Hummingbirds in the Andes Go to Chilly Extremes for a Good Night’s Sleep

Andes hummingbirds embrace the cold. Veronique Greenwood of the New York Times says that some hummingbird species let their body temperature drop below 38 degrees Fahrenheit, slightly above freezing, according to Biology Letters research published this week.

In the thin mountain air, the small birds keep airborne by drinking nectar from hundreds of wildflowers. They turn their beaks up, fluff their feathers, and get cold at night.

University of New Mexico physiological ecologist Blair Wolf told Science News' Jonathan Lambert, “They’re cold as a rock.” "If you didn't know better, you'd think they died."

Hummingbirds have the tiniest bird, egg, and fastest wingbeat. They can now mention coldest bird and non-hibernating animal.  

The Andes' thin air and frigid temperatures pose obstacles for hummingbirds. Wildflowers and few predators make alpine life worthwhile.

The team caged 26 hummingbirds of six species overnight to observe how they responded to the cold night air. They investigated how hummingbirds conserve energy overnight.

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