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Discovery Magazine 3/1/2009


The Humdinger Hummingbird

Hummingbirds get their name from the humming sound made by their rapidly flapping wings. Found only in the Americas, there are over 325 species of hummingbird—the second most diverse bird family on Earth (after the tyrant flycatchers). Hummingbirds are very small birds. In fact, the Bee Hummingbird, is the smallest bird in the world, weighing less than one ounce (.063 oz) and measuring about two inches. Some of God’s good things certainly come in small packages! The largest hummingbird is the Giant Hummingbird which can weigh as much as .85 ounces and measure 8.5 inches.

God clearly designed hummingbirds to be specialized nectarivores, which means they feed on the nectar of plants. The two halves of a hummingbird’s long, thin bill overlap, with the lower half fitting tightly inside the upper half. When hummingbirds feed on nectar, the bill is usually only opened slightly, which allows an extendible, split tongue to dart deep into the interior of flowers. God even designed some species of hummingbird with bills that interact with specific flowers.

Thornbill Hummingbirds have short, sharp bills so they can feed from flowers with short corollas and pierce the bases of longer ones.

The Sicklebill Hummingbird’s extremely curved bill allows it to get nectar from the curved corollas of flowers in the family Gesneriaceae. The same is true with the Sword-billed Hummingbird.

Such amazing features of hummingbirds could not have evolved. They were designed by God so that hummingbirds serve the purposes He intended for the environment. Hummingbirds are very important pollinators in God’s design for the Earth.

God also equipped hummingbirds with the extremely important ability to hover in mid-air while extracting flower nectar. They do so by rapidly flapping their wings anywhere from 15-80 times per second, depending on the species. They can even fly backwards—the only group of birds able to do so. Since they typically consume more than their own weight in nectar each day, they must visit hundreds of flowers daily. But that makes it possible for the Earth to have lots of flowers!

Like bees, hummingbirds are able to judge the amount of sugar in the nectar they eat. So they reject flower types that contain nectar that is less than 15% sugar. They prefer flowers with sugar content of about 25%. But hummingbirds cannot live on nectar alone, so they get their protein, vitamins, and minerals by eating insects and spiders. God even made the hummingbird’s lower jaw to flex downward to create a wider bill opening to capture flying insects in the mouth rather than at the tip of the bill.

God created hummingbirds with incredible aerodynamic design. Depending on their size, hummingbirds beat their wings from 8-10 beats per second up to 70 beats per second. Scientists are astounded at the bird’s flying capabilities. Since hummingbirds flap their wings so vigorously and use massive amounts of energy, their heart rate can reach 1,260 beats per minute. But to keep them from starving during the night, God made them to slow their metabolism during sleep, and during times when food is scarce. This hibernation-like state is known as torpor. During torpor, heart and breathing rates are both slowed dramatically—the heart rate to as little as 50 beats per minute. This reduces the hummingbird’s need for food during those times.

Still another amazing aspect of these incredible creatures of God is their migrating abilities. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird, for example, can cross 500 miles of the Gulf of Mexico on a nonstop flight. The bird stores up fat to serve as fuel, which allows it to fly much farther than usual.

Everything about the hummingbird screams Divine design—perfectly prepared for its earthly existence and the purposes God assigned it. Zophar rightly asked: “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you know?” (Job 11:6-7). Regarding two other species of birds, God asked Job, “Does the hawk fly by your wisdom, and spread its wings toward the south? Does the eagle mount up at your command?” (Job 39:26-27). Indeed, the hummingbird is simply one among tens of thousands of God’s amazing creatures.



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