“Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air,” a documentary by Ann Prum, will be shown on the PBS show, “Nature,” on Jan. 10. Based on Prum’s work in South American and the Caribbean, the work features “the smallest warm-blooded creatures on the planet — hummingbirds,” and “shares the newest science on these avian jewels.” Given that I just adore these little miracles, which are among the most beautiful creatures on earth, you know where I’ll be on January 10.
Here are some excerpts from an article on Prum’s documentary:
Prum, who lives in the East Rock neighborhood with her husband, scientist Richard Prum, and their three sons, has made 10 films for television, in addition to museum-based and Web-based video for Yale University.. . . Her forte is illuminating the newest discoveries by scientists that blow apart our preconceived notions of animals. “These are the kinds of films I like to make. They say, you think you know this animal … but we actually don’t know them at all,” Prum said.
The high-tech cameras allowed her to slow down the hummingbirds in flight, shoot mating displays and diving displays, and as the film points out, “break down the barriers of time and space.” While there are 350 species of hummingbirds, Prum concentrated on a few being studied by scientists, as well as some with a real “gee-whiz” component, such as the swordbill hummingbird, whose 4-inch bill is twice as long as its body and the endangered Marvelous Spatuletail, which has two fan-like balls at the end of its tail.
Not only are these birds beautiful, but they are feisty creatures built for survival who often engage in aerial dogfights to protect a food source, Prum said. “They are tough. People think they are delicate and jewel-like. They are not like that at all. They are tough as nails. They are incredibly competitive — really defending their resources. It’s the difference between life and death for them, they live so on the edge,” Prum said.
The film answers the basic question “How did they do that?” Since flowers don’t provide a place for the hummingbird to perch, their ability to hover like an insect enables them to dine on nectar, which they consume daily at the rate of half their body weight. Another quarter of their diet is supplied by insects for protein. Their lower bills bend in the middle and act like a catcher’s mitt to nail fruit flies in mid-flight with deadly accuracy. “They are less like Tinkerbell and more like Jaws,” according to the film.
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In Dominica, a Caribbean island south of St. Lucia, Amherst professor Ethan Temeles found examples of sexual dimorphism, where the male purple throated caribe has a short, straight beak and the female’s is longer and curved. The theory is that the stronger male took over the easier food source, forcing the female to differentiate, confirming what Darwin predicted happens within the same species. Prum took her camera to the highlands of Ecuador, where she found an example of adaptation. The Andean Hillstar lives at the edge of the glaciers, and hops on the ground from flower to flower, thereby using less energy than trying to fly in the oxygen-thin habitat, 12,000 feet above sea level.
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The film also documents the extraordinary migration patterns of the tiny, 3-gram bird, from central Mexico to southern Alaska. Some will fly 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico, an 18 hour trip, with no food.
For the complete article go to http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2009/12/27/news/new_haven/doc4b36ce70697f1930415349.txt