Hummingbirds are cool little creatures for a number of reasons, including amazing flying ability, incredible eyesight, and an astounding memory. With a metabolism that's off the charts, their bodies are fine-tuned for maximum overdrive and, as a result, they are constantly on the go.
Without a doubt, there’s no other bird on Earth that can zig and zag with such precision and speed, something that is on display each summer around the hummingbird feeders at Plum Creek Nature Center in Crete Township.
There you’ll see the ruby-throated hummingbird, which is the only kind regularly found not only in the area, but in eastern North America.
Watching them in action is one thing, but knowing the finer details will result in a much better appreciation of how amazing they are.
A flying marvel
These miniature aviators have chest muscles and a sternum that are proportionally larger than the rest of their bodies, making them built for flying. Their wings outline a horizontal figure eight in the air, and flap 50-200 times per second. They can reach a maximum flight speed of 30 miles per hour and, in a dive, can double that speed. They are also the only bird that can fly backward.
Amazingly, they can do all of this with incredible accuracy and avoid deadly crashes.
A 2016 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science focused on Anna’s Hummingbirds, and revealed how the birds use visual cues to navigate.
Researchers built an 18-foot-long tunnel that had a perch on one end and a nectar feeder on the other. Along the walls were various patterns, and eight cameras were installed to chart their movement.
The birds avoided any objects that were vertical and larger than a half inch. They also use what’s known as image velocity, in which they account for how fast they encounter objects when moving up and down. By calculating the size and rate of an approaching object, they know when to swerve to avoid crashing.
Still not impressed?
Then check out this wild video of hummingbirds flying, shaking and drinking in slow motion.
They can't always speed away from danger
Sure, they can fly as fast as your grandfather drives, but other much slower creatures still can pose a threat to their survival.
Among the animals with a taste for hummingbirds are sharp-shinned hawks, American kestrels, dragonflies and frogs.
And then there’s praying mantises, which have been known to hang out on a hummingbird feeder and snatch a bird right out of the air.