This is a bird-keeper’s behind the scenes insight into a truly magnificent wonder of the avian world, the hummingbird. The amazila hummingbird (Amazilia amazila) is one of the new bird species that can be found in the Blackburn Pavilion.
There are well over three hundred species of hummingbirds, all native to the Americas. The vast majority, are found in the tropics, where flowers produce nectar all year-round. This family of birds includes the world’s smallest birds, the world’s fastest wing beats per second and the most amazing ability to fly up, down, sideways, and backwards. Their tiny wings beating in a 360 degrees motion up and down approximately one thousand two hundred times per minute. They spend their days hovering at flowers to sip nectar, feeding almost constantly to supply the sugar needed to maintain their heart racing metabolism. These tiny little birds beat their wings so fast they produce a humming noise when flying giving them the name Hummers. Hummingbirds are truly the world’s most fascinating bird.
The Amazila hummingbird the species held on the bird section, weighing between 4 to 5 grams, can live up to twelve years and start to breed at the early age of eighteen months. Their breeding is complex with both the male and female holding a separate territory. Females will build their nests using small fibres and even spiders web and raise their young alone, only visiting the male’s territory to breed and sometimes feed. This is truly an amazing feat as it normally takes all the females energy and time to feed herself let alone bring up a nest of chicks as well all alone. With a diet of both nectar and insects we have set a very strict feeding regime of nectar and fruit flies. Sterilizing feeders twice daily, making up fresh nectar, as well as having to breed hundreds of fruit flies on a daily basis just to satisfy the nutritional needs of this tiny bird. The nectar is the fuel that helps the humming birds maintain their super fast life style.
Twenty eight species of hummingbirds are ranked as endangered in the wild and one in three of these are ranked as Critically Endangered this means that those classed as endangered have a 50% chance of being extinct within the next ten years. ZSL London zoo bird section is working alongside other EAZA zoos and the Dutch Hummingbird Foundation which aims to help secure the future of Amazila hummingbirds and other humming bird species in captivity for the future. Also in conjunction with working along side these collections we aim to assist in updating and expanding husbandry guidelines, and train ZSL bird keepers in the husbandry and care of humming birds. In learning more about their breeding, ecology and habits we hope that this information may help to save humming birds in the wild.
I hope that once you have visited these jewels of the bird world in the new Blackburn Pavilion you too will feel as passionate and enthused as all the bird keepers are on the bird section and that you enjoy them and keep coming back into this new and exciting redevelopment to wonder at these little birds, our little hummers.
Deputy team leader of birds
ZSL London Zoo
To see Adrian in the exhibit, sneak a beak at the video below.