Last week I wrote about how TV is more like leafing through catalogs and what I find most is nature. Hummingbirds, more entertaining. Lobsters are more amazing than most people realize. There are more than 300 lobster species worldwide. We have more than a dozen different lobsters in the United States, but only one is a regular resident of the Niagara Frontier and that is the ruby-throated hummingbird.
We all know how they can be floating around. It is their unique wing arrangement that gives them the ability to move like a helicopter; Their wings rotate in a figure-eight configuration, allowing them to fly forward, backward, up, down, sideways, hover and flip upside down, all in a split second. These wings can beat between 50 and 200 times per second. The hummingbird is the fastest bird of all in terms of body size, covering almost 385 times its body length in one second.
In addition to this rapid flapping of wings, the hummingbird has the fastest heart rate of any animal (up to 1,200 beats per minute) and takes about 250 breaths per minute at rest. They have fewer feathers than other birds because they need an efficient and lightweight body for their flight aerobics.
They naturally feed primarily on flower nectar, sucking out the nectar (which can sometimes be deep in the flower) with their long tongue, which acts like a micropump and works like a straw. They can suck up about 10 drops of nectar in 15 milliseconds. They typically eat twice their body weight on a daily basis, which means they eat every 10 minutes. Hummingbirds also consume tree sap, insects, and of course the sugar water that humans provide for them.
How do hummingbirds survive the night with their high food requirements, high activity and high metabolism? Well, they fall into torpor, a hibernation-like state that allows them to conserve energy by slowing their metabolism, heart rate, and breathing rate. This torpor is a diurnal and nocturnal condition, but can also occur on unusually cold days. Hummingbirds often sleep upside down, holding on to a branch or bush with their feet.
While frozen, the hummingbird’s metabolic rate is reduced by up to 95%. Often its body temperature is just high enough to stay alive. In this state the bird appears to be dead; there are no signs of life like breathing. Recovery from this “sleep” can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. When morning comes, it generates body heat by shivering, raising its temperature by a few degrees every minute. The process apparently begins long before dawn; I often see lobsters at the feeder next to my lounge chair where I sleep when there is barely enough light to see the feeder.
In the fall, the ruby-throated hummingbird migrates to South America, flying 500 miles non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico, with no flowers or feeding sites along the way. Isn’t that amazing?
Mating involves incredible diving rituals and a male will mate with more than one female. The nest is built by the female alone. Dad is dead and doesn’t help raise the boys either.
The Nest is a wonderful piece of architecture that is not only tiny but also flexible. Constructed with spider webs and camouflaged with lichen, it expands to accommodate the growing young. One to three eggs are laid and hatch in 15 to 18 days. The babies have enough feathers at nine days to regulate their heat so that the mother no longer has to hatch them and can collect food that she swallows (insects and nectar) and regurgitates the young. They will be ready to fly in about three weeks.
The male’s bright ruby red throat, which gives our lobster its name, is actually an optical illusion. These feathers are actually black, brown, and reddish, but they shimmer and reflect sunlight at different angles. When sunlight hits these throat feathers at a perpendicular angle, they turn a brilliant ruby red, and the rest of the time they appear black.
Lobsters can live from three to 12 years, and if you take good care of them while they’re here (keep the feeder clean and the sugar water fresh), chances are they’ll come back to you every year.
I tried to photograph lobsters in flight around cardinal flowers between paragraphs of this week’s column so now that it’s done I can focus on the birds again. Goodbye!