Hummingbirds Come Rain, Sleet or Snow

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Well almost, barring the snow, but it is not impossible as we get snow in May on occasion as the hummingbirds come around the end of April or early May.

If they arrive early they have a couple of choices. One is to make use of sap-sucker holes drilled into trees, eat small insects, or most likely, go into a state of torpor.

This is explained here, and this is what they had to say, “To conserve energy, it can go into a sleep-like state known as “torpor.” During torpor, the tiny bird’s body temperature can drop by 50 degrees, the heart rate can slow from 500 beats per minute to fewer than 50, and breathing may even stop for a period of time. A hummingbird uses as much as 50 times for energy when awake than when torpid, but a torpid hummer can’t respond to emergencies.”

They are almost the little mailman of the sky flying in various weather. Like the mailman, they are very punctual arriving to their favorite feeding spots, at least from my own observational experience. I have reported previously how they arrive at the same time each day, a few times a day.

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But what I never thought to look for, was them flying in the rain. And science shows how they do!

They must feed even in inclement weather. Their metabolism is so high and their wings flap at 45 to 50 times a second that this is a huge energy drain on the small creature. They will feed every ten minutes in good weather, maybe only once on nectar in foul weather. (source)

If you click the link, the video opens in a separate window.

http://bcove.me/jl3fxw91

More Science!

In the short, high-speed video above, researchers subjected five male Anna’s hummingbirds (Calypte anna) to light, moderate, and heavy rain conditions in a controlled lab setting.

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The researchers found that the hummingbirds were almost unaffected in hovering performance by the light and moderate rains and did not have much change in wing speed or body position when feeding. This is pretty remarkable for the tiny birds since they only weigh as much as a nickel. The rain should have, by the added weight alone, made a clear difference in their flight.

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But when they increased the intensity of the lab rain, the birds flapped faster, flattened their tails and positioned their bodies to be perpendicular to the rain. This was unexpected because they were allowing more surface area to be pummeled by rain.

Additionally, rain adds an estimated 38% weight collectively to the bird. Rain impairs the flight of airplanes and it would make sense it would do something similar to impair a hummingbird. On aircraft, heavy rain increases drag, reduces lift, and increases the risk of stalling. Yet the hummingbird only reduced wing speed by 7% at moderate rain. They did not stall, lose altitude or lift. The little buggers kept flapping away.

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What they found when observing them in slow motion flight, the altered body position may reduce the amount of drops hitting the bird’s wings, keeping the bird more stable in a hovering position.

They also found, “that the hummingbird’s water-resistant feathers absorbed 50% of the impact from the heavy falling drops, helping the animal stay light in flight, and in control no matter the weather.”  (source) Amazing what you find when you just observe. If you want to read the scientific abstract see, Online ISSN: 1471-2954 | Copyright © The Royal Society 2012. (source)

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I will be on the lookout next spring when they arrive at the end of April, rain or shine. To see hummingbirds in winter see, Southern Meadows, Winter Hummingbirds. It is a fascinating post on banding hummingbirds.

If you did not see my post… Photographing a Hummingbird in Flight – Useful Tips, it has more images of the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds. Here is their range. (source)

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Next post? A Big Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all with my Christmas tree decor.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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45 Responses to Hummingbirds Come Rain, Sleet or Snow

  1. Incredible little creatures aren’t they!! Who knew. Great images Donna! A part of me wonders if the life span of the Hummingbird is short in comparison to other bird due to the amount of energy it uses during the course of a day. Or does the state of “torpor” that they sometimes go into help balance things out for them.

  2. Simply amazing. I will never ever be able to get a photograph like this, so I will just appreciate yours. One time back when it used to rain in Texas, I remember watching a hummer fly back and forth under our front porch cover in and out of the rain. It was fun to watch.

  3. They are incredible tiny creatures, aren’t they? I can’t believe how far they travel between breeding and wintering. I miss them.

  4. Wow, amazing shots!!!

  5. Beautiful Captures – I find hummingbirds interesting – thanks for sharing:)

  6. Great post. Fascinating about the hummingbirds, they are a lot more resilient than they look. That’s often how it is with little critters. Also good to know about their regular habits. That should help us plan to capture some good photos next year.

  7. A.M.B. says:

    How interesting! Hummingbirds are fascinating and beautiful, and a bird that I didn’t know much about. The pictures are stunning.

    • There is a lot to find out about them. Science takes on some really odd projects though. But it many have practical application. They use findings like this to help them with creation of beebots and the other flying insects they are creating for military surveillance.

  8. Alice says:

    They are gems and jewels.

  9. Marisa says:

    Donna, your photos are just beautiful. I have a very remote chance of visiting Africa in 2014 and I am going to study all your photography posts and try to get lots of practice in next year. My wild life photos this year were a bit disappointing but you keep me inspired.

    • That would be a wonderful trip. You will come back with great photos. Those trips often have professional photographers along, some as guides. They could help you immensely. I had a chance at an African trip to be a photographer, but I declined. It was a hunting expedition and I cannot bear to see that, let alone photograph it.

  10. Very nice post Donna! They are amazing little creatures. One thinks they are so fragile because of their size but they really are tough little gems! Your photos are fabulous! Thanks for the shout out!

  11. Very cool information and wonderful photos! Torpor– Hey, I can relate! At this time of year, my energy level goes down. By 6:30 p.m., I’m looking at the clock wondering how soon I can go to bed. My body temperature decreases, too. If I want to read in the evening, I have to encase my body in blankets. Wake me up when the weather is nicer and we have more daylight!

  12. What a fascinating post. They seem to arrive at our house in Maine in late August, I guess on their way south. Kind of like the monarchs. Where did you find that great sign me up button?

    • The subscription is just the WP email sign up in the sidebar under my photo. Most know where it is located… Appearance>Widgets>Follow Blog> drag to Primary Widget Area. I should have made the graphic in the post clickable, but I added it after the post was live. I have a post coming up on the topic why people read the blogs that they do, but the 1000 mark was hit before I wanted to upload that post.

      • So it was just something you added and not a WordPress thing. I just assumed you could click it. A lot of people who want to subscribe miss the widget on the sidebar so I was thinking that something at the end of the post was a great idea.

  13. Indie says:

    Very interesting! The first time I saw a hummingbird in my garden was one early morning when I had my sprinklers on. The hummingbird was actually playing in the water from my sprinklers, darting back and forth. I guess it was taking a little bath. That is really neat how they can still fly even in hard rain.
    Beautiful photos, as always!

  14. Patrick says:

    Hey Donna,
    Think the top image would make a beautiful Christmas card???

  15. Fascinating! I wasn’t even tempted to speed-read. –John

  16. Patty says:

    Who knew? Very interesting read.

  17. debsgarden says:

    What an interesting post! You have made me hopeful for “my” hummingbirds that come through my garden, headed to Latin America, soon to be crossing the Gulf of Mexico during hurricane season. I always worry they will be caught in the storms and perish. But perhaps they are better prepared than I think!

  18. Wonderful facts and photos Donna…I have seen hummers here in the rain and never thought much about it since many birds will fly about in rain here (albeit not downpours)…actually just spotted a few small birds (probably finches) in the wind and snow storm which makes me nervous for these birds as the frigid temps, snow and wind could be their demise…hope they find shelter.

  19. Charlie says:

    I filled the hummingbird feeder today that hangs off the back porch so I have been thinking about the hummingbirds today. I have Anna’s that hang around the house all year and Rufous hummingbirds that arrive in the Spring. If I fail to refill the feeder they come to the front window and peer into the house to let me know I am not holding up my end of the bargain. I have replanted the yard to support them year round, I find them very enjoyable. Much of the information you provided was new to me so it is very useful. I found the pictures to be amazing. Thank you for posting.

  20. I like those little hummers. I wonder when we get violent storms I wonder about all the birds, hoping they have a safe place to be. Beautiful photos, as always.

  21. cecille says:

    you really captured it nicely!

  22. Fergiemoto says:

    Wow, spectacular captures!

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