Hummer Adaptations: The Head

Mighty Smart for a Pea Brain
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  • Considering how tiny a hummingbird is, its head is relatively large to fit as big a brain as possible. Hummingbirds are much smarter than people used to think, and can adapt very well to many strange situations while they are migrating through unfamiliar territory, thanks to their oversized curiosity and intelligence.

  • Hummingbirds have fairly large eyes capable of detecting untraviolet colors that human eyes simply can't see. That makes it easy for them to detect flowers with ultraviolet colors that we can't see except through special lenses. Many flowers marked with ultraviolet colors are pollinated by hummingbirds, and their color may be an adaptation to help hummingbirds notice them. Hummer eyes are not specifically adapted for night vision, but during migration if a Ruby-throated Hummingbird finds itself over the Gulf of Mexico with no place to rest after dark, it can stay on course, possibly using star patterns for navigation.

  • A hummingbird's bill is long and thin, making it easy to probe into the throats of flowers for food. It can open its mouth wide enough to snatch little insects that are flying in the air or walking on leaves.

  • Hummingbird tongue through a microscope

    A hummer's tongue can stick out about as far as its bill is long. The hummer's very long tongue is wrapped around its skull on a special structure called the hyoid apparatus, and the middle part is very stretchy so it can extend. The part of the tongue that sticks out is tubular like a drinking straw, with a fringed tip that quickly soaks up nectar or sugar water. But it's so very thin that to our eyes it looks like a strand of thread. To see the fringes and the tubular structure, you must look at it through a microscope.

  • A hummingbird face is little enough to poke into flowers, so that pollen sticks to the facial feathers. This way hummers help pollinate the flowers that feed them, ensuring that there will be food in the future.

  • Iridescent color on the throat and sometimes crown of many hummers gives them a strong display in face-offs with other hummers.

  • Its ears are sensitive to high and low-pitched sounds; hummingbirds use the hum of their fast-beating wings in territorial and courtship displays because they can hear these sounds so well. The ears, behind the eyes, are covered by feathers to keep dust and pollen grains out.

Try This! Journaling
Imagine that you are a Ruby-throated or Rufous Hummingbird experiencing the world through hummingbird senses. Write a page in your journal as if it were a hummingbird diary entry for a typical day during spring migration. (Of course you'll have to pretend you're the world's first literate hummingbird!) Would you pay attention to different things than a human would?