Hummingbirds are found throughout most of British Columbia. This small, warm-blooded group of birds has several unique adaptations and abilities that allow it to survive our cool climate. This lesson explores characteristics of hummingbirds and the steps we can take to make our environment more welcoming to hummingbirds.
- Describe the unique characteristics of hummingbirds such as torpor, feather colouration and flight and compare these to other animals.
- Describe ways to make an urban environment more welcoming to hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds live in North and South America, although their principal habitat is the tropics. Several species migrate to British Columbia for breeding.
Hummingbirds are amongst the smallest warm-blooded animals. That means that, like humans, they keep a fairly constant body temperature (insects, reptiles and amphibians don’t). Human body temperature is about 37 °C. A hummingbird’s temperature is between 40°C and 42°C. To conserve energy at night, a hummingbird may go into a state called torpor. Torpor is the temporary drop in body temperature, heart rate, breathing and other metabolism indicators.
Hummingbirds eat nectar, small insects, spiders and sometimes tree sap. Like bees and butterflies, when hummingbirds feed on nectar from flowers, they carry pollen from plant to plant. For many plants, hummingbirds are the only pollinators. Hummingbirds benefit from the nectar produced by the flowers. Flowers benefit from the mobility of the hummingbirds which helps plants reproduce. Scientists call this behaviour mutualism—when both living things benefit from the interaction.
The co-evolution of hummingbirds and flowers can be seen in several adaptations. Plants pollinated by hummingbirds share a number of characteristics. Many have tube-shaped flowers to accommodate a humming bird’s long beak and probing tongue. Some have pendant flowers (if its pollinator can hover, like a hummingbird, the plant doesn’t need a perch). Most hummingbird-pollinated flowers are red – a colour that birds are ultrasensitive to, and that insects are blind to. Since birds have a limited sense of smell, Humming bird-pollinated flowers tend to be unscented.
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Hummingbirds: Jewels in the Sky, by Esther Quesada Tyrell, Robert A. Tyrrell.
The World of the Hummingbird, Robert Burton.
Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.
Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard: Watch Your Garden Come Alive with Beauty on the Wing by Sally Roth.
Flight of the Hummingbird: A Parable for the Environment, by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas with Wangari Maathai and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Science World Resources | Full Lesson | Pollinators
Science World at TELUS World of Science | Search: The Sara Stern Gallery
VanDusen Botanical Garden | School Programs
Seeds of Diversity Canada | Pollination Canada
UBC Botanical Garden | School Groups
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