Tempus Fugit.

This is a female Anna’s Hummingbird, and she’s clearly quick. So quick that parts of her are still a blur despite my best efforts.

She was busy lapping up nectar from these lilies out back. Many people know that hummingbirds need to consume several times their body weight in food in order to maintain their incredibly high metabolism. According to the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences, a hovering hummingbird consumes about 726 Btu of energy per pound per hour. This is very close to the 750 Btu consumed by a helicopter in flight. In human terms, to keep up with the energy a hummingbird burns each day, a human would have to eat 370 pounds of potatoes every 24 hours. That’s a lot of potatoes. It’s a wonder this little gal can afford to hold still for even a minute. Hey, hummingbird! That nectar won’t drink itself, you know!

A zoologist at UC Berkeley named Chris Clark has discovered that the male Anna’s Hummingbird is able to reach the highest speed ever recorded for a vertebrate, relative to its size. Above is one of Dr. Clark’s time lapse images of the hummingbird performing a supersonic dive as part of its courtship ritual. This dive reaches speeds of over fifty miles per hour, or almost 400 times the hummingbird’s body length per second. Oh, and the little guy also pulls 10 g’s in the process. To put that in perspective, jet fighter pilots routinely black out at 7 g’s. We’re talking the Space Shuttle upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere here, and if you’ve ever seen one of these hummingbirds pull off this aerial stunt, you’ll know that the comparison is apt. No wonder the hummingbird’s heart beats 1,260 times per minute.

I found a hummingbird skull once, and I was surprised at how gigantic the eye sockets were. This necklace by Michael Doyle reflects what I mean. And yes, I think this necklace is wicked cool. I’m kooky like that. So sue me.

Finding that tiny skull with those huge eye sockets tangled in my garden flowers made me consider how hummingbirds must perceive the world. In order to process moving at those high rates of speed, their eyesight and brains would have to be more sophisticated than our most advanced navigational computers, and I imagine that everything around them must appear to be on delay or to be moving in slow motion. It makes me wonder how these little rockets must perceive the clumsy, lumbering, gigantic hairless ape who fills their feeder every now and again as they sit and wait. For her to fill the feeder. Which she does slowly. So slowly. So very, very slowly...


  1. Must. Have. That. Necklace.

  2. That photo of the hummingbird diving...WOW!

  3. Very interesting post, L. Hummingbirds are fascinating and that skull is so unexpected. Love the necklace. Hope you got it.

  4. Wow is right! What wonderful little creatures. And as to that necklace... Make no mistake... I will have it! It will be mine! Nothing will delay my possession of it! Except for the three to five business days needed for shipping and handling...