Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air

(Rochester, New York) -- Hummingbirds represent one of nature’s most interesting paradoxes – they are the tiniest of birds, yet they qualify as some of the toughest and most energetic creatures on the planet. New knowledge gained from scientists currently making great breakthroughs in hummingbird biology make this a perfect time to focus on these shimmering, flashing feathered jewels of the natural word.  Utilizing latest high-speed and infra-red camera technology, Nature takes viewers inside the extraordinary universe of these brilliant birds in Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air, airing Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV. Combined with stunning cinematography and high-tech slow-motion footage of hummingbirds’ remarkable aerial abilities, the film captures the world of hummingbirds as we never have before.  Academy Award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham narrates. 

The smallest of all warm-blooded creatures, hummingbirds live only in the Americas. Many found in North America are seasonal migrants who can live up to 12 years.  With nearly 350 different species, these little Americans owe their genetic diversity to their unusual diet of nectar, extreme metabolism and incredible survival instincts.  They are ingenious adaptors and expert aerial predators.   Their ability to hover is unique in the avian world.  Other evolutionary engineering include the seemingly variety of bills naturally designed to hunt insects and to feed from complicated blossoms with secret nectar chambers.  It’s no wonder they are the essential pollinators for over 8000 plant species. To keep up with their high metabolism, these delicate diners need to eat voraciously – more than half their body weight every day, in nectar alone.  At night to conserve energy and to avoid starving in their sleep, hummers enter into torpor, a kind of hibernation in which the rate of their heartbeat slows down dramatically and their body temperature drops by more than half.  Beyond their unique eating and sleeping behaviors, male hummingbirds have elevated the rate of speed dating with elaborate split-second courtship displays and twinkling flashes of iridescent feathers to entice females. Choosing a safe neighborhood takes on extra meaning when it comes to survival of a species. 

Some hummers wisely nest near raptors that prey on hummingbird predators.  However, even their best survival strategies may not be enough.   Many species are now facing extinction due to loss of their habitat and food sources.  But not surprisingly, eco-tourism may be their saving grace.   People flock to wherever the delightful little dazzlers fly.  After all, who can resist the enchanting world of hummingbirds?   

Visit Nature Online (pbs.org/nature) to watch previous programs and get updates about the series.  Viewers can sound off about issues explored on Nature, take polls, and share animal photos with the Nature community. Nature has won nearly 600 honors from the television industry, the international wildlife film communities, and environmental organizations – including 10 Emmys, three Peabodys and the first award given to a television program by the Sierra Club.  

Pictured: White-necked Jacobin.
Photo Credit: Matt Bradbury

 


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