Super Hummingbirds

About

Super Hummingbirds airs Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).

Hummingbirds are amazing creatures to behold. They are the tiniest of birds, yet possess natural born super powers that enable them to fly backwards, upside-down, and float in mid-air. Their wings beat faster than the eye can see and the speed at which they travel makes people wonder if it was indeed a hummingbird they actually saw. They also are only found in the Americas. These attributes have both intrigued scientists and made it challenging to study the species, but with the latest high-speed cameras and other technologies, Super Hummingbirds reveals new scientific breakthroughs about these magical birds.

Emmy-winning filmmaker Ann Johnson Prum (Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air; An Original DUCKumentary, Animal Homes) returns with her second film on hummers which presents new scientific discoveries such as how they drink a flower’s nectar so quickly or why they are able to thrive in the thin air at high altitudes. For the first time, viewers will see the birds mate, lay eggs, fight, and raise families in intimate detail.

The film begins with the research of Dr. Alejandro Rico-Guevara, who returned to his native Colombia after getting his doctorate at the University of Connecticut (he’s currently a postdoctoral researcher at University of California at Berkeley), to determine how a hummer is able to lap up nectar inside a flower at a rate of 20 times a second. A hummingbird spends its days darting from flower to flower to drink the nectar so vital to fueling its metabolism to keep it in the air. To solve the mystery, Rico-Guevara mounted a real flower onto a clear feeding tube containing the same amount of nectar found in a genuine bloom. After attracting a hummer to the test site, high-speed macro photography revealed that the hummingbird’s long tongue has forked tips that open as the tongue dips into the nectar. Grooves are created along the edges of the open tips that collect and fill the tongue with nectar. Identifying this highly efficient means to drink nectar so rapidly was a scientific breakthrough never seen before.

Super Hummingbirds also chronicles a major discovery by Dr. Christopher Witt and his University of New Mexico team high in the Peruvian Andes where oxygen is 40 percent more scarce than it is at sea level. Tests were conducted on hummers living at high altitudes to determine how little oxygen they needed to fly and the results were impressive. For example, only when the oxygen level reached six percent did the Sparkling violetear reach her limit which is an altitude equivalent of 43,000 feet. Witt discovered that a protein called hemoglobin, which humans also have in our blood, has evolved in each hummingbird species to match its elevation. He also found that these flower feeders are able to fly at such dazzling speeds due to an ability to capture extra oxygen with every breath, a true super power.

In the rainforests of Costa Rica, Dr. Marcelo Araya-Salas of Cornell University has spent seven years studying and recording the vocal stylings and mating rituals of Long-billed hermit hummingbirds. As the film shows, male hermits gather in a place called a lek to attract and compete for females by singing and performing elaborate choreography. After shooting more than 2,000 hours of footage, Araya-Salas caught his first video of hummingbirds mating, one of the first times it has ever been filmed. The documentary then concludes with a life cycle of super hummingbirds, from the nest-building, to the motherhood, to the first flight!

Hummers may be the smallest birds in the world, but what they lack in size, they make up in speed and the ability to adapt in ways we’re just beginning to learn about as they continue to evolve.

Production Credits Print

SUPER HUMMINGBIRDS

NARRATED BY
PATRICIA CLARKSON

PRODUCED BY
ANN JOHNSON PRUM

WRITTEN BY
JANET HESS

EDITED BY
JIM ISLER

ASSOCIATE PRODUCER
MELANIE QUINN

ASSISTANT EDITOR
NATHAN PUNWAR

CINEMATOGRAPHY
MARK CARROLL
ANN JOHNSON PRUM
ANDREW WEGST

ADDITIONAL CINEMATOGRAPHY
NATHAN DAPPEN
NEIL LOSSIN

MUSIC
LENNY WILLIAMS
CHRIS BIONDO

RE-RECORDING MIXER
ED CAMPBELL

SOUND DESIGN
MICHAEL GOCHANOUR
JIM ISLER

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
AUGUST PRUM

FIELD ASSISTANTS
SUSAN CURRIER
ROBIN KLEIN
VINICIO PEREZ
HAROLD GREENEY
BRANDON MEYER

PRODUCTION INTERNS
CAROLINE CURRIER
NICOLA DODD

COLORISTS
TROY THOMPSON
CHRISTOPHER YOUNG

ASSISTANT COLORIST
SEAN SULLIVAN

DIGITAL INTERMEDIATE PRODUCER
RYAN CUNNINGHAM

VISUAL EFFECTS ARTIST
JUSTIN CROWELL

SPECIAL THANKS
FINCA COLIBRÍ GORRIAZUL, FUSA, COLOMBIA
YANAYACU BIOLOGICAL STATION
ANIMAL FLIGHT LABORATORY, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY
PHILIP L. BOYD DEEP CANYON DESERT RESEARCH CENTER
MUSEU DE BIOLOGIA PROFESSOR MELLO LEITAO, BRAZIL
LA SELVA BIOLOGICAL STATION
CLARK LAB, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, RIVERSIDE
TERESA FEO
JAKE MUSSER
CLAUDIO MELLO
RICHARD SIMPSON
CHRISTOPHER CLARKE
PIERO ANGELI RUSCHI
BIRDWATCHERS HOUSE, MINDO, ECUADOR
MINDO CLOUD FOREST FOUNDATION - MILPE BIRD SANCTUARY
LA COMUNIDAD CAMPESINA SANTIAGO DE CARAMPOMA

FOR NATURE

SERIES EDITOR
JANET HESS

SENIOR PRODUCER
LAURA METZGER LYNCH

COORDINATING PRODUCER
JAYNE JUN

ASSOCIATE PRODUCER
JAMES BURKE

LEGAL COUNSEL
BLANCHE ROBERTSON

DIGITAL MEDIA PRODUCER
ERIC R. OLSON

SENIOR PUBLICIST
JOHANNA BAKER

BUDGET CONTROLLER
KAREN FEIGENBAUM

ONLINE EDITOR
STACEY DOUGLASS MOVERLEY

ORIGINAL FUNDING PROVIDED IN PART BY
THE ARNHOLD FAMILY IN MEMORY OF CLARISSE ARNHOLD
SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III
KATE W. CASSIDY FOUNDATION
LILLIAN GOLDMAN CHARITABLE TRUST
FILOMEN M. D’AGOSTINO FOUNDATION
ROSALIND P. WALTER
SANDRA ATLAS BASS
THE ARLENE AND MILTON D. BERKMAN PHILANTHROPIC FUND
CORPORATION FOR PUBLIC BROADCASTING

SERIES PRODUCER
BILL MURPHY

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
FRED KAUFMAN