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What About This…? 8.25.2016

By Wayne William Cipriano

When was the last time you watched a hummingbird in action? It’s an indication of the go-go lifestyle we lead around here that I can ask such a question and compare your response to ours.

Our hummer feeders are filled with sugar water, pure and simple, and evidently the hummers dig it deluxe.  It has to be more concentrated and possessed of a much higher caloric potential, hummer-wise, than whatever they collect from flowers (nectar?).  But, regardless of how much more potent the liquid we provide is, it’s still a major mystery to us (and pretty much everyone else) as to how the birds eat-drink so little, and from that derive so much energy.

Those little guys helicopter up, down, forward, backward, and hover with little apparent effort, only occasionally standing on a branch for a few seconds and then taking off for another round of stunt flying.  It’s especially interesting when a big guy takes over a feeder and relentlessly chases the smaller birds away.  On what stores of reserve energy do those smaller birds draw that allow them to continue flying with such infrequent and only momentary feedings?

Of course, they are tiny, with mass even less than their sizes would suggest, but their wings have no glide capability whatsoever and so the instant they cease their hyper-fluttering, its stonesville for the little devils.

So, the mystery presents itself: how is their unimaginable quick metabolism and extravagant energy output supported by mere sugared water?  And the challenge we might undertake is to unravel that mystery and then apply whatever discoveries we distill from it to the nutrition of other animals, including ourselves. Is it not awe-inducing to contemplate where our species would find itself if the kinetic efficiency with which we utilize the food we consume could be increased to the point where it rivaled that of the hummingbird?

Three or four mega farms provi-ding all the food needed by all the people in all the world?  Now that would be a trip, don’t you think?