Hummingbirds at risk of extinction due to global warming

Hummingbirds may face extinction due to global warming, Newsweek reports on a new study. Scientists predict that the bird species will have to migrate north in search of cooler climates or possibly die completely.

Because hummingbirds have the most difficult way of flying in the entire animal kingdom, hovering requires much more energy and oxygen than regular flight, because Research finds reports

However, the bird species are not affected by the thin air. From Alaska to South America, they thrive in high mountain ranges.

Studying Anna’s Hummingbird Species

According to the study, the hurdles to shifting may be too great for the agile little aeronauts.

Austin Spence, said study lead author and a Ph.D. student at the University of Connecticut, explains that the data presented generally implies that low air pressure and oxygen availability can reduce hover performance in hummingbirds when exposed to the acute challenge of high altitude.

In the study, Spence explains that when less oxygen is available, thinner and colder air is especially challenging for species trying to keep warm.

The research focused on the species Anna’s hummingbirds (Calypte anna), which can live up to 2,800 meters above sea level.

They enticed the bird species into net traps from locations in California, including Sacramento, which is 10 meters above sea level, and Mammoth Lakes, which is 2,400 meters.

The researchers then moved them to a 1,215-foot-long aviary in western California.

After a few days in their new habitat, the birds were given a funnel to stick their heads in while soaring and drinking delicious syrup.

The metabolic rate of the small organisms was recorded at night as they lowered their metabolism while they slept.

During sleep, this type of mini hibernation saves energy. Hummingbirds can cool their bodies to below 4°C at night, the lowest temperature ever recorded in a bird.

They have wings that beat more than 10 times per second and they use their hovering ability to drink nectar from thousands of flowers during the day.

Hummingbirds have a small heart that stays upright about 1,000 times per minute, but only 50 times at rest. The birds were transported by Spence and colleagues to a nearby research site at 3,800 meters near the top of Mount Barcroft, where the air is thinner, with about 39% less oxygen and a temperature of about 5 °C.

The hovering hummingbirds would have had to work harder to stay in the thin air 1,000 meters above their natural range, but they experienced a 37 percent drop in metabolism.

When the researchers examined the energy consumed on the mountaintop by birds that started around sea level and those from the higher end of their range, they found that they all worked in the same way.

Also read: Bird populations continued to fall in tropical rainforest for at least 50 years

In addition, the hummingbirds began to lower their metabolism for extended periods during the night. They were sedated for more than 87.5% of the frigid night at high altitudes.

Spence explained that the birds are sedated when it is extremely cold.

The researchers also looked at the size of the animals’ lungs to see if they grew larger in those who came from higher altitudes to make up for the lack of oxygen.

The team’s findings show that while the birds’ lungs weren’t bigger, their hearts were.

The findings in the Journal of Experimental Biology impact on the future of hummingbirds as the bird species seek more comfortable conditions due to climate change.

Spence and his team’s findings show that declining oxygen availability and low air pressure can be a challenge for hummingbirds to overcome.

Related article: Bizarre ‘behavioural change’ observed in birds linked to climate change

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