More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About the Sleeping Patterns of Hummingbirds

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There are some topics you probably never thought you'd be interested in, including the nocturnal habits of hummingbirds. But there exists a YouTube video that is so fascinating (read: adorable), it begs exploration of this topic. In the video, a green female hummingbird slumbers, and with every one of its tiny breaths, the bird lets out a high-pitched sigh, making it appear as though it is ... snoring.

So, what exactly is going on here? Do hummingbirds actually snore?

"Maybe … sort of … but not for the same reasons we do," says Joe Hanson at his (awesomely named) blog, It's Okay to be Smart. We humans snore when our airways are obstructed during sleep. The story behind this bird is much cooler.

The video was taken at a Peru research facility while the hummingbird slept in a special container meant to measure its oxygen intake. The goal of this experiment was to examine the metabolism of hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds beat their wings between 12 and 80 times per second, depending on the species. To make up for all that lost energy, the creatures consume the human equivalent of a refrigerator full of food every day. Unlike other birds, hummingbirds don't have insulating feathers to keep them warm, thus they are incredibly vulnerable when cold weather strikes. To keep themselves from freezing, at night, hummingbirds slip into a kind of hibernation, called torpor. This state allows them to lower their internal temperature and consume up to 50 times less energy. "This way, they aren’t burning calories on cold nights when they aren’t able to eat and recharge," Hanson says. The birds' brains power down, and their breathing becomes so shallow as to be almost undetectable. Torpid hummingbirds are sleeping so deeply, it looks like they're dead.

To awaken from such a deep state of hibernation takes some time—about 20 minutes, actually. The heartbeat increases, normal breathing patterns resume, and the birds begin to shiver, which helps warm their muscles and increase bloodflow. Hanson hypothesizes the bird in this video is in a state of awakening, "starting to breathe in more oxygen to raise its body temperature," and making a "snoring" noise in the process.

Enough science! For your entertainment, here are some other snoring animals.

A pig:

A bunny:

A doormouse:

A duck:

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November 16, 2012 - 5:30am
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