The Broad-tailed Hummingbird was the first hummingbird I ever encountered. I was in grade school and on vacation with my parents in Colorado. When I saw it I thought that I was seeing a butterfly, but quickly noted the unusual flight pattern. This encounter was one of many that lead to a career as an ornithologist. The memory of this bird is still with me 50 years later. Perhaps this is why I pushed so hard for a Broad-tailed Hummingbird cap.
It was cold enough in the Rocky Mountains that Dad agreed to reconsider tenting for a few nights. The fact that these little tiny birds could survive the cold fascinated me. I have since learned that they enter a state of slow metabolism called torpor and only maintain a body temperature of about 54 degrees.
A survival technique used by the male Broad-tailed Hummingbird consists of taking advantage of thermal inversions. This weather phenomenon happens when cold air descends into low lying areas and warm air rises upslope. By following the warm air the male hummer can save up to 15 percent of his energy.
The female Broad-tailed Hummingbird must stay with the nest so they cannot take advantage of thermal inversions. She uses the nest to keep warm. The female makes a cup-shaped nest that has a diameter of 2 inches and an inner diameter of approximately ¾ of an inch, so there is a thick layer of insulation. The nest is lined with spider webs and gossamer and camouflaged with moss, lichens, and bark. The female will build on last year’s nest and prefers to build under overhanging branches to help retain heat. Construction of the nest will take up to 5 days. One interesting fact about the Broad-tailed Hummingbird’s nest is that it will stretch as the chicks grow. The cup may look more like a platform before the chicks fledge.
Of course, these hummingbirds eat nectar from tubular species of flowers. However, another adaptation of the Broad-tailed Hummingbird has is the food they consume. They will also utilize pussy willow, current, and even glacier lily if the tubular flowers have not yet bloomed. These birds will also make use of sap wells made by Red-naped Sapsuckers to collect insects.
As for the adaptations my family made to adjust to the lower temperatures in the high mountainous region of the Rockies, we went to a motel room and had hot chocolate. I am so glad we didn’t try to survive in a tent. We didn’t have a thick lining in our tent like the Broad-tailed Hummingbird’s nest has and just summer weight sleeping bags.
If hummingbirds have added to your life the way the Broad-tailed has added to mine you may also consider a hummingbird sign or hummingbird coffee cup even if you use it for hot chocolate. I hope you will share with me any experiences you have with nature that changed your life. I love hearing these stories.