpeckers and titmice. All these birds, with the exception of the sparrows, blackbirds, jays and woodpeckers, will also eat Safflower seeds. When trying to lure ducks, geese, mourning doves and quails, cracked corn will do the trick; and woodpeckers, titmice and chickadees are also known to eat unsalted peanuts. Nyjer (or Thistle) will attract redpolls, doves and pine siskins; while orioles, thrushes and hummingbirds prefer nectar. Fruit is another option to use in combination with seeds as mockingbirds, bluebirds, thrushes, cedar waxwings and orioles will enjoy the treat. The preferred food for juncos and towhees is millet. Setting out a mixture of seeds, fruits and nectar will have any garden filled with birds in no time, allowing home owners to enjoy the beauty of these winged creatures and relax to the melodies of their cheerful songs.

Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Known for being the smallest of all birds, the Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) weighs only about 1.8 grams and is about 5 cm (2 inches) in length. The male of the species is smaller than the female and it is only found on Isle of Pines and in Cuba. Unfortunately this pretty little bird is classified as Threatened due to diminishing numbers in more recent years. The decrease in Bee Hummingbird populations have been brought about mainly by loss of habitat due to crop farming, timber felling and livestock farming. These forms of human encroachment have negatively impacted on the subtropical and tropical forests and swamplands that sustain the Bee Hummingbird, causing the bird to be confined to limited suitable habitats.

The male Bee Hummingbird has spectacular coloring. His entire head and throat are an iridescent red-pink and he has elongated lateral plumes. The top of his body is bluish in color while his underparts are a grayish white. These colors only become evident during breeding season and are shed shortly afterward. Non-breeding males have blue spots on their wingtips and black tail tips which helps to differentiate them from the females which have white spots on their tail feathers. The female is less spectacularly colored, having only a blue-green back and grayish underbelly and generally looking somewhat disheveled.

Despite its diminutive size, the Bee Hummingbird is an amazing creature. In flight it beats its wings as many as 80 times per a second. What’s more, when it is involved in a courtship display a male hummingbirds wings may beat as many as 200 times per a second! In order to pump blood around its tiny little body, the Bee Hummingbird’s heart rate is spectacularly fast. In fact, it is the second fastest of all animals. It has less feathers than all other birds, as well as the highest body temperature of all birds, eating up to half its body mass in one day. It also drinks plenty of water – consuming roughly eight times its body mass on a daily basis. The Bee Hummingbird eats mainly nectar and insects, nesting in woodlands, shrubbery and gardens.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) are widely distributed through North America, and are the most common hummingbirds in eastern North America. They embark on a most difficult migration of 18 to 20 hours non-stop across the Gulf. A truly beautiful bird, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are frequent garden visitors and quickly become accustomed to human presence.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird averages a length of 3.5 inches or 8.9 cm with a mass of 3.1 g. Adult males have an emerald green back with a ruby-red iridescent throat. The flanks are gray and his tail is forked. The larger female Ruby-throated Hummingbird also has an emerald green back, but has a white breast and throat. Her tail is rounded and tipped with white. Juvenile offspring resemble the female, the males developing the red gorget over time. Interestingly, as with other hummingbirds, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s wings beat extremely fast averaging 52 beats per second. Everything about these birds is fast, respiration is at 250 per minute and the heart rate reaches 1 200 beats a minute when feeding. Under normal conditions they fly at a speed of 48 km/h. In a dive they reach 101 km/h. The fast beating of the little wings of the hummingbird make a distinctive humming sound whilst they emit rapid chipping calls. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird has very short legs and has to shuffle across the item it is perching on.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds feed only on nectar and insects (moths, butterflies and bees), using their long bills to reach inside flowers. They are easily drawn to garden bird feeders specially designed for their feeding habits. Males will even become very territorial over their feeder and guard it aggressively. Following an almost non-existent courtship the female will lay 2 tiny eggs in the minute nest built of bud scales. The nest is intricately designed with spider silk attaching it to a tree branch and lichen on the outside as camouflage. The inside of the nest is carefully lined with thistle down, cattail or dandelion. Incubation by the female lasts for about 60 to 80 days. Normally young ones will stay in the nest for 18 to 23 days, though this can vary greatly according to circumstances. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are fascinating birds, a wonder to the eye, so why not purchase a nectar feeder and draw them to your garden.

The Colorful, Friendly Lorikeet

November 28, 2007 by  
Filed under Pet Birds

The colorfulness and friendliness of Lorikeets may easily entice aspiring bird owners to bring one of these delightful birds home after a visit to the pet shop. However, it pays to do careful research about what is involved in keeping Lorikeets before embarking on this adventure.

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