Ever watched a hummingbird feast on a flower or a feeder? Their wings beat so fast — up to 50 times per second — you can barely see them. Just like when a person works out, that activity generates a lot of heat, which the birds must shed to avoid overheating. But scientists have long struggled to understand how they do it, since hummingbirds wear a full coat of insulating feathers.
Now, using infrared imaging, researchers seem to have found the answer. Hummingbirds shed most of their heat in a few spots, which can be up to 8 degrees Celsius warmer than the rest of their body. In particular, they lose heat around their eyes, under their wings and through their feet, which dangle below them while hovering and get fanned by their furiously flapping wings.
See how it works in this video from Science/AAAS.
Learn how animals like hummingbirds convert food like nectar into energy in our module on Energy Metabolism.
Watch a slow motion video of hummingbirds hovering — and learn why scientist are studying them — over at Popular Science.
(Note: credit for the featured image on the home page goes to Huzzar via Wikimedia Commons)
Written by Julia Rosen
Julia Rosen is a freelance science writer and PhD student at Oregon State University. She received a Bachelors degree in Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University before beginning her doctoral research on polar ice cores and climate change. In between, she did her Master's in backpacking around the world and skiing. Julia is a periodic contributor to Oregon States research magazine, Terra, and helps write blog content and develop learning modules for Visionlearning.