The Adorable Biology of Snoring Hummingbirds
I think we’ve all felt like this on a Monday, right? This little hummingbird has just reserved a spot in my list of Top 10 Cutest Things I’ve Ever Seen, thanks to its snoozy little snore.
Of course, hummingbirds don’t really snore, do they? Maybe … sort of … but not for the same reasons we do. When humans (or my dogs) snore, it’s usually an obstruction l vibrating the back of the throat when we try to breathe in. Not that I ever snore or anything. So, this adorable little hummingbird is definitely sawing some logs, but the reason why is way cooler than the reasons we do.
Hummingbirds have incredibly high metabolic needs. To do all that buzzing around and to keep their tiny bodies warm, they eat the human equivalent of a refrigerator full of food every day, mostly in the form of high-energy nectar and fatty bugs. Because of their small size, they also lose a lot of body heat to the air. In order to preserve energy on cool nights, they have the ability to enter a daily, miniature hibernation called torpor.
Normally, if our bodies get cold, our muscles twitch (shivering) and we crank up our metabolism to create heat. That way we stay at our “set point” of 98.6˚F. In torpor, hummingbirds actually lower their bodies’ “set point”, powering down their brains and metabolism so far that their breathing is undetectable! This way, they aren’t burning calories on cold nights when they aren’t able to eat and recharge.
Just before morning, their natural circadian rhythms kick in and they start to thaw out, like heating a car engine on a cold day. What we see in the video is probably a bird coming out of torpor (which is what the scientists in the video were studying), starting to breathe in more oxygen to raise its body temperature, and making that adorable snoring noise.
Hummingbirds can do this on a daily basis if they get cold, regularly powering down on frozen tree branches around the world. Allegedly, you can even put them in the freezer for a while, but who would do such a thing?!
If only all science was this cute!
UPDATE: Sheri WIlliamson commented below that, from her extensive hummingbird experience, this may be the bird’s distress call as it comes out of torpor, aware of the researchers but too frozen to do anything about it.