God, Science & the Bible: Hummingbirds - How Do They Do That?

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Hummingbirds - How Do They Do That?

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 "Oh look, there's one!" shouts a small boy. Suddenly a ruby-throated hummingbird darts up to the apple-red nectar feeder on the deck, flits about, and then, hovering in mid-air, inserts his beak and tongue into the opening and extracts the high-energy sugar water needed to fuel its incredible flying acrobatics. A little later another hummingbird, to impress an admiring female, zooms straight up 130 feet and then swoops to the ground, creating a loud shrill burst of noise produced through its tail feathers.

"Wow, how do they do that?!" exclaim those on the deck watching such feats of fancy flight in wonder. Many feel blessed to witness such wonders of nature and give glory to God as Creator and Master Designer. And rightly so.

"Not so fast," counter most educators and naturalists. Even as they gush about the "unique architecture" of hummingbirds, they deny any Master Architect. They claim these living, breathing miniature helicopters somehow evolved over eons of time without the involvement of an Intelligent Designer. Imagine making such a claim about a Black Hawk helicopter with its aeronautical and technological features! Yet when do hummingbirds crash? Or need a pilot?

Now, thanks to high-speed photography, which can be viewed in slow motion, we can see the amazing specially created features of this miracle bird!

How hummingbirds fly

The incredible aerial feats of hummingbirds are truly a marvel. But that's only the beginning of the story.

Their tiny hearts beat as fast as 1,260 times per minute—21 beats per second. A healthy human heart, in comparison, totals only 60 to 80 beats per minute. Imagine doing anything 21 times in a second!

A hummingbird's wings flap from 40 to 90 times per second. To appreciate how amazing this is, hold out your arms and try to flap them up and down like wings. Can you manage more than a couple of flaps in a second? You may as well abort takeoff!

The secret of the hummingbirds is that they don't flap their wings up and down. With their flexible shoulders they hover by circling their wings in a figure eight! Treat yourself to a video called "Time Warp: Hummingbird," which you can easily find in an Internet search. The figure-eight motion generates lift from both sides of the wings and enables the hummingbird to be the only bird that can fly in any direction.

Yet, unbelievably, an episode of the PBS program Nature ("Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air," 2010) matter-of-factly states that because plants with nectar normally offer nowhere for birds to perch, a hummingbird sometime in the past stared extinction in the face—for itself and for the plant that otherwise wouldn't be pollinated—and taught itself to hover! Evidently it then passed this trick on to its progeny like a magician might teach his protégé how to levitate.

If you are sitting in a chair while reading this, please move away from it so you have nowhere to "perch" and see how long it takes you to evolve how to hover!

How hummingbirds really drink

Though a hummingbird weighs only about a tenth of an ounce, it can consume up to double its body weight each day!

To the human eye, it looks like a hummingbird inserts its beak and tongue into the nectar and then slurps it out like drinking through a straw. For nearly two centuries researchers believed that hummingbird tongues had tube-like channels that sucked out nectar by capillary action (liquid rising up the sides of a tube).

Therefore they expected hummingbirds would prefer nectar with a sugar concentration of about 20 to 40 percent, since higher concentrations would be too thick to rise fast enough. So they were baffled to see hummingbirds routinely choose liquids with double the predicted sugar levels.

New high-speed photography solves the puzzle. It reveals that when the tube-like channels in a hummingbird's tongue hit nectar, they open down their sides, curl around the nectar, and then close back up as the tongue pulls back, carrying nectar back into the beak. (To see this amazing process in action, do an Internet search for "High-speed video shows how hummingbirds really drink" by Dave Mosher.)

Even more amazingly, consider that the hummingbird does all this lightning fast, flicking its tongue in and out of the nectar about 20 times per second! Can you really believe that a tongue opening and closing so smoothly and so quickly could have evolved through blind chance?

The action of the hummingbird's tongue is the limit of scientists' understanding of how it drinks. Ornithologist Alejandro Rico-Guevara of the University of Connecticut, coauthor of a study published May 2, 2011, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, states: "To drink you have to swallow. No one has tried to explain how this works yet [in hummingbirds]. It's considered magic right now."

Rico-Guevara said advanced study is needed to understand how a hummingbird absorbs the energy from the nectar it collects in its tongue.

More than 350 species of hummingbirds are responsible for pollinating some 8,000 species of flowers worldwide. Surprisingly, hummingbirds have no sense of smell—but they are irresistibly drawn to brightly colored flowers or the bright red color of hummingbird feeders offering sugar water.

Locks, keys and hummingbird beaks

The PBS program mentioned earlier admits with admiration that all the various species of hummingbirds are "all designed to fit their favorite blossoms like a key in a lock." "Designed" is the key word here—though the program assumes this can happen through mindless evolution. But when you need a key for a lock, would it even cross your mind to wait for one to evolve? Hardly! You know a key and a lock have to be specially designed to fit together.

A case in point is the Datura plant in Ecuador with its trumpet-like blossoms concealing nectar four inches within. The PBS show claims that this unique flower avoided extinction thanks to a hummingbird "going to great lengths in order to feed."

Supposedly this was an evolutionary example of "a plant remaking a bird to do its bidding." In this fantasy of evolutionary thinking, a visionary hummingbird recognized that it, too, would die off if it didn't extend its beak enough to reach the way-down-there nectar. And voila! A swordbill hummingbird with a four-inch beak longer than its body rose to the challenge!

"The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" That's the plain assessment of Psalms 14:1 Psalms 14:1The fool has said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that does good.
American King James Version×
and 53:1 from the hummingbird's Designer and Creator.

God Himself challenged Job face-to-face as to whose wisdom or command was behind the soaring of eagles (Job 39:27-28 Job 39:27-28 [27] Does the eagle mount up at your command, and make her nest on high? [28] She dwells and stays on the rock, on the crag of the rock, and the strong place.
American King James Version×
). The same goes for anybody trying to take credit away from the Creator for how hummingbirds hover and trap nectar.

Now, thanks to high-speed photography, you can see with your own eyes how they do that—and give glory to our great Creator who designed them that way!

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