The hummingbirds that show up around your porch to drink up proffered sugary water are, as you know, zippy little birds. It’s hard to see anything more than their quick darting around, but thanks to slow motion video we’ve been given a look at what we’ve been missing. Much like cats, hummingbirds drink using their tongue, but rather than lapping it up, they use their tongue as a type of tiny pump that works very, very fast.
The information comes from a new study by UConn researchers Alejandro Rico-Guevara, Margaret Rubega, and Tai-Hsi Fan. In the past, it was believed that hummingbirds drank using a sort of ‘wicking’ action, but the new research shows that is wrong, and that the tongue rather works as a tiny pump to pump the liquid into the hummingbirds’ mouths.
The video from UConn below shows the hummingbirds drinking in ultra slow-motion.
The researchers looked at a total of 18 hummingbird species that span seven of the nine groups found in the Americas, says UConn. As you can see in the video, a hummingbird’s tongue can protrude out of the beak about the same length as the beak itself. On the top of the tongue are two long and thin grooves.
Those grooves drawn in nectar when they expand after having been squeezed by the beak, functioning as tiny pumps that draw rather than wick the liquid. The team ended up collecting a massive amount of data on hummingbirds feeding in the wild, and thanks in part to cameras that can record at high speeds, they’ve altered the feeding model previously regarded as correct.