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Hummingbird Secrets Revealed with Tiny Tags

Nov 10, 2014 05:18 PM EST
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Some of the hummingbird's secrets, from travel to life span, are being revealed with tiny tags researchers have been using to gather data for the past decade, according to new research.

(Photo : Flickr: Curt Hart)

Some of the hummingbird's secrets, from travel to life span, are being revealed with tiny tags researchers have been using to gather data for the past decade, according to new research.

They may be the smallest bird in the world, but hummingbirds are also among the fastest. These backyard favorites - able to outperform even tiny, advanced micro-helicopters - can flit their wings up to 35 mph, or 200 times per second. We know they are fast, but there is still a lot scientists don't know about these elusive individuals.

Now thanks to various researchers that have spent years perfecting the banding technique, which is simply placing a band on the bird's leg and using it to track them, hummingbirds are finally giving up some of their secrets.

For example, astonishing migrations have been found, The Associated Press (AP) reports, with one Rufous hummingbird reportedly visiting Florida one winter just to show up the following summer more than 3,500 miles away in southeast Alaska. What's more, some of these typically tropical birds have been discovered wintering in areas where temperatures drop below zero degrees.

"We're learning a lot about hummingbirds through banding we never would have learned otherwise," Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the bird banding laboratory for the US Geological Survey's (USGS) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, told the AP.

Hummingbirds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but they can be captured with the use of federal and state permits. Even with 225 bird banders in the United States catching the tiny, long-tongued birds, there is still much more researchers don't know about them.

In terms of their migrations, for instance, it's not clear if hummingbirds fly hundreds of miles at a time or fly in 30-mile increments, stopping to give themselves time to refuel. Also, scientists still have difficulty estimating their population numbers, Defenders of Wildlife notes, since there are many different species spanning a large geographic area. There are more than 300 species of hummingbirds, fluttering from southeastern Alaska all the way to southern Chile.

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