Nature (Season 35) – Super Hummingbirds

Air date: 10/12/2016

THIRTEEN’s Nature Launches Season 35 with an

Exploration into the Fast-paced World of

Super Hummingbirds

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 on PBS


Actress Patricia Clarkson narrates stories of new discoveries about the feats of the world’s smallest birds

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. Super Hummingbirds airs Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). After the broadcast, the episode will be available for limited online streaming at

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.

Nature is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET. For Nature, Fred Kaufman is executive producer. Super Hummingbirds is a production of Coneflower Productions and THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET.

Nature pioneered a television genre that is now widely emulated in the broadcast industry.  Throughout its history, Nature has brought the natural world to millions of viewers.  The series has been consistently among the most-watched primetime series on public television.

Nature has won more than 700 honors from the television industry, the international wildlife film communities and environmental organizations, including 17 Emmys and three Peabodys. The series received two of wildlife film industry’s highest honors: the Christopher Parsons Outstanding Achievement Award given by the Wildscreen Festival and the Grand Teton Award given by the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. The International Wildlife Film Festival honored Nature executive producer Fred Kaufman with its Lifetime Achievement Award for Media. is the award-winning web companion to Nature, featuring streaming episodes, filmmaker interviews, teacher’s guides and more.

Support for this Nature program was made possible in part by the Arnhold Family in memory of Clarisse Arnhold, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, the Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation, Rosalind P. Walter, Sandra Atlas Bass, the Arlene and Milton D. Berkman Philanthropic Fund, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers.




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Christopher Witt, Associate Professor of Department of Biology at the University of New Mexico, performing a high altitude experiment in the Peruvian Andes on a Sparkling violetear (Colibri coruscans). Peruvian Andes. Andrew Wegst/©THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Christopher Witt, Associate Professor of Department of Biology at the University of New Mexico. Peruvian Andes. Andrew Wegst/©THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Ornithologist Alejandro Rico-Guevara, Post Doctoral Researcher, University of California, Berkeley, looking into a flower, from the flower's point-of-view for use on an experiment into the Hummingbird tongue. Fusa, Colombia. Mark Carroll/©THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Ornithologist Alejandro Rico-Guevara looking into a flower in his home lab. The flower is being used in an experiment to get macro images of the Hummingbird's tongue inside a flower. Fusa, Colombia. Mark Carroll/©THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Marcelo Araya-Salas, Postdoctoral Fellow, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, sets up equipment to study the vocal stylings and mating rituals of the Long-bill hummingbirds. Costa Rica. ©THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Marcelo Araya-Salas, Postdoctoral Fellow, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology Costa Rica. ©THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Collared inca (Coeligena torquata) perched on a tree branch. Melanie Quinn/© THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Male Black-throated mango (Anthracothorax nigricollis) perched on a tree branch. Owen Prum/© THIRTEEN Productions LLC

A male Costa's hummingbird (Calypte costae) courts a female Costa's. Photo credit: © THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Long-tailed sylph (Aglaiocerus kingii) shares a flower with a Chestnut-breasted coronet (Boissonneaua matthewsii). Photo credit: © THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Actress Patricia Clarkson narrates Nature: Super Hummingbirds. Joseph Sinnott/© THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC

White-vented plumeleteer (Chalybura buffonii) drinks nectar from a test tube that biologist Alejandro Rico-Guevara has designed to measure the amount of liquid it can drink with each visit. Fuse, Colombia. Mark Carroll/© THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Long-tailed sylph (Aglaiocerus kingii) flashes its long tail as it heads in to feed on a flower. Mindo, Ecuador. Ann Johnson Prum/© THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Chestnut-breasted coronet (Boissonneaua matthewsii) drinks from a flower in the Ecuadorian cloud forest. Mindo, Ecuador. Ann Johnson Prum/© THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) seems to stop in mid-air as it approaches a flower. Corpus Christi, TX. Ann Johnson Prum/© THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Green-crowned brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula) eyes an approaching hummingbird. Mindo, Ecuador. Ann Johnson Prum/© THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Brown violetear (Colibri delphinae) hovers before dipping in to feed on a flower. Cosanga, Ecuador. Ann Johnson Prum/© THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Booted racket-tail (Ocreatus underwoodii) suspended in mid-flight in the Eastern Andes. Cosanga, Ecuador. Ann Johnson Prum/© THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Velvet-purple coronet (Boissonneaua jardini) feeding on a flower. Mindo, Ecuador Ann Johnson Prum/© THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) Female on nest. Mt. Lemmon, Arizona. Ann Johnson Prum/© THIRTEEN Productions LLC