Why are hummingbirds so energetic?

BBC Wildlife features editor Ben Hoare answers your wild question.

Allen's Hummingbird

For every second that a hummingbird hovers in front of a flower to sip nectar, it beats its wings 10–80 times and breathes at least 8 times. Even when perched hummingbirds breathe fast and need to keep their flying muscles hot, ready for take-off. They burn huge amounts of energy simply ticking over.

So ‘hummers’ have the highest metabolic rate of all warm-blooded vertebrates, and must refuel frequently. Their sugary diet is rich in carbohydrates, but they still eat one-and-a-half times their body weight in nectar each day and aggressively defend feeding territories.

At night, when they are unable to refuel, hummingbirds can cut their energy needs by falling into a torpor, lowering their metabolism by up to 90 per cent. As David Attenborough said in Life of Birds, “It’s a bit like hibernating 365 times a year.” 

Do you have a wildlife question you’d like answered? Email your question to wildquestions@immediate.co.uk or post it to Q&A, BBC Wildlife Magazine, Immediate Media Company, 9th Floor, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN

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