Hummingbirds are “high performance” flying machines. Let’s take a look at the stats. According to one birding website, “25-30 percent of a hummingbird’s weight is in its pectoral muscles, the muscles principally responsible for flight.” Their average heart rate is more than “1,200 beats per minute” and at rest, “a hummingbird takes an average of 250 breaths per minute.” So I wonder, what fuels this “high performance” flyer? Do hummingbirds seek out high-octane premium nectar, or can they make do with unleaded “regular”? And if they’re searching for high-octane, how do they find it?
Here’s what we know. A hummingbird’s primary fuel is nectar. According to the San Diego Zoo, “about 90 percent of their diet is nectar from flowers.”
We also know that hummingbird-pollinated flowers are often red and tubular-shaped. Here’s one local example, a Humboldt Lily (Lilium humboldtii)
And here’s another, a Scarlet Bugler (Penstemon centranthifolius).
Did you notice that both these flowers face downward? Hummingbird-pollinated flowers are more likely to face downward.
So why would hummingbirds be attracted to flowers that face downwards? After all, no matter which way the flowers point, hummingbirds have to hover in order to feed. And as we learned two weeks ago, hovering is not energy efficient. In fact, researchers at the University of California found that flying either backwards or forwards was “20% more efficient than hovering.” So there’s something about flowers facing downward that’s worth that extra expenditure of energy.
That “something” might be high-octane premium nectar. We know that the amount and concentration of nectar is affected by environmental conditions. A flower that faces downward would be less likely to have it’s nectar diluted by rain or contaminated by airborne spores.
To put it in terms that we’re familiar with, imagine taking your high-performance sports car to a gas station. You want three things: (1) high-octane premium gasoline, (2) uncontaminated fuel that won’t foul your spark plugs or fuel injector and (3) enough fuel to fill your tank.
Perhaps gas stations should consider changing their logo to look something like this:
If you missed Part I, read SCV Outdoor Report: Refueling Station, Part I
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